The rules of marking your ball can seem simple enough but even the top pros can find themselves in breach of the basics.
Some of you may remember Phil Mickelson being assessed a penalty earlier this summer. He was marking his ball on a green when the coin he was holding fell out of his hand and hit the ball. The ball moved slightly but it was enough to bring about a 1-stroke penalty for Phil The Thrill.
According to Rule 20-1 the "position of the ball must be marked before it is lifted ..." In other words, you have to be holding on to the coin to be considered in the act of marking it.
The rule also states “the position of a ball to be lifted should be marked by placing a ball-marker, a small coin or other similar object immediately behind the ball.” The word “should” is important here.
Because the rule uses “should” rather than “must,” the ball can be marked with a leaf, a tee or even a putter.
By the same token, you do not need to place the marker behind the ball to properly mark it. It can be marked on the side, front or back. But the ball must be placed as near as possible to the point at which it was originally marked.
Similarly, a player who marks his ball with a tee before the opposing player’s putt hits the tee incurs no penalty. A tee is not considered part of a player’s equipment.
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