Top 10 Myths About the USGA Golf Rules

While we all think we play by the Rules, the USGA has found that golfers have many myths and misconceptions about doing the right thing on the course. Here are 10 Rules mistakes we’ve probably all made—but now won’t ever make again, right?


1. You can’t borrow a ball from another player
You may borrow a ball from another player—usually you can even change brands. In some high-level events such as the U.S. Open, a condition requiring all balls to be of the same type may be specified (this is known as the “one-ball rule”). If so, you can still borrow a ball, it just must be of the identical type as the balls you have been playing.

2. You can’t tell another player how far his ball is from the hole
Sprinkler heads, yardage posts, GPS in carts—distances are hardly secret. So in 2008, the Rules were changed to allow the sharing of yardage information without penalty.


3. You must stand inside the teeing ground
Think of it this way: Feet, no; ball, yes. Rule 11-1 requires the ball to be played from within the teeing ground. The player may stand outside the teeing ground when playing from within it.


4. It’s a penalty to reach across the hole and tap your ball into the hole
You can’t push or scrape your ball (Rule 14-1), but it’s okay to reach across the hole to tap it in. And for you real sticklers, it’s also not a violation of Rule 16-1e (Standing Astride Your Line of Putt) as your line of putt ends at the hole.

5. You can only use a coin or ball-marker to mark your ball
Rule 20-1 recommends using a small coin or ball marker, but you actually may use any item you like, including your clubhead, a key—even your finger.

6. A swing and a miss isn’t a stroke
Oh yes it is. The Definition of Stroke is the forward movement of the club with the intention to strike the ball. As long as you were trying to hit the ball, it counts as a stroke even if you miss it.

7. A rub of the green is any bad luck or bad break a golfer encounters during the round
A rub of the green occurs “when a ball in motion is accidentally deflected or stopped by an outside agency.” That means it could be bad luck, but it also could be good. A ball could hit a tree and bounce back into the fairway just as easily as it hits a sprinkler in the fairway and bounces into the rough or out of bounds. Both are considered rubs of the green, and, therefore, part of playing the game.


8. A ball stuck between the flagstick and the edge of the hole is holed
This one may surprise you. By definition, a ball is not holed until all of it is below the lip of the hole. If it is caught between the lip and the flagstick, the Rules allow you to move the flag to see if the ball falls into the hole; if it does, then the ball was holed with the previous stroke. So you might want to practice your flag-pulling technique.

9. If your putt strikes another ball on the green in match play, you lose the hole
It is a penalty, but only in stroke play, where it costs two strokes. According to Rule 19-5a, if this happens in match play, neither player incurs a penalty.

10. If you take relief for an unplayable ball, you are guaranteed a playable lie
It would be nice, but it’s not true. There is nothing in the Ball Unplayable rule that guarantees you a good lie after dropping. The options only allow you the opportunity to escape a difficult situation. Since your ball could roll into another unplayable lie or back into your previous unplayable lie, you should consider your options carefully before selecting one.

For an entire Rules “experience,” which contains many common myths and other background to understanding and properly implementing the Rules, click here. 

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