What happens if a player substitutes a ball during play of a hole to avoid confusion?

Published 19/04/2011 07:20:00

After playing their tee shots on a par-five hole, Dennis and Kevin realize that they are playing balls with identical markings. From watching their tee shots, they know which ball belongs to each of them, but to avoid possible confusion later on, Dennis lifts his ball and replaces it with a ball that has a different number. He plays out the hole with the substituted ball.

Is this allowed?

No. A player must hole out with the ball he played from the tee unless a Rule permits him to substitute another ball. Since no Rule allows for substitution in this case, Dennis is penalized. In match play, he loses the hole. In stroke play, he incurs a total penalty of three strokes -- one stroke for lifting his ball in play (Rule 18-2a), and two strokes for substituting a ball (Rule 15-1). If he had realized his mistake before playing the substituted ball, he could have gone back to the original ball and been penalized only one stroke (Rule 20-6). He also would have incurred a one-stroke penalty if he had lifted his original ball and put an identifying mark on it.

Dennis's actions are understandable in that both players would be forced to take a stroke-and-distance penalty for a lost ball if, later in the play of the hole, they can't identify which ball is which. But, the Rules-makers would say that's something they should have thought about before teeing off with identical balls.

Now What If?

Dennis marks the position of his ball on the green and lifts it. When he is ready to play, by mistake he replaces the original ball with another ball he was carrying in his pocket. He holes out with the substituted ball and tees off on the next hole before realizing his mistake.

Is there a penalty?

Yes. In match play, he loses the hole for substituting a ball. In stroke play, he is penalized two strokes.


1.  Hi friends! There is an error in your explanation: The total penalty is 2 strokes not three strokes. See decision 15-6/5 kind regards.

In stroke play, A incurs the general penalty of two strokes under Rule 18 for incorrectly substituting a ball, but there is no additional penalty for lifting the ball without authority (see Rule 15-2 and the penalty statement under Rule 18).

comment by th e rules on golf.com - 03/11/2012 22:30

2.  From 2109
When a lifted or moved ball is to be replaced, the same ball must be set down on its original spot.
When taking free relief or penalty relief, a substituted ball or the original ball must be dropped in a particular relief area.

comment by Doug - 05/11/2018 09:48

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