Rules of Golf explained: Can my caddie place and line up my ball on the green?

Stumped by something you’ve seen out on the course? Our rules expert will find you the answers

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s level 2 rules exam with distinction, I am more than happy to help.

Roy Barnes, via email, asks: “Are caddies allowed to place and line up the ball for the player – some balls have a line marked on them – before the player takes their putt?”

Rules of Golf explained: Our expert says…

Is there anything a player won’t get their caddie to do?

But, seriously, an exception to Rule 14.1b says “when the player’s ball is on the putting green, his or her caddie may lift the ball without the player’s authorisation”.

This came in during the 2019 rule changes and, at the time, the USGA said about the alteration: “In many places, it was (and is) common practice for caddies to mark, lift, clean and replace the player’s ball when it first came to rest on the putting green without authorisation from the player, even though this was not permitted under the previous rules.

“Giving the caddie this authority is consistent with the limited role of a caddie.”

To Roy’s question, though, you still need to be careful.

Rule 14.2b says the ball must be replaced only by the player, or “any person who lifted the ball or who caused it to move”.

If the player plays a ball that was replaced by someone who wasn’t allowed to do so, they get a penalty stroke. So the player can’t lift the ball, chuck it to their caddie for cleaning, and then let them replace it.

The caddie can replace the ball only if they were the one lifted or moved it.

When it comes to aligning, the rules are only concerned about location when replacing a lifted ball on a spot.

There’s an interpretation to Rule 14.2c that says: “The ball may be aligned in any way when being replaced (such as by lining up a trademark) so long as the ball’s vertical distance to the ground remains the same”.

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