Can You Change Golf Balls When Putting? What You Should Know

The differences between the tee box, fairway, and green are substantial; you’d be mad to use the same golf club throughout an entire hole. With this in mind, can you change golf balls when putting? Surely it’s only fair to switch your golf balls out too?

Not so fast! While it can be tempting to think that it’s just this easy, the reality is a little more complicated. On this page, we’ll be exploring the rules and regulations surrounding golf balls in the United States. 

We’ll cover when you can change balls, when you can’t, and how to get to the bottom of the USGA’s rules.

Reasons to Change Balls When Playing 

So, why might someone have to change balls when playing? In this section, we’ll find out. While there are plenty of subjective reasons for swapping to a different ball, the only legal reasons are in the case of damage or loss.

The Ball Got Lost 

If your ball has fallen into the water or just can’t be found anywhere, the only real option left is to use a new ball. Hopefully you brought plenty of spares with you! Make sure you place the ball on the course following the USGA’s guidelines. 

The Ball Got Damaged 

In some cases, your golf ball may chip or split severely. If this happens, it may be impossible to continue playing with it. If this sounds like your situation, feel free to swap to a new ball and continue playing. If you’re playing in a serious or professional competition, you’ll need to make sure that your balls conform to the USGA’s rules. 

We explore this in a bit more detail further down this page. 

A Welcome Boost to Performance 

Some golf balls are better for distance, others are perfect for shorted ‘chipped’ distances. In fact, there are myriad designs out there that are all perfect for a different set of circumstances. For this reason, plenty of players like to swap balls mid game. 

While this isn’t in keeping with official regulations, it can help to boost your performance if you’re looking to get an edge. If you’re playing in a casual setting and, more importantly, the other people you’re playing with are fine with it, you might like to use a different ball for each part of the course.

When Can You Change Golf Balls During a Golf Round? 

So, we’ve established some instances where people might like to change golf balls, but when is it actually allowed? In this section, we’ll take a look at what the United States Golf Association has to say on the matter. 

For those of you who aren’t aware, the USGA (along with the R&A) helps to regulate golf in the US and beyond. If you encounter a rule about golf when researching online, these guys are probably responsible for it. 

100 Ball Mesh Bag Hit Away Practice Used Golf Balls

USGA Rule 4.2 

So, can you change golf balls when putting? To answer this question, let’s turn to rule 4.2 from the USGA’s list. Check out this quote from the FAQ section of their website below: 

“Q. Can I use a putting ball?

A. No. You may not substitute a ball on the putting green unless your ball is cut, cracked or out of shape (see Rule 4.2c(2)).”

– Source: USGA site.

Have you damaged or severely disfigured your ball? If not, you’re not allowed to swap it out – it’s just that simple. When competing at a professional level, these rules are designed to keep the game as fair as possible. 

In pro-level golf, the only factor that should sway a game is the skill of the players on the course. The balls or equipment they’re using shouldn’t really matter. That’s why you can’t just swap to a new ball whenever you please – it wouldn’t be fair! 

When It’s Acceptable to Change Golf Balls 

The only real time it’s acceptable to change golf balls is when your old ball gets damaged or lost. All other instances might be tempting, but they’re against the USGA’s rules. Keep in mind that some rules about ‘water hazards’ changed in the rules relatively recently.

The changes aren’t drastic, but they’re worth staying on top of. Check them out here.

How to Know Which Golf Balls You Can Use 

Staying up to date on all of these regulations can be exhausting. Fortunately, the USGA does a reasonably good job of explaining things on their site. In this section, we explore a few key details. 

The List of Conforming Golf Balls 

One source that is worth getting used to is the List of Conforming Golf Balls. Updated weekly, this list should contain everything you need to know about which balls are allowed and which aren’t.

Practice Balls  

Can you use practice balls in a competition? This depends on your committee and how they’ve interpreted the USGA’s rules. In general, however, a practice version of a conforming ball is permitted.

X Out Balls 

By definition, X out balls are deviations from the norm. Their performance and behavior are inherently unpredictable. For this reason, they’re not permitted in official games. 

Beginners Should Try Practice Balls 

We think practice balls are a great way to improve your skills. They actually help to emphasize certain weak points in your technique and identify what you need to work on.

Only Go Expensive Once You’ve got Experience 

Wondering which golf balls to buy as a newbie? Our advice is to only go expensive once it’s strictly necessary. As a new player, you just won’t notice much difference when opting for a more ‘premium’ golf ball.

Save your money for some lessons! 

Can You Change Golf Balls When Putting? Conclusion 

We hope this article has helped to clear up any confusion. In general, you’re not allowed to change golf balls at any part of a given hole in a game of golf. The only exceptions to this are if the ball is damaged or lost.

Check the USGA’s rules online if you’re unsure. 

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