Ball Marker
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The simple ball marker can break

the Rules.


Professional golfers are no different to their amateur counterparts when it comes to playing by the rules. They too make mistakes, either through ignorance or oversight.


Dumbest rule ever invented.

Jesper Parnevik at the 2002 Genuity Championship at Doral.


The biggest difference is that professional golfers play under the spotlight of spectators, and this serves to highlight their mistakes.

If a mistake goes unnoticed at the time of play, television viewers eagerly telephone in to act as armchair rules officials. An infringement is sometimes discovered after the player has signed his or her card, and he or she is disqualified for signing for an incorrect score.

Marking a ball on the green is a simple act, yet it is not without its dangers. You may remember the incident that resulted in the above quote.

Jesper Parnevik thinking he may have broken a rule called for an immediate ruling. What happened was that his caddie tossed him the ball which he fumbled and dropped.

Unfortunately the ball landed on his coin and it flipped over. Did this incur a penalty or was he entitled to replace his ball marker on the original spot without penalty?

Under the rules there is no penalty provided the movement of the ball or marker is directly attributable to the specific act of marking the position of, or lifting, your ball.

Otherwise, you incur a penalty of one stroke. Unfortunately for Parnevik fumbling a catch could not be construed as marking his ball.

Not even the professionals get it right. On the Japanese tour an Australian golfer marked his ball and before he could lift his ball marker, a gust of wind moved the ball to a new position. The player incorrectly replaced his ball and putted out.

Consequently, he was penalised two-shots for putting from a wrong place (Decision 18-1/12). This is because it is irrelevant if a player has removed his or her marker before the wind moved the ball, as the ball is in play as soon as it is replaced.

Tom Lehman as defending champion had a memory lapse during the second round of the British Open at Royal Troon in Scotland in 1997. At the second hole Vijay Singh asked him to move his ball marker as it was on his line.

He then forgot to return his marker to the original place before putting. He only realised his mistake on the next tee. By then it was too late and he was penalised two shots (Rule 20-7c).

Two years later Tom Lehman was again penalised for a transgression involving his ball marker in his match against the Italian golfer Emanuele Canonica.

In this instance he was representing the United States in the Alfred Dunhill Cup at St Andrews. Mistakenly he picked up his marker after having been beaten on the 18th hole. However, in medal match play this is not allowed, and he received a one shot penalty.

A similar incident of not replacing the ball marker happened forty years earlier, but with a different outcome. At the 1957 British Open at St Andrews Bobby Locke, then aged 39, marked his ball one putter-head off the line of his playing partner Bruce Crampton’s putt at the 72nd hole.

When he came to putt, he forgot to replace his ball marker in its original spot and putted from the wrong place.

The error was only picked up on newsreel film and reported to the Royal and Ancient officials after the trophy had been presented.

As Bobby Locke had a three shot lead over Peter Thomson, the Championship committee after an eight-day delay concluded that he had gain no advantage.

Citing the equity and spirit of the game, the committee decided that he should not be disqualified. Had they thought otherwise they would have had to disqualify Locke as the rules at that time made no provision for a two-stroke penalty for playing from the wrong place.

There are golfers who use a memory aid to remind them to replace their ball marker in its original spot. They do this by always having the same side facing up when they mark their ball.

If they have to move their marker, they turn it upside down. Of course, you need a coin or flat disk of some sort to do this, and not one of those plastic markers with a spike.

Another trick is to hold your putter by the head and not the grip end.

All of us know that to mark your ball, you first place your ball marker behind the ball and then lift the ball. What could be easier than that? However, a long day of competition can scramble the brain. 

In a bizarre incident Ian Woosnam was penalised at the 1991 World Cup when he picked up his ball and forgot to mark it in his haste to get to a toilet. When he came to putt he looked for his non-existent ball marker which was unfortunately still in his pocket.

Bernard Langer needing a par at the last hole to win the 1999 Greg Norman Holden Classic tournament at Lakes Golf Club in Sydney, Australia took a double bogey five to lose by one shot to Michael Long of New Zealand.

There is nothing truly remarkable about that as many tournaments are lost or won at the death. However, in this case Bernhard Langer lost because of a simple mistake at the short 18th.

He picked up his ball marker without first putting his ball down and by doing so he incurred a one-shot penalty. He describes it as the dumbest thing that he has ever done on the golf course.

Golf is a game of rules. Some help us, other don’t. The best way to guard against unnecessary penalties is to learn the Rules of golf and carry a Rule book at all times in your golf bag.


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