Address the Ball: What It Means and Why You Need to Know

Golfer addressing the ball before putting
This golfer's putter is grounded immediately behind the golf ball, which means he is addressing the ball. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The definition of "address the ball" as it appears in the Official Rules of Golf is this:

"A player has 'addressed the ball' when he has grounded his club immediately in front of or immediately behind the ball, whether or not he has taken his stance."

And "grounded his club" means that you've set the bottom of your club on the ground - the sole of your club is touching the ground. Once you've done that, with your club on the ground immediately behind of or ahead of the ball, you have "addressed the ball."

(One might ask why someone would ground the club in front of the golf ball. That sometimes happens on the putting green. It's not that common anymore, but golfers sometimes first set the putter head down in front of the ball, then move it behind, as part of a putting routine.)

Different forms of "address the ball:" A golfer "addresses" or "addressed" the ball, or is "addressing." A golfer "takes her address" or "took her address," or "is in the address position."

It Is Important to Know What 'Addressing the Ball' Means

You might earn yourself a penalty stroke if you don't know its meaning. In most cases, if you touch your golf ball after taking your address in any way other than making a stroke at it, it's a penalty.

That used to mean that if the golf ball moved for any reason after you addressed it, you were assumed to be the reason for that movement and earned a penalty.

Exception to the Rule

However, in 2012, through a revision to Rule 18-2b (Ball Moving after Address), the USGA and R&A gave the golfer a bit of a break. The rule begins this way:

"If a player’s ball in play moves after he has addressed it (other than as a result of a stroke), the player is deemed to have moved the ball and incurs a penalty of one stroke.

"The ball must be replaced, unless the movement of the ball occurs after the player has begun the stroke or the backward movement of the club for the stroke and the stroke is made."

But it now includes this:

"Exception: If it is known or virtually certain that the player did not cause his ball to move, Rule 18-2b does not apply."

The exception is most likely to be applied on the putting green when a strong wind causes the golf ball to move after a player takes his address. Before this 2012 revision, the golfer would be penalized in that situation. Now, the exception to Rule 18-2b means no penalty for a wind-blown ball so long as "it is known or virtually certain" the golfer was not at fault.