Ask Dave: Who goes first?

Dave Mangan is the general manager of championship and golf operations for New Zealand Golf. Since 2013, Dave has been New Zealand Golf’s representative on the R&A rules of golf committee and was involved in the five years of discussions on the 2019 rule changes.

Readers are invited to submit questions to Golfer Pacific editor Paul Gueorgieff by email to Please ensure you explain your questions and situations clearly.

Who goes first? 

Dave: I was playing match play and I have marked my ball on the green which is about three feet from the hole. My opponent chips onto the green and his ball finishes immediately in front of my marker. In other words the positions of our two balls are exactly the same. Neither of us wants to putt first as there is quite a bit of break remaining to the hole and each of us would like to get a read off the other player’s putt. How do we resolve who will go first?

Alexander, Christchurch

Hi Alexander, 

Rule 6.4a(1) covers the order of play in match play after both players start a hole. The ball that is farther from the hole is to be played first.

If the balls are the same distance from the hole or their relative distances are not known, the ball to be played first is decided by agreement or by using a random method.

So in your instance above you would need to decide a random method to proceed which could be rock, paper, scissors or something similar.

Accidentally hit ball with practice stroke 

Dave: A playing partner accidentally hit his ball in a practice putting stroke. Is there a penalty and is the ball replaced or played from where it finishes? Also wondered if the same rule applies if a ball is accidentally hit while not on the green?

Conner, Palmerston North

Hi Conner,

In any “ball moved” situation the first thing to do is figure out what caused the ball to move as that affects the procedure that you follow. In your scenario it seems virtually certain that the playing partner caused the ball to move.

If your playing partner accidentally moved their ball accidentally (which has happened here) on the putting green then there is no penalty and the ball must be replaced on the spot. 

This is different when it happens anywhere else on the course. In that case the ball must also be replaced, however the playing partner would incur a penalty of one stroke. 

The penalty situation here is covered by rule 9.4(b) and not getting a penalty for accidentally moving the ball on the putting green is covered under the same rule with Exception 3.

How close should marker be to ball?

Dave: We have played with preferred lies for several weeks over the winter and I recently played with a person who marked his ball with a pitch repairer about one foot away from the ball.

Most people place their markers very near the ball but this person always placed his marker about a foot away.

On each occasion I was not looking when he replaced the ball but I don’t think he was trying to gain an advantage and he may have replaced the ball within the allowed 15cm of where the ball was originally.

But my question is: can you place your marker that far from the ball? I presume the rule will say the marker must be placed next to the ball but what is the definition of next?

Warren, Timaru.

Hi Warren,

With regards to the correct way to mark a ball Interpretation 14.1a/2 explains Marking Ball Correctly.

Rule 14.1a uses “right behind” and “right next to” to ensure the spot of a lifted ball is marked with sufficient accuracy for the player to replace it in the right spot.

A ball may be marked in any position around the ball so long as it is marked right next to it, and this includes placing a ball-marker in front of or to the side of the ball.

In the instance of preferred lies though, there isn’t a requirement under the rules for the ball to be marked when you lift it, so it doesn’t really matter if your opponent marked with a pitch repairer so far away. However it would be recommended to mark a spot close to their ball because if a player lifted their ball and did not replace it in the relief area, which should either be 15cm or 1 club length, then they would be playing from a wrong place and incur the general penalty.