Dustin Johnson’s ball moved, and the golf world erupted in controversy.

In 2018 and before, in the absence of a Local Rule modifying 18-2, if a player (or opponent) accidentally caused the player’s ball to move anywhere on the course, there was often a one-stroke penalty (unless one of several exceptions applied).

In 2019 and beyond, under Rule 13.1d, there will no longer be a penalty if a player (or opponent) accidentally causes the player’s ball to move on the putting green.

We’ve been playing under this Rule already for quite awhile, as virtually every Committee has instituted the aforementioned Local Rule to 18-2 which eliminated the penalty for accidentally moving a ball on the putting green.

The USGA and R&A cite many reasons for this Rules change:

  • The shape, slope and condition of many putting greens today increase the chances that a ball at rest on the putting green might move, and it can be difficult to determine whether a player caused the ball to move or whether the ball was moved by wind or other natural causes.
  • When a ball moves while the player is doing nothing more than taking normal actions to prepare for a stroke, it can seem unfair for the player to be penalized.
  • Most “ball moved” situations occur on the putting green, involve minimal movement of the ball, frequently occur when the player is taking reasonable actions to prepare for a stroke and the ball can be easily replaced.
  • These considerations are not the same when the ball lies off the putting green, and so the penalty will continue to apply (with exceptions, such as accidentally moving a ball during search) to a player or opponent in those circumstances to reinforce the principle that the ball should be played as it lies and that players should continue to exercise care when near to a ball in play.

This Rules change applies only on the putting green, so please take care when you’re near your ball in all other situations.