At some point, we’ve all been asked to move our ball mark one putter-head length to the right or to the left, clearing the path for a playing partner’s putt. We’ve all been guilty of forgetting to move it back to its original spot, too.

For us mere mortals, it’s no big deal. A classic “whoops” the group can quickly move on from rather than cause a scene over. At the professional level, though, forgetting to move the mark back to its original spot is extremely costly. A two-stroke penalty for this innocent mistake seems harsh, but that’s the rule.

Twelve years ago this past week, Zach Johnson almost learned this lesson in the most painful way imaginable – on the 72nd hole of a tournament he was about to win. The former U.S. Ryder Cup captain led the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial (then known as the Crowne Plaza Invitational) by three shots over Jason Dufner on the 18th. Johnson’s approach found the greenside bunker but he blasted his third out to about five feet, setting up an easy par putt that would have secured a three-shot victory.

Dufner had asked Johnson to move his mark and Johnson obliged, both of them finishing with pars. What Johnson didn’t realize at the time, and what rules officials informed him of shortly after, was that he forgot to move the mark back to its original position, which comes with a two-stroke penalty. Fortunately, he led by three, so Johnson still won the tournament by a stroke, ending a two-year win drought for him at the time. A tournament he had in the bag is now remembered as the close call of all close calls.

After that, Johnson vowed to never make the mistake again. Rather than take any chances going forward, he played a little trick on himself any time someone asked him to move his mark on the greens again. Michael Kim revealed what that trick was on Twitter/X on Monday, and he also revealed that he stole the trick from Johnson after he originally heard the story:

“Zach Johnson, when he won at Colonial (2012) had a 3 shot lead on the last hole. Has a 5ft for par,” Kim wrote. “Easy win right? Well he had moved his coin for his playing partner, and forgot to move it back. (Caddie was raking the bunker) He kinds of nonchalantly hits the putt, makes it and celebrates. Then realizes the mistake and signs for a 6 and a one shot victory 😳 Now every time he moves his mark, he puts a tee on the butt end of the grip to remind himself and after hearing the story I do the same haha.”

Of course, there are all kinds of little tricks you can play to make sure you remember to move your mark back. Say you’ve been using one ball marker all day, maybe when someone asks you to move your mark you use a different ball marker or a coin to remind you to move it back to its original spot. Or, perhaps you do something like this:

Or, you could get really lucky and have a playing partner who reminds you to move it back, kind of like when Steve Scott reminded Tiger Woods to move his mark back in the 1996 U.S. Amateur, which ultimately helped Woods defeat him. The incredible act of sportsmanship is the reason Woods still marks his ball with a coin on the heads side to this day. That way, when he’s asked to move it for a playing partner, he can flip the mark to tails to remind him to move it back when it’s his turn to putt.

Main Image: Harry How