Read Transcript From Rules Live Chat December 14, 2016 | FAR HILLS, N.J. By David Chmiel

Your competitor uses a device to guage the distance for his next shot. Can you ask him how far it is? Check the transcript. (USGA)

On Dec. 13, 2016, Kathryn Belanger, manager of Rules communication for the USGA, led a Live Chat with USGA members, who shared a variety of questions from their experiences on the course. If you couldn’t join us for the live event, you can pick up a lot of Rules knowledge by reading the transcript below. Stay tuned in 2017 for Live Chats from Rules and other USGA departments  to help you keep up with what is going on at the USGA!

David Chmiel: Hello, I am David Chmiel, manager of Member content for the USGA. Welcome to the Member Clubhouse Rules of Golf Live Chat. We will be getting started in just a few minutes... Thank you for your interest in the Rules of Golf. Learning the Rules helps you play fairly and truly enjoy the game. I am pleased to introduce you to Kathryn Belanger, manager of Rules communications, who will handle your questions today.

Kathryn Belanger: Thanks, Dave!  I'm excited to be here with everyone today and am ready for some Rules questions.

David Chmiel: Thanks, Kathryn. First, here are some rules about today’s discussion. All questions submitted will be considered, but please respect that someone may ask your question first and appreciate that we might run out of time before we answer your query. If we don’t get to you, stay with us until the end of the hour and we will tell you how to reach us with your questions. We are thrilled to receive so many questions in advance! So let’s get started with a question submitted in advance from a member:

Your USGA online quiz had the following question: In match play, Player A's putt strikes his opponent B's ball, which is at rest on the putting green. What is the ruling? Correct answer: No assessed Penalty… Explanation Rule 19-5a… I am not following this, as I always thought if players are on the green and putting, if you hit an opponent, you were assessed a penalty?

Kathryn Belanger: This question highlights a difference between match play and stroke play. You are correct in stroke play that if a player’s putt strikes another ball at rest on the putting green, the player incurs a two-stroke penalty.  However, in match play there is no penalty if the player’s ball hits another ball at rest, even if both balls were on the putting green prior to the stroke.

Dave Parsons: Excited to be here!

Connor Dolan: Thanks,  looking forward to it.

Harry Gianetti:

So the new rule modification to 18.2 only apply if in the tournament I'm playing in the local rules committee has adopted. and therefore, if not 18.2 has it's written in the Rules of Golf still applies?

Kathryn Belanger: Thanks for the question, Harry. Similar to other Local Rules (for example, the Local Rule for distance-measuring devices or the Local Rule that provides relief for an embedded ball through the green), the Committee in charge of the course or competition must put the Local Rule for Accidental Movement of a Ball on the Putting Green into effect in order for it to apply.  If the Committee does not put the Local Rule into effect, Rules 18-2, 18-3, 20-1, and the associated penalties, will apply for ball moved situations on the putting green.

David Chmiel: Here is another pre-submitted question…

I am playing a match and have an iPhone with an app that gives the distance to all of the different objects on a hole. My opponent was asking me what the distance is to the flag or some other object on the course. Is it a penalty if I gave him the distance?

Kathryn Belanger: Great question – this is one we hear often. Distance information is not considered to be advice. So players can freely ask for and exchange distance information. But the player being asked for the information has no obligation to provide it. However, good sportsmanship would say he should provide it.

David Chmiel: Here is another from a member…

In match-play, can I leave my ball lying on the green to assist my partner who is chipping onto the green in case he hits a hard chip shot? My ball can then slow his ball. Also, if my ball moves because his ball hits my ball do I replace my ball in its original position on the green?

Kathryn Belanger: In match play, you may leave your ball in a position to assist your partner. However, your opponents may request your ball be lifted if they think it might assist your partner’s play and, under Rule 22-1, you must lift your ball. If your ball is moved by your partner’s ball, Rule 18-5 applies and you must replace your ball.

Harry Gianetti:

And if you can determine the cause of movement then what penalty applied?

David Chmiel: @Harry, we really appreciate your follow-up. We could use a little more information from you so that we can best understand your question and make sure we give you the appropriate answer. Follow up with us directly and we can help you out.

David Chmiel: Hey, everyone, we really appreciate the questions. We are about 20 minutes into the chat and would love to hear from all of you here with us today

Dave Parsons:

 Is there any discussion about labeling divots as ground under repair?

Kathryn Belanger: The Rules are based on a set of principles that govern the game. The two key principles of golf are to play ball as it lies and play the course as you find it. We occasionally get a bad lie in the fairway but we also get good lies in the rough. Overcoming the obstacles placed in front of us as a result of our previous stroke is what makes golf a challenge.  In discussing possible Rules changes these principles guide the Rules of Golf Committee at the R&A and USGA.

Ron Blythe:

I think it is important to point out that in four-ball stroke play you may not leave the ball if it might assist your opponent, with the most severe penalty: disqualification.

Kathryn Belanger: Thanks Ron – that’s a great point.  In stroke play, competitors (which includes your partner and fellow-competitors) cannot agree to leave a ball in a position to assist another player. The penalty for doing so is disqualification.

David Chmiel: One thing that our friends in the Rules department stress is that they are always willing to help golfers understand the Rules issues that come up in real-life scenarios. Have any of you encountered specific incidents in your matches during this golf season that we could help you clarify?

Lindsay Bekken:

Am I able to lift and replace my ball in a bunker to identify it?

Kathryn Belanger:  Lindsay, if you cannot identify a ball as it lies anywhere, Rule 12-2 permits you to lift it for identification, even in a bunker.  Since it is unusual not to be able to identify a ball as it lies, the Rule requires you to do a few things first before you lift. You need to announce your intention to lift the ball to someone you are playing with, mark the ball and give them the opportunity to watch you.

Lindsay Bekken: Ok, thank you!

David Chmiel: Here is another question submitted in advance:

I have a question about golf balls exchanged during play of hole in stroke play when the location is uncertain. A and B tee off with their own balls into a general area of rough X. A and then B play from X to location Y. From Y, B and then A play to the green. There they discover they are playing each other's ball. If they are unable to determine whether the exchange took place at location X or Y, how should they proceed? Each has played a wrong ball, but do they go back to location X or Y to correct the error?

Kathryn Belanger:  If the players can determine if the exchange occurred at location X or Y, they should use that location to correct the error of playing a wrong ball. Otherwise, A and B may each proceed under Rule 3-3 by playing a ball from location Y and another ball from location X. Before returning their score cards, they need to report the facts to the Committee. The Committee will then determine where the exchange occurred and which ball is to count for the hole in question.

Nelly Van Berlo:

When playing with a partner, stroke or match play, are we allowed to stand behind our partner to watch the putt, and see the line? Thank you for the question, Nelly. In either form of play, the player’s partner (or either player’s caddie) cannot be positioned on or close to an extension of the line of play or line of putt behind the ball.

Kathryn Belanger: This information is found in Rule 14-2b.

Nelly Van Berlo:

What is the penalty for doing so?

Kathryn Belanger: This is the general penalty; loss of hole in match play (which would disqualify the player from the hole) and two stroke penalty for the player in stroke play.

Casey Burke:

My friend likes to change ball a few times a round, but i thought you could only do that when a ball is declared lost?

Kathryn Belanger: Casey, during play of a hole, you can only change balls if you are proceeding under a Rule that allows substitution, like the water hazard or lost ball rules. However, between the play of holes, there is nothing in the Rules that prohibits you from retiring the ball you finished the last hole with and starting the next hole with a different ball. We get this question often.

John Malahoski:

On occasion I find spike marks on a green in the direction of my putt. Can I tap down the spike marks before I putt?

Kathryn Belanger: While this is something that we continue to discuss, at the current time, the only damage that may be repaired are ball marks and plugs from old hole locations.  So, you cannot repair spike marks if they might assist in your play of the hole, but it is strongly encouraged that you repair any damage after completion of the hole. This is good etiquette just like raking a bunker.

John Malahoski: Thanks.

David Chmiel: Okay, folks, we are closing in on 15 minutes left in the chat. Don't be shy! Share a question with Kathryn so we can help ensure that you are prepared for any Rules issue that pops up during a round.

Victoria Naugle:

In our group, we often play a match of the low ball and a match of the high ball. (I.e. the low score of one team against the low of the other team and likewise, the high score against the high. I'm unsure if there's a "name" for this format.) In a recent match, both my partner and I holed out with a score of 5. Both of our opponents were putting for 5. The first player putted and missed. (The putt for 6 was conceded. and we knew we'd won the "high" ball.) Upon missing her putt, while her partner...

Kathryn Belanger: Victoria it looks like your question was cut off and the format was not covered by the Rules.  Feel to contact us directly and we will do our best to provide guidance. For this Chat we want to stick to formats of play covered by the Rules.

Ron Carey:

 Are you allowed to mark the ball on the green with your putter?

Kathryn Belanger: Hi Ron. Yes. While Rule 20-1 suggests using a small object (e.g., coin or tee), Decision 20-1/16 includes using the toe of the club as a possible method of marking the ball.

David Chmiel: Here is another pre-submitted question:

A player's bag falls onto his golf ball, which is in play. The bag basically covers the ball. The player announces this to his competitors. When he moves his bag, the ball appears to be in the same place.  Would the player be penalized a stroke under rule 18-2 (ii), as it was not determined if the ball moved?

Kathryn Belanger: The answer depends on whether the ball moved. If the ball did move, the player incurs a one-stroke penalty. Remember the ball is considered to have moved even if it only moves vertically downwards. If by a stroke of luck the ball did not move, there is no penalty under Rule 18-2.

Dave Parsons:

If I am just off the green and my friend's ball hits my ball and knocks it onto the green, and I required to replace it to its original position?

Kathryn Belanger: Thanks for the question, Dave. Yes, you are. The moved ball must be replaced per Rule 18-5.

Mark Durishan:

If a player plays a wrong ball and subsequently marks and lifts it and replaces it, is it still a wrong ball (two-stroke penalty) or has it transformed into a wrongly substituted ball as a result of lifting it?

Kathryn Belanger: Decision 15/11 covers this situation.  In match play, the player lost the hole when he or she played the wrong ball. In stroke play, the player is required to correct the error. Until the player corrects the error of playing the wrong ball, all strokes and other actions such as lifting and replacing the wrong ball are simply a continuation of playing the wrong ball.

Wendy Dominick:

I skull my ball over the green and it's headed toward a water hazard. In panic(no time to think!) I shout to my fellow competitor to stop the ball. My fellow competitor also has no time to think, but does manage to stop the ball just before it goes into the hazard. Who is penalized?

Kathryn Belanger: Wendy – in the situation you describe, both you and the player who stopped the ball are in breach of Rule 1-2 for exerting influence on the movement of the ball.

Victoria Naugle:

Before playing a provisional, must the specific word "provisional" be used in the announcement? I understand saying "I'm gonna hit another one" isn't good enough but if a player announces "I think that might be lost so I'm going to hit another one in case I can't find that one" the players intentions seem pretty clear that he intends to look for it.

Kathryn Belanger: Victoria, Decision 27-2a/1 includes examples of statements that do not satisfy an announcement, including "I'd better hit another one." However, there are multiple announcements that could satisfy the requirement, as long as it is clear the provisional ball Rule is being used. It's best to be clear and use the words "provisional ball."

David Chmiel: Thanks again -- to Kathryn and to all of you -- for your support of the Member Clubhouse and the Rules Section. Your support is integral to preserving golf’s traditions. We apologize if we ran out of time before we could get to your question. If you still have a pressing question, please contact the Rules of Golf team by phone at 908-326-1850 or via email at For more Rules information, click here to use the interactive tools dedicated to helping you understand and play by the Rules of Golf.

Kathryn_Belanger: Thanks for all your questions today. I had a great time!

David Chmiel: Thanks everyone, see you next time!

David Chmiel is the manager of members content for the USGA. Email him at Interested in becoming a USGA member? Click here for more information.