QLast week, my ball was on the putting green. As part of my putting routine, I gently place the putter head behind the ball first and then take my stance. For some reason, my ball shifted a few inches. I'm confident I never touched it. Considering that and the fact that I had not fully addressed the ball, am I absolved from penalty? --
Joachim (Myrtle Beach)
AJoachim, you're correct that you did not incur a penalty under Rule 18-2b Ball at Rest Moved by Player After Address because a player has not addressed the ball until he completely takes his stance.
However, Decision 18-2b/4 tells us that if the ball moved after your club was grounded but before you had completed your stance, you would have incurred a penalty stroke under Rule 18-2a Ball at Rest Moved by Player in General. That is, unless there is strong evidence that wind or some other agency caused the ball to move.
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Was there such an influence? Please remember that the evidence must be strong. After all, your ball was sitting perfectly still until a club head was placed behind it, right? So, unless there was an earthquake or a sudden gust of wind, it looks like you need to replace the ball and add a penalty stroke.
Some golfers choose to putt without ever grounding their club heads. It lessens the chance of the ball moving. Better luck next time.