By Ken Love
For the Mirror
The seemingly simple action of marking your golf ball is something nearly every golfer takes for granted.
It shouldn't be.
Over the years, the outcome of more than one important tournament has been influenced by penalties assessed after something went awry during this routine task.
At the 2002 Genuity Championship, PGA tour pro Jesper Parnevik accidentally dropped his ball on top of his ball mark, causing it to flip and move. Parnevik knew his marker needed to be replaced but was surprised to find that he would also be charged a one stroke penalty.
According to the rules, since he was not actually in the process of replacing his ball, the movement of his marker necessitated a penalty.
There are several rules that address the intricacies of marking your ball, but the basic procedure is defined by USGA rule 20-1. When a player reaches the putting service, the rule states, "The position of the ball to be lifted should be marked by placing a ball marker, a small coin or other similar object immediately behind the ball."
A wide variety of coins and coin-like items have traditionally been used for this purpose. An informal survey of local golfers reflects today's trend.
Typical markers include tokens that display the logo of a golfer's home course - Park Hills, Sinking Valley, Iron Masters, etc. Other popular markers display logos of the top golf equipment brands of today, like TaylorMade, Titleist and Nike.
More interesting are markers that have some personal connection with their owners.
Wally Clapper, of Martinsburg, uses a half-dollar coin to mark his ball, minted in 1974 - the year he was born.
Tim Yingling, of Altoona, has used an antique, brass "Standard Oil" coin that he found years ago.
"At the time I found it, I was laid off from the railroad," Yingling said. "Soon after, both my wife and I found jobs that we worked at for years. I've considered the marker a good luck charm ever since."
Many golfers have peculiar rituals while marking their golf balls. Bud Hetrick, of Williamsburg, uses a quarter to mark his ball, and he normally places heads up - except on birdie putts, when he turns the marker to tails, displaying the coin's eagle logo.
Hollidaysburg Area High School Bryan James uses a 50-cent piece to mark his ball.
"I always position the coin in the same direction - with John F. Kennedy looking down the putting line, helping me read the putt," James said with a smile.
While the official rules of golf suggest that a coin or coin-like object be used as a ball marker, they do not prohibit other objects from being utilized. It's surprising to know that there are several unorthodox ways to mark your ball that do conform to the rules, including using a tee or loose impediment. In fact, it is even legal to mark your ball by placing the toe of a club to the side of or behind the ball.
Coins, however, are far and away the most commonly used markers. Over his long career, golfing great Jack Nicklaus always placed three pennies in his right pants pocket. When marking the ball, he would always placed the small coin tails up. A little more superstitious, Davis Love III, still uses pennies, but they must be marked either 1965 or 1966.
Former PGA pro Chi Chi Rodriguez, though, probably takes the prize as the tour's most ritualistic ball marker.
Rodriguez would carry several different coins with him during every round. He would use a quarter on birdie putts and a buffalo nickel on par and eagle putts. In addition, he carried a special, antique gold piece he used as a marker when the others "weren't working."