Can You Use a Different Golf Ball When Putting? (Explained!)

I was watching an amateur golf tournament and noticed that a golfer pocketed a ball once he reached the green and switched it with a golf ball with a line on it. I assumed it was completely legal to do, but it got me thinking, can you use a different golf ball when putting? 

As a general rule, the USGA states that the golf ball you begin the hole with is the same one you need to complete the hole. This has been dubbed the “one ball rule”. 

Just when you think you know all the rules of the game, you get a twist you did not expect. 

The United States Golfing Association (USGA) puts out a rule book pertaining to what you can and cannot do on the golf course, so let’s take a deeper look into when and when you cannot change out your ball. 

Are you allowed to switch balls on the green?

On the putting green, you may not swap out the original ball you are using. If you are caught using the wrong ball, it is a one-stroke penalty.

When you make it to the putting green, you will mark your ball and lift it.

When it is your turn to take action and make the putt, you need to replace the same ball and remove the marker.

You then need to finish out the hole. When you finish the hole and start a new hole, it is then that you can swap into a new ball if you choose.

You can also use a different ball when taking relief, inclusive of free and penalty relief. If the original ball is no longer “fit” to play, then it may be substituted with a new ball in the same location.

So why do so many people switch their balls on the green? 

The thing that I realized is that they are not. They are simply marking them (I hope).

The rule of thumb in golf is that you are supposed to play the original ball as it lies. That is exactly the case with balls on the green and why you cannot switch them.

But you can mark your ball and replace it on green. You cannot switch it out for a different ball, though. There are special circumstances, such as if you lose a ball, where you can put a different ball in play.

This is the only scenario, though, where swapping a golf ball mid-hole is allowable.

Is it OK to pick up a ball to clean it?

This one is kind of iffy as the USGA rules are insanely specific. 

Anytime you “lift” your ball, you are allowed to clean it unless you meet any of the following:

  • You are lifting the ball to check to see if it is cracked
  • You need to lift the ball for almost any other reason other than identifying it.
  • If you are moving it simply because it is in the way of another golfer, whether standing or hitting
  • Or only lifting to see if some relief is allowed. 

Confused? 

So am I. 

But I will leave the rules linked here so you can check it out.

Does golf ball matter for putting?

When you are putting on the green, the golf ball that you are using will make a difference.

Each golf ball is going to be unique in its design, its make-up, wear and tear from use, etc.

The more you are using a ball, the more it is going to get worn down.

If you were to swap out the original ball on the green for a brand new one each time, you would be at a competitive advantage.

The newness of the golf ball you swap in would help you measure how the ball will play on the green more accurately.

The golf ball you are using on the green for putting will certainly impact your performance.

How often should you change your golf ball?

Golf balls are designed to take a beating. But that largely comes down to the quality of the ball and how much punishment it has already taken. 

You should keep the same ball throughout a hole if at all possible. But if you declare the ball unplayable or lost, or ripped, or sliced in half (pun intended) then you will obviously need to change out the ball. 

However, it is a friendly game. So unless you are playing competitively or someone that just happens to be a real stickler for the rules, changing your ball out mid-hole shouldn’t make a huge difference. 

I still carry an extra ball with me and may or may not drop if I cannot find the ball so as to not hold up other golfers. 

Things to Remember With Swapping Golf Balls

The first thing is that you are the boss of your golf ball. You will be the one to decide when you swap it out and when you do not, so take responsibility for your actions. 

Bottom line, though, you can only swap it before the start of a hole.

Once you get into the hole and get going with the play, you need to finish it with that golf ball.

The next thing is to not let the ball control your fate. It is easy to think that the ball has something to do with how you are playing.

In reality, the ball probably has very little to do with it.

You should not feel the need to keep the same ball or swap out the ball at any regular interval. Do what you think is right with the golf balls, but trust your game more than the ball itself.

Is there a penalty for hitting another golf ball on the green? 

So there is two ways to look at this. 

If you hit another player’s ball onto the green, then yes. That will result in a penalty. At which point, you should return the ball to its original spot and you will need to allow the original person to hit their ball. 

The other way is if you hit or chip your own ball onto the green and it strikes another player’s ball that is already on the green. For that, there is no penalty. 

But to avoid it, if you get your ball onto the green and you are closer to the pin, assuming you are playing closest ball, place a marker on your ball spot so to avoid this very occurrence. 

Final Thought

Finally, do not be the person who thinks they can swap it out on the putting green.

You cannot change out your golf ball just because you made it to the putting green and think you have that entitlement.

Instead, you need to finish the hole with the same golf ball (preferably made in the USA) you began with. Remember this so you do not break any rules when out on the course, especially when trying following USGA rule book guidelines or just have that over zealous friend that things all rules must be followed at all times. 

Check out some of the more popular balls on Amazon, I always buy balls one way or another and Callaway’s, Vice’s, and Bridgestone’s are my favorites. 

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