You’re playing a short par 4 hole and you reach the green in two. After trying to wipe the grin off your face (for being so proud you’re here in regulation and will be putting for birdie for a change) you’ve got to know what to do when you reach the green.
There are a few things to actually DO, and more importantly, NOT DO now that you’re on the green.
1. Care For The Green
Some greens are softer than others, but if you and your girlfriends/playing companions/opponents have hit the green with a high/lofted approach shot, then you’ve made a mark that should be repaired.
Look for your divot and without walking on anyone else’s line, repair it. This quick USGA video shows exactly how to repair your ball mark so your putt will run smoothly over it, and protect the green from becoming a brown spot (that will prevent the ball from rolling straight).
Tip: A great habit to be in is repair your ball mark, PLUS one more.
Rule 16-1: On the putting green you may: repair ball marks and old hole plugs, but not any other damage, such as spike marks.
However, do repair your spike marks (after you have played the hole) as a courtesy to the next group and to properly care for the green.
2. Determine Who Will Putt First
Under Rule 10, the ball furthest from the hole is played first, so you’ll want to take a peek around the green and determine what the order will be.
Pace-of-Play Rule of Thumb: If you hole out first, you should be the one to replace the flagstick after your companions have sunk their putts.
Once you hole out, position yourself close to the flagstick so that when the last player sinks their putt you are ready to replace the flag and quickly move on to the next hole.
3. Tend The Flagstick If Asked
If all players are on the green and can see the hole, you should be in the habit of removing the flagstick and laying it gently on the green. When you pull the flagstick:
- Don’t lay the flagstick in front of anyone’s line of putt
- Don’t lay the flagstick directly behind the hole in the line of anyone’s putt
- Do lay the flagstick gently off to a side, far enough away that even on a green with a lot of slop no one’s ball will run into it
If you’re playing a casual round of Stroke Play with girlfriends and some may not see the hole due to the distance from the hole or a slope on the green, you may want to ask your companions if they would like the flagstick “attended”.
Attending The Flag (or tending the flag) means you stand next to the flagstick, away from the line of putt, without causing any shadows on the hole. Keep your hand on the flagstick while it is still in the hole and be ready to pull it out if the ball is coming towards it.
(Seriously, don’t be in a daze thinking about what you’re having for lunch later that afternoon because if you fail to pull the flagstick out and the ball hits it, that’s a penalty for the person who just putted. Not a nice girlfriend!)
Here’s a USGA Video about Rule 17 The Flagstick
If you’re in a Match Play competition, then you can be penalized by loss of hole if you “offer advice” according to Rule 8, so it is best to wait to be asked to tend the flagstick or span your ball. But stand ready, willing and able!
4. Don’t Step On My Line!
When you reach the green and look for your ball mark (divot) to repair, you should also notice where the other players’ balls are. You will want to avoid walking on their line of putt. The courteous thing to do is to walk all the way around their ball.
While you’re walking around the green your shoes could be causing spike marks (yes, even the new “soft spike” shoes like my favorite Footjoy and Adidas shoes).
- Don’t jump on the green
- Don’t spin your feet around, causing damage to the green
- Don’t walk in front of another player’s line of putt
5. Study Your Upcoming Putt… Quietly
For pace of play, you’ll want to have an idea of how you’ll want to roll your putt when it’s your turn, so study it quietly while others are putting. Avoid moving around while a player is about to begin their putting stroke so that you’re not a distraction. And this is NOT the time to make a phone call or take that selfie!
6. Span Your Ball Only If Asked
A player may ask you to “span your ball” so that your marker doesn’t interfere with the line of their putt. This can be one club head length or more, as long as you identify a landmark such as a tree or building that you will use to replace the ball in its original position as soon as their putt has been made. Read what the USGA says about how to span your ball.
Tip: I turn my ball marker upside down on the green whenever I am asked to span my ball. This helps remind me to replace it to its original spot (and avoid a penalty!)
7. Don’t Be Afraid To Speak Up!
For me, putting requires more concentration than any other shot. If someone else is talking, moving or standing in a way that is distracting to you, just ask them politely to stop talking, move their shadow away from the hole, etc. One stroke more is one stroke more, and you can’t ask to do it over again because someone was talking!!
In Stroke Play, don’t forget to putt all the way into the hole or you can be disqualified. Watch this SCGA video.
Only in Match Play can your opponent “concede the hole” to you (and when she does you must pick up your ball).
Check out the definitions of golf terms, rules details and more at USGA Rules of Golf or this Golf Rules Illustrated book.
San Diego native, interior design nut, and golf addict (with a hopelessly bad swing)
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