Last Sunday’s drama at Oakmont featuring eventual US Open winner Dustin Johnson (more on that later) made me consider the point that although they may be very close to the same surface, the fringe and the green are two very different places. This is especially true when you begin talking about the rules that apply to each location. Specifically, the rules that apply to what you can and cannot do when your ball is on the green or on the fringe, and involving markers, let alone what happens if a ball moves unexpectedly.

Fixing a ball mark just seems like it is always the right thing to do. After all, we have all suffered the consequences of playing on greens where people seem to always forget to fix their ball marks. They leave nasty scars that can take weeks to heal. However, before you bend down to fix a ball mark, you need to make sure that you are doing it in a legal fashion.

If your ball is not yet on the green, you are not allowed to fix any ball mark or pitch mark that is anywhere other than on the green. For example, if you end up on the fringe and there is a ball mark on the fringe that is in your line, you may not fix it.

However, if the ball mark is on the green, then you are entitled to fix it. In fact, any ball mark that is on the green can always be fixed. But, be very careful, you have to make sure that the mark is indeed a ball mark.

As per rule 16-1c, the only other damage that you can fix is damage from an old hole plug. If the damage is caused by anything else, like spikes, a slammed club, or just a random scar, you may not attempt to repair it until you have finished the hole.

Ball marks off of the putting surface may be fixed before the completion of the hole, but only after your ball has made it to the green. So, if you land your approach shot in the fringe and your ball ends up right behind your ball mark, don’t touch it. Hit your chip shot and then, only after your ball has come to rest on the green, should you go back and fix the ball mark in the fringe. If you do violate this rule, the penalty is two strokes. Quite a hefty consequence for a common courtesy!

Another big difference between your ball lying in the fringe or on the green is whether or not you can mark your ball. On the green, you may mark and clean your ball at any time. On the fringe, however, you may only mark your ball if you are requested to do so by an opponent. Rule 22-2 states that, if you are off the green, you cannot just lift your ball because you think it is in someone’s way, you must be requested to do so. And, if you are asked to lift your ball, you may not clean it. You must lift it and replace it exactly as it lay prior to being marked. If you lift your ball when it lies off the putting surface without the action being requested by another player, your penalty is one stroke in accordance with rule 18-2a.

Now, once your ball is marked, you may think that the rulings stop, but they don’t. In fact, it actually gets a little more complicated. I’ll do my best to simplify the many different scenarios and decisions that involve ball markers.

Basically, your ball marker may be intentionally moved only if it is in the line of another player and they request for it to be moved. Accidental movement of your ball marker is without penalty if the movement is a result of the moving of loose impediments or in the act of measuring your ball.

Also, if your ball marker is moved during the act of marking the ball, it is without penalty. This is important because tapping down your ball marker with your putter is considered to be part of the act of marking.

So, if you tap down your marker and it moves or sticks to your putter, you are not subject to penalty. However, if your marker moves in any of these situations, it must be returned to its original location.  If a player replaces his ball without relocating his marker to the original spot and then plays from an incorrect position, he is subject to penalty under rule 20-7. If the marker is moved outside of one of the given exceptions, he is subject to penalty under rule 20-1 or 18-2 depending on the cause of the motion.

Marking your ball seems like a simple act, but don’t let your guard down just because your ball is in your pocket. Although the situations become complicated and difficult to interpret, moving your marker can result in a costly penalty. If you want to have some fun, you can begin to read some of the crazy rulings and decisions that apply to ball markers.

You may be surprised how easy it can be to break the rules when you’re on or around the green!!

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