June 16, 2015
My brother pulled his ball into some very wet rough and when we got to where it had landed, there were two balls. He said he was going to rub off some mud to identify his ball. When I looked he had all but completely cleaned his ball. When I questioned him he claimed that once you lift your ball you are allowed to clean it. I don't think he is right.
Rule 21 states that "A ball on the putting green may be cleaned when lifted under Rule 16-1b. Elsewhere, a ball may be cleaned when lifted except when:
a) it has been lifted to determine if it is unfit for play (Rule 5-3);
b) it has been lifted for identification, in which case it may be cleaned only to the extent that is necessary for identification;
c) it has been lifted because it would have been assisting or interfering with play (Rule 22)
If a player cleans his/her ball during play of a hole against any of the above scenarios, he/she incurs a penalty of one stroke and the ball, if lifted, must be replaced.
Assuming that your brother did not need to examine every dimple on the ball to determine that it was his, then he is in violation of the rule and subject to a one stroke penalty.
Happy golfing and remember the Rules Matter.