If you’re a fan of golf, whether you play it or watch it on television, you will inevitably encounter course conditions that aren’t ideal, which leads to mud getting on your golf ball. And as you may have guessed, this is known as a “mud ball”.
So, what is a mud ball in golf?
A mud ball is a golf ball that has mud on it, which can affect the direction and distance it’s hit. If the criteria for a mud ball is met, golfers are allowed to pick up their golf ball, clean it, and then place it back on the ground. You should always clean off a mud ball if given the chance.
The mud ball is a common occurrence when the ground on the golf course is wet and soft, but not every mud ball spells the end of your career-best round. We’re going to explore what a mud ball is, what the rules of golf are around the mud ball, how mud affects your golf ball, and what to do should you find yourself in a mud ball situation.
What Is a Mud Ball?
A mud ball is simply a golf ball that has mud stuck to part or all of the surface of the ball. The ball flight will be affected should you hit the golf ball with mud on it.
There are scenarios where you’re allowed to clean the mud off of a golf ball, and as a player, you’ll want to take advantage of every opportunity to remove mud or anything else off of the ball that will affect its flight and spin.
It’s very important to be able to identify the ball as yours before making any decisions about what you can or can’t do with the mud ball, which we will get into in further detail within the next few sections of this article.
Mud Ball Golf Rule
The rules involving mud on a golf ball begin with the Embedded Golf Ball rule. The player is permitted to pick up the golf ball to verify the identity of the ball. This is important because you cannot assist a playing partner with golf ball identification, or you will incur a penalty.
Once you have identified the golf ball as your own after picking it up, you then need to check if the ball is embedded, or stuck into, the ground.
If the ball created a dent or crevice within the ground, and the ball was sitting at a level that is lower than ground level, the player can then set the ball within a club length and, most importantly, clean the golf ball before setting it back down outside of the embedded area where the ball was originally found.
It’s important to note that if the ball is identified, and was not embedded into the ground, it cannot be cleaned and must go back exactly where it was prior to golf ball identification. In addition to the Embedded Ball rule, there are two other scenarios where you’re able to clean a mud ball.
The first scenario is when the golf ball is located on the surface of the green on the hole that the player is playing. The golf ball is able to be marked directly behind its location and can be lifted and cleaned before being put back on the green.
This is a common practice and should be utilized to avoid mud affecting the roll of a ball on the green when putting. Additionally, the golf ball is considered out of play between completion of putting on one hole, and the tee shot on the next hole.
When the golf ball is out of play, it can be cleaned or replaced with another ball, but the new ball needs to be conveyed to playing partners during competitive rounds to avoid confusion on golf ball identification going forward.
The final time that a mud ball can be taken off the ground and cleaned off, even when it is not embedded, is when Winter Rules are in effect; which means that the golf ball can be picked up, cleaned off, and placed back down within a club length of its original location when the player has hit the ball into their own fairway.
Outside of these guidelines, a mud ball must be played as is until an opportunity within the rules occurs so that the mud can be cleaned off of the golf ball.
How Much Does Mud Affect a Golf Ball?
Mud or any other foreign substance that attaches to the golf ball will greatly affect the ball’s spin and ball flight, depending on how much mud is stuck to the ball.
When hitting tee shots and longer clubs, the golf ball will become less aerodynamic with mud attached to it, and the extra weight that the mud puts on the ball will result in the spinning differently.
A shot with a mud ball will lose distance compared to the same swing with a clean golf ball and likely won’t fly directly to the target due to the mud creating spin variation in the air.
When the ball is closer to the green on approach shots, pitch shots, and chip shots, the ball will not only come off of the clubface differently due to mud but will also roll differently on the putting surface once it hits the green.
It’s important to consider which side of the ball the mud is on when hitting approaches, as the ball is likely to spin directionally similar to the side of the golf ball that has mud.
Can You Clean a Golf Ball During Play?
As discussed above, there are certain times where it is acceptable to clean off a golf ball during a round of golf. The first example is whenever the golf ball is embedded, or stuck, within the ground after a stroke.
Please note that this rule doesn’t apply if you’re in a bunker or within a penalty area. The ball can be removed from the ground and placed back into play within a club length of where it is embedded, and the player is allowed to clean the ball before placing it back in play.
Players may also clean their golf ball after marking it on the green, or between holes. When the player finds that they have a mud ball outside of these parameters, the golf ball must be played as it lies, meaning that the ball cannot be lifted off of the ground and cleaned.
When the golf ball is in play, it must continue to remain in play unless one of these additional circumstances permits the player to pick the ball up out of play and clean the surface of the ball.
It’s also important to note that there are circumstances under which the ball may be lifted, such as relief from a sprinkler head, that do not allow for the ball to be cleaned or altered in any way.
Players must be aware that not every situation in which a ball can be picked up permits cleaning, and familiarize themselves with when the rules of golf allow for a mud ball to be cleaned or switched out of play to avoid receiving penalty strokes in competitive play.
How Do You Play Mud on a Golf Ball?
The strategy or method of play that a player uses to account for the mud on a golf ball differs, depending on what type of shot that the player is trying to execute during a round.
There are a few situations where a mud ball should not be applicable, as the player is permitted to clean the ball before hitting their respective shot. The first scenario is when putting on the green.
Players should mark their golf ball and clean it, which removes the need to account for a mud ball while putting. The second scenario is on tee shots, regardless of the club used to tee off. When on a tee box, the ball can be cleaned at any point before being set on the ground or on a tee and struck into play.
Therefore, the only times during a round where a mud ball should come into play for a golfer are approach shots and pitching / chipping / bumping the golf ball around the greens.
When hitting an approach shot with a muddy golf ball, players should include the mud as a factor that will affect their ball flight.
Any approach shot has a variety of factors that should be considered, such as the lie of the ball, whether the ball is above or below the player’s feet, the direction of the wind in relation to where the ball has to fly, and the temperature outside in which the round is being played.
Due to these additional factors, there is no perfect solution for having to hit a mud ball, but a good rule of thumb is to hit a club that goes a little further than usual to accommodate for the lost distance and inconsistent spin that the ball will experience due to the mud.
As an example, if a player would normally use a 7 iron for an approach, but there is mud on the ball, they should consider hitting a 6 iron due to the mud, assuming all other factors are neutral.
When hitting shots close to the green with mud on the ball, it’s important to realize that the ball will tend to roll further than anticipated due to the lack of consistent spin on the ball. Mud causes the ball to lose rotational spin, which prevents the ball from checking up as much upon impact with the putting surface.
To accommodate, players should consider playing a lower, running bump shot when possible to allow the ball to roll out. If it’s not possible to hit a bump and run, for instance if there is a bunker in between the ball and the green, players should attempt to hit the ball high to minimize the roll, while also realizing that the ball will have more rollout than normal.
So for example, if you usually play a high flop that lands close to the hole, and you see the ball has mud on it, consider flying the flop only halfway to the hole and allow the lack of spin on the ball to move it forward towards the cup.