Rule of the Month: Here's Mud In Your Eye! | Oregon Golf Association

Rule of the Month: Here's Mud In Your Eye!

By OGA Senior Rules Officials: Pete Scholz and Terry McEvilly
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“Here’s mud in your eye.”  The origin of this phrase is unclear, but one theory, intended to be an insult, refers to the lead jockey of a horse race spraying mud on the other jockeys.  On the other hand, it is more commonly meant as a toast of good will.  We would like to offer still another theory of our own.  We believe it is the phrase spoken many years ago by the first player ever asked by a fellow-competitor, “May I lift and clean the mud off my ball.”

 Playing golf this time of year in Oregon will often produce a similar question.  “Are we playing it down?”  For golf purists, the question seems contrary to the Rules.  “Of course we are playing it down” comes the response.  But be forewarned, the result may be “mud in your eye”.

 If the Local Rule for preferred lies or cleaning ball is not in effect, the ball must not be cleaned in certain circumstances.  This month’s quiz requires a keen knowledge of when a ball may or must not be cleaned (Rule 21).    

Questions:  True/False

  1. A ball embedded in the fairway may be lifted for relief and cleaned.
  2. A player is uncertain if his ball is embedded.  He announces to his fellow-competitor that he is going to lift to determine if it is embedded. He discovers that it is not embedded.  He may clean the ball before replacing it.
  3. A ball lifted to take relief from interference by a cart path may be cleaned.
  4. After lifting a ball to take relief from an area of ground under repair, the player realizes his drop area will most likely result in an unplayable lie.  Prior to dropping the ball he decides to replace the ball in the GUR and play from there.  He may not clean the ball prior to replacing.
  5. A player finds a ball in tall grass but is unable to identify it.  He announces his intention to lift and marks the location of the ball.  He lifts the ball but there is mud covering his identification mark.  He is not permitted to clean any part of the ball.
  6. A player believes his ball has become unfit for play during the play of a hole.  He follows the procedure outlined in Rule 5 for lifting the ball for inspection, but there is a large piece of mud covering part of the ball.  He may remove only as much mud as necessary to determine if the ball is unfit for play.
  7. A player is asked by a fellow-competitor to lift his ball which was very near the fellow-competitor’s ball and interfered with his next stroke.  The player may not clean his ball.
  8. A player’s ball at rest in a bunker is struck and moved by a fellow-competitor’s ball after a stroke.  The fellow-competitor, whose turn it is to play, asks the player to lift his (the player’s) ball because it interferes with the fellow-competitor’s next stroke.  The player may not clean his ball.
  9. Under Rule 21, there are three situations when a ball lying on the putting green may not be cleaned.
  10. A stroke is cancelled under a Rule that requires the stroke to be replayed.  The ball may be cleaned. 


  1. True.  A ball lifted under Rule 25-2 (Embedded Ball) may always be cleaned.  While some Rules permit a new ball to be put into play, Rule 25-2 does not.  Also, important to note, the pitch-mark created by the embedded ball must not be repaired prior to dropping the ball. 
  2. False.  Decision 20-1/0.7 authorizes the player to lift his ball to determine if it is embedded.  To avoid penalty, the player must follow a specific procedure by announcing his intention to lift, marking the position of the ball and allowing another player to witness the process.  He may then lift to determine if the ball is embedded but he must not clean the ball if the ball was not embedded. 
  3. True.  When a ball is lifted for relief from either an obstruction or an abnormal ground condition it may be cleaned (Rules 24 & 25).  However, substituting a ball is not permitted unless the original ball is not easily recoverable.  
  4. False.  Since the player has not put the ball back into play under any Rule, he is permitted to replace the ball originally lifted under Rule 25.  However, by changing his mind and replacing the original ball he has negated his right to lift under Rule 25 and has moved his ball in play, incurring a one-stroke penalty under Rule 18, but he may clean the ball before replacing. 
  5. False.  The intention of Rule 21 (Cleaning Ball) is to not force a player to possibly make a stroke at a wrong ball.  In this circumstance, the ball may be cleaned but only to the extent necessary for the player to make the identification. 
  6. False.  While the Rules allow a player to clean part of the ball for identification under Rule 21, the same is not true for a ball believed to be unfit for play (Rule 5-3).  If the player is unable to determine the condition of the ball without cleaning it, he must replace the ball and play it as it lies, or declare it unplayable if applicable. 
  7. True.  Unless the ball to be lifted is on the putting green it may not be cleaned when lifted under Rule 22 for interference or assisting with play.  If the ball to be lifted is on the putting green it may be lifted and cleaned under Rule 16-1b without restriction.
  8. False.  Although the player has been asked to lift his ball under Rule 22 because it interferes with another player’s stroke, under Rule 18-5, the moved ball must be replaced in the original location and this Rule allows the ball to be cleaned. 
  9. False.  Rule 21 does, in fact, list three situations when a ball may not be cleaned.  But the situations refer to when a ball lies anywhere other than on the putting green.  Rule 16-1b allows a ball on the putting green to be lifted and cleaned for any reason, provided another ball is not in motion that could be influenced by the lifting.
  10. True.  When a stroke is cancelled, the player may clean the ball before replacing it.  If the original ball is not immediately recoverable, the player may substitute a ball.  (Examples of Rules requiring cancellation: Rules 5-3, 19-1b).

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