Rules of Golf explained: I picked up my ball on the green without marking it – is there a penalty?


You’ve found the putting surface but absentmindedly picked up your ball without putting a ball-marker down. What happens now?

Thanks to Kenneth Johnston for emailing in a question I suspect has caught a few out from time to time.

“If I accidentally lift my ball on the green without putting my marker down then realise what I have done when it is my turn to play, what would the rule be, and what penalty would I incur? I have actually done it.”

As have I Kenneth and, as we’re about to see, so did a very famous player in a big tournament. So let’s reveal the answer…

Rules of Golf explained: Our expert says…

Yes, Jon Rahm got caught out with this rare lapse in concentration when he picked up his ball without marking it on the 5th green at Olympia Fields in the second round of last year’s BMW Championship.

Cue lots of headlines shouting about ‘bizarre’ rules breaches. But while it’s certainly not common at the professional level, are there any of you out there who have fallen foul?

I did in the opening week back after the first lockdown last year. Clearly being back on the fairways after so long away melted my mind.

The result was I had to add a stroke to my score.

A ball on the putting green can be lifted and cleaned but it also needs to be replaced on its original spot.

Rule 14.1a – Spot of the Ball to Be Lifted and Replaced Must Be Marked – explains that before you lift it, you’ve got to mark that spot. That’s most commonly done with a ball marker, though you can also hold a club on the ground behind or right next to the ball.

If you forget and lift the ball off the green without marking its spot, you get a penalty stroke. And if this does ever happen, make sure you put the ball back where it was before cracking on.

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s level 2 rules exam with distinction, I am more than happy to help.

If you’ve sent me an email and are yet to hear back from me, I will try to answer your query. My mailbag has been very busy in recent weeks!

Click here for the full Rules of Golf explained archive and details of how to submit a question to our expert.

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