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When is a Ball Actually Holed? November 2, 2016 By Jamie Wallace, USGA

Ever find yourself in this position? Carefully move the flagstick to make sure the ball falls into the hole. (USGA)

Have you ever hit what appeared to be a perfect shot from off the green only to have the ball lodge itself between the flagstick and the lip of the hole? While rare, it does happen, as the below video from the 2013 U.S. Open shows. If it happens to you, are you aware of how to proceed under the Rules of Golf?

In the video, Shawn Stefani encountered this situation on Merion’s par-3 17th hole. When he reached the hole, Stefani was careful to gently move the flagstick so that his ball fell completely into the hole.

He did this because, according to the definition of “holed” in the Rules of Golf, a ball is not technically holed until it is both at rest within the circumference of the hole and the entire ball is below the level of the lip. Stefani’s hole-in-one was not official until this occurred. Rule 17-4 allows the player, or someone authorized by him, to move or remove the flagstick to allow the ball to fall completely into the hole. It is then deemed to have been holed with the previous stroke.

If a player whose ball is wedged between the flagstick and the lip of the hole carelessly removes the flagstick and causes their ball to end up somewhere other than in the hole, there is no penalty to the player, but the ball must be placed on the lip. The player then needs to play another stroke for their ball to be officially holed.

If a player simply picks up their ball that is stuck between the flagstick and lip of the hole believing it to be holed, the player incurs a one-stroke penalty for lifting their ball without marking its position. This situation is covered directly in Decision 17-4/1. The player must replace the ball against the flagstick and proceed as above.

It is important to note that the examples above all involve a stroke that is holed from off the putting green. If this occurs after a stroke from the putting green, the penalty for striking the flagstick under Rule 17-3 applies – a two-stroke penalty in stroke play and loss of hole in match play. The player can then proceed by moving the flagstick and allowing the ball to fall into the hole.

Stefani provided an excellent example of how to proceed in this situation. Follow his lead should you ever find yourself in this fortunate circumstance!

Jamie Wallace is the manager of Rules education and digital content for the USGA. Email him at

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