Historically, a player may change a damaged ball if it was “out of shape.” The USGA and R&A say there is no longer a good reason to allow substitution for a ball in play in that condition because:

  1. The construction and composition of modern golf balls has made it rare for a ball to cease to be round,
  2. The term “out of shape” has led to confusion, with some players incorrectly believing that a ball with any scuff or scrape on its surface has become out of shape and therefore is unfit for play, and
  3. The playing characteristics of modern balls are not materially affected except when cut or cracked.

The 2018 Rule (5-3) says “If a player believes his ball is unfit for play (ie visibly cut, cracked or out of shape) during the play of a hole, he is allowed to substitute another ball”. But before he can change it he must tell his opponent, marker or fellow-competitor and give them an opportunity to observe the lifting and replacement and to examine the ball. If they dispute the claim, they must do so before the player plays another ball.

In 2019, the player will not be required to inform another person nor to give them a chance to observe the process or examine the ball. This will be consistent with the policy of trusting the player to act correctly without undue supervision. See “Day 9 – Elimination of the Requirement to Announce the Player’s Intent to Lift a Ball.”

Further, the player will only be allowed to substitute a ball if the ball in play has become cut or cracked during the play of the hole — not if it is just “out of shape.” Removing this clause should eliminate confusion and reinforce the Rule’s premise that it is only concerned with major damage affecting the ball’s playability.

The intention of the change is that the process will be simpler and speedier.