How to Get Disqualified in Golf

By Jim Thomas
Padraig Harrington was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard in 2011.
Padraig Harrington was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard in 2011.

There are numerous ways to get disqualified in a golf tournament, and plenty of professional and amateur players have learned the hard way by losing a U.S Open championship or a six-figure paycheck. Scorecards figure prominently in disqualifications. A player can fail to record penalty strokes, record an incorrect score on a single hole or forget to sign the card. The USGA and the Royal & Ancient, the governing bodies of golf, adopted a new policy in 2011 that allows tournament officials to waive a disqualification in certain circumstances.

Conditions of Competition

Under USGA Rule 6, you may be disqualified for a misrepresenting your handicap -- for example, as 10 when it is actually 6 -- a blatant form of cheating. You may be disqualified for missing your starting time, although if you arrive within five minutes the tournament committee is allowed to adopt a local rule with a two-stroke penalty rather than ejection.

You may even be disqualified for starting too early, as Ed Oliver discovered at the 1940 U.S. Open. With a storm on the horizon, Oliver and five other golfers started before their official tee time. Oliver, who already had earned a spot in a playoff with Gene Sarazen and Lawson Little, was disqualified.


Turning in an incorrect or unsigned scorecard is one of the easiest ways to be disqualified. If you turn in a score that is higher than you shot, you're stuck with the higher score. If you turn in a lower score, you're disqualified. One of the cruelest disqualifications came in the 1957 U.S Women's Open when Jackie Pung shot 298 to top the field. It came to light, however, that even though the scorecard Pung signed reflected the correct 18-hole total of 72, the card listed a 5 for a hole she had completed in 6 strokes. Under Rule 6-6d, "the competitor is responsible for the correctness of the score recorded for each hole on his card. If he returns a score for any hole lower than actually taken, he shall be disqualified."

Nonconforming Equipment

USGA Rules 4 and 5 regulate balls and clubs. If you play with equipment that is not approved by the rules, you are disqualified.

The rules bar such things as using a foreign substance on your clubs or using clubs or balls that don't conform to USGA standards in terms of design or performance. The Rules of Golf also regulate the design of golf glove you can wear.

2011 Rule Change

A new policy adopted in 2011 by the USGA and the Royal & Ancient offers tournaments the option of waiving disqualification in some instances. The policy was spurred by rules violations called in by TV viewers and affecting players who had already signed scorecards that subsequently proved to be incorrect. As USGA executive director Mike Davis told the Golf Channel, for a waiver of disqualification to be justified, “There had to be facts arise after the scorecard had been returned, that the player either couldn't possibly have known about, or, in the committee's judgment, couldn't have reasonably known before he returned the scorecard.”

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