You hit a beautiful golf shot and the ball nearly strikes the flagstick before rolling just off the putting surface. You are closer to the hole than any of your competitors, with a straight, five-foot putt for birdie. You should march up to the green and knock the ball in, right? Not so fast. Golf has rules for just about everything – including determining who putts first once all players are on or near the green. According to the United States Golf Association, the player in your group who is farthest from the hole – not the closest -- takes the next shot, meaning you may have to wait a while before your big putt.
USGA Rule 10, Order of Play determines when players should hit their shots. However, the rule does allow for golfers to shoot out of turn. According to the rule, if the player farthest from the hole is not ready to play, he can ask another player to hit a shot or putt. In that circumstance, you could receive permission to hit your putt even though your ball is not farthest from the hole.
It usually does not happen in casual play, but USGA Rule 20-5 does allow for an opponent to ask you to re-hit your putt if you play out of order. In that case, you would play another shot from the same spot without penalty. If your ball is roughly the same distance from the hole as another player’s, then you and your playing partners should decide as a group who putts next, according to the USGA. If the group decides it is not your turn, you can use the time to study your putt while being careful not to distract the player about to hit her shot or putt.
Knowledge of the rules is an important part of golf etiquette. Proper etiquette around the green is important because putting plays such a key role in the game. Because recreational players who shoot 90 to 100 might hit more than 30 putts during a round, proper decorum and order around the green are essential. The USGA notes that in addition to knowing when to putt, you should not step on the putting lines of fellow players. That means not walking across the imaginary line between a player’s ball and the hole. Doing so can leave cleat marks that might affect a competitor’s putt. If you determine you are not farthest from the hole, mark your ball with a plastic marker or coin and wait your turn.
You may not putt first if you are closest to the hole, but you may need to tend the flagstick for a playing partner. The golfer closest to the hole should take the flagstick out once all players are on the green, according to the website of the Becky Pierce Municipal Golf Course in Huntsville, Ala.