Marking and lifting your ball from the putting green is a privilege accorded all golfers by the Rules of Golf. “A ball on the putting green may be lifted and, if desired, cleaned. The position of the ball must be marked before it is lifted and the ball must be replaced.” Pretty simple, but let’s take a closer look. This act, done by most golfers on every green during a round, or nearly every green, is a privilege that comes with responsibilities.
First, since the ball must be replaced on the spot from which it is lifted, the position of the ball must be marked before it is lifted. This responsibility is clarified in Rule 20-1 (Lifting and Marking). Failure to mark before lifting it is a one-stroke penalty.
Second, when replacing your ball, it must be put back on the spot from which it was lifted. While at some level of scrutiny this is impossible, the Rules expect you to use reasonable judgment and care to replace your ball accurately.
And third, you must replace the same ball that you lifted from the putting green. This is where Jacksonville University senior David Wicks ran into some trouble on May 17th in the NCAA Division I Regionals in Baton Rouge, La. If you are wondering where in the Rules it says you have to use the same ball, the answer is in Rule 16-1b (Putting Green; Lifting and Cleaning Ball), which is quoted in the second sentence of this article above. It specifies, “and the ball must be replaced.” Under many Rules you are required to use “the ball,” which means the ball you are currently playing.Under other Rules, primarily those involving relief with penalty such as the water hazard or unplayable ball Rules, you are allowed to use “a ball,” which means you can use either the ball you are currently playing or a different ball.