Golf Rules: What To Do If You Play The Wrong Ball In Golf

It is a terrible feeling. You tee off with a Titleist AVX, but when you mark your ball on the green you see a Callaway Chrome Soft.

It isn’t a magic trick. This is what happens when you play the wrong ball in golf.

It is easy to make mistakes when you play golf. Duck hooks, shanks, and 3-putts can all ruin your round, but making this mistake is the most frustrating.

Does anything make you feel dumber than when you play the wrong ball in golf? It simply gives away strokes (yes, there is a penalty).

Below we explore how it happens, the rules you must follow, and three ways to never play the wrong ball in golf again.

golf rules wrong ball in golf

How Do You Play The Wrong Ball In Golf?

You know where you hit the golf ball. You know approximately how far you hit it. So, how does it happen? How do you play the wrong ball in golf?

There are several factors and scenarios that cause it to happen.

Lots Of Golf Balls That Look Similiar

Let’s be honest, the vast majority of golf balls look the same. They are white with some writing.

On top of that fact, golfers lose balls when they play. Most golf courses have hundreds of golf balls hiding in the rough, the bunkers, and the hazards.

Looking for your ball after a wild shot is like searching for easter eggs. You always need to make sure you find the “right” egg.

Bad Lies Hide Your Golf Ball

Most of the time you play the wrong ball in golf because you have a bad lie. It can be hard to identify the ball when it is in deep grass or mud.

You might able to see the brand of the ball (Titleist), but the number might be hidden.

You never know. The foursome in front of you might have also hit a Titleist in the same area. Just because it is your brand, doesn’t mean it is your ball.

golf rules wrong ball in golf

Be Careful Not To Hit Your Playing Partners’ Ball

It might sound strange, but often you play the wrong ball in golf because you hit the ball of one of the other players in your group.

Here is a scenario. You and your buddy both hit great drives down the middle of the fairway. He is walking, you are riding, so you arrive at the golf balls first.

Your buddy typically hits his driver a bit farther than you, so you assume the shorter drive is yours without really checking.

You hit a nice approach shot and wait for your buddy to walk to the other ball. He looks at it and says “this is your ball”.

Sadness and embarrassment are natural feelings when you play the wrong ball in golf.

golf rules wrong ball in golf

How To Proceed When You Play The Wrong Ball In Golf

The USGA (United States Golf Association) governs the game and Rule 6.3c provides you with the penalty when you play the wrong ball in golf.

If you are playing match play, the rule is simple. You lose that hole and you can proceed to the next hole.

The rules for stroke play are a bit more complicated. You must always correct the mistake – return to where you hit the wrong ball and find your original ball.

There is a two-stroke penalty when you play the wrong ball in golf. Of course, if you can’t find your original ball, you must also follow the lost ball rule.

If you tee off on the next hole before you correct your mistake (you played the wrong ball), you will be disqualified (if you are playing in a tournament).

To summarize, if you correct the mistake before you finish the hole you receive a two-stroke penalty. If you tee off on the next hole without correcting, you are DQ’ed.

golf rules wrong ball in golf

These are the official rules of golf, but you can be a little less strict in a casual round.

Let your playing partners know what you did and go back to replay the shot (find your original ball).

The next question: What happens when someone else hits your ball when they play the wrong ball in golf?

Good news – there is no penalty on you if someone else hits your ball by mistake.

Simply put your ball down where it was (before it was incorrectly hit) and continue your round.

Let’s quickly go through a scenario. You hit your drive into some high grass. You find a ball and hit it onto the green.

You realize on the green that the ball you hit out of the high grass isn’t yours. You should return back to the high grass and start looking for your ball.

You find your ball and hit it onto the green. You two-putt for a 4, but because you hit the wrong ball, you must add two strokes. Your score on the hole is 6.

Simply a brutal way to go from making a par to putting a double bogey on your scorecard!

golf rules wrong ball in golf

3 Ways To Never Play The Wrong Ball In Golf

The sport of golf is hard enough without losing strokes due to penalties. We want to make sure you never experience the embarrassment of this mistake.

Follow these 3 steps and you will never play the wrong ball in golf (again).

1. Mark Your Golf Ball

You should always mark your golf ball in a way that makes it unique from other balls that could be on the golf course.

It isn’t enough to simply know you are playing a “Titleist 3”. There could be other “Titleist 3s” on the course and you need to be able to explain how you know your ball is yours.

The most common technique is to draw on it with a permanent marker. We recommend you use Sharpies.

Be creative. You can do whatever you want, just make sure your golf ball is unique from others.

Draw a smiley face. Fill in some of the dimples with different colors. Circle the number.

The idea is that if you can see any part of your golf ball in the high grass or mud, you immediately know it is yours.

You can even buy a device that will help you make your ball a work of art. Tin Cup offers cool designs and you will be to put the same stencil on each ball.

Another option is Golf Dotz– they sell fun stickers for your golf balls.

Create a unique-looking golf ball and you will never play the wrong ball in golf again!

golf rules wrong ball in golf

2. Make An Announcement On The 1st Tee

Golf traditions and golf etiquette can be tricky when you first start playing the game, but one of them can make sure you don’t play the wrong ball in golf.

What should you do on the first tee? Introduce yourself to your playing partners, wish them good luck, and share the golf ball you are playing.

Be as descriptive as possible. Here is an example.

“I am playing a Titleist 2 with two red dots (you used your Sharpie) and a fireball on the side (you used a Golf Dotz).”

This helps in a couple of different ways. First, the other players in your group know what to look for when they are helping you find your ball.

Second, they can switch balls if they were also planning to play a Titleist 2.

Avoid confusion and you will avoid hitting the wrong ball!

lost ball

3. Add a Step To Your Pre-Shot Routine

Scratch golfers and golf instructors will tell you that a consistent pre-shot routine is important if you want to play great golf.

A typical pre-shot routine will include a practice swing, a visualization of the upcoming shot, and a deep breath. You want to do the same thing every time.

What does this have to do with playing the wrong ball in golf? We want your to confirm you are hitting the correct ball prior to each swing.

It only takes a couple of seconds to make sure you are hitting your ball.

Do you have a bad lie? Did you know the rules of golf allow golf allow you to check your ball?

At anytime you can pick up your ball up and confirm it is yours. Make sure you follow this process.

Tell your playing partners that you are going to identify your golf ball. Pick it up, look at it, and put it back down.

One important thing to keep in mind. You must re-create the lie. In other words, you need to put the ball back in the same condition as you picked it up.

You cannot use this rule to improve your lie.

We hope you will never play the wrong ball in golf, but if you do, you will know how to proceed.

wrong ball

Up Next: Let’s Learn About Some Crazy Golf Rules

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Ray has been playing golf for 35+ years, including being part of his High School and College golf teams. While he still enjoys playing in amateur tournaments, Ray now focuses on growing the game of golf through teaching and coaching. He has two sons that both play golf competitively and loves spending time watching them compete. Ray continues to play in local amateur golf events and currently has a +2 handicap.

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