Even though they do happen from time to time, you rarely see foot faults called in professional tournaments anymore. After the PDGA rules were modified a couple years back, a foot fault penalty is much more punitive than it used to be. If you were called on a foot fault under the old rules, you would be allowed to rethrow from the same spot with no penalty. Some players might use this to their advantage in order to get another putt attempt inside the circle or “friendly” card mates might call one to help out a buddy after a bad slip on the tee pad.
PDGA’s Current Foot Fault Rules
The PDGA ultimately altered the foot fault rules. Now, there is no rethrow and a one-stroke penalty is automatically added to the player’s score for that hole. A fellow card mate must call the fault immediately after it happens and then another player on the card must second the call. This is standard disc golf etiquette. A disc golfer can also call a foot fault on his or herself, with the penalty stroke only being applied if another player on the card seconds the call.
What is a Falling Putt?
Foot faults can happen anywhere on the course, from the tee pad through the green. They are most commonly called when a player inside circle 1 (10 meters or roughly 33.3 feet from the target basket). When you are inside the circle, you cannot step through past your disc as you putt. This is called a “falling putt” and is the most common and obvious form of a foot fault. You must be able to demonstrate balance and full control of your body until the disc comes to rest in the basket. Simply hovering for a second and then stepping after your putter is settled in the target (even if you have full control and balance) is going to get you in trouble more often than not.
Other Foot Fault Penalties
Elsewhere on the golf course outside the circle (tee pad, fairway, rough lies and circle 2 and beyond), you are allowed to follow through and step beyond your disc/marker after you release the throw. Technically, your foot (or any other part of your body) is not supposed to hit the ground in front of your lie until after the disc has completely left your hand. Your plant foot must also be touching the designated area behind your disc or mini marker disc. Just envision an 8.5x11 sheet of paper rectangle centered directly behind your marker disc. If one of your feet isn’t touching that imaginary box when you release the disc or you are stepping on the marker itself, it is a stance violation.
Whether or not a competitor calls you on a foot fault is a different story. There is always a little gray area here in actual competitive play, as there are definitely more foot faults happening than enforced foot fault penalties. One can argue that many jump putts and step putts outside the circle are actually foot fault violations if you follow the official rule exactly as written, but that’s a different argument for a different day.
How Can I Avoid Falling Putts?
When you are putting inside the circle, one helpful tip we always recommend is to get in the habit of putting your back foot down behind your mark and then bending over and picking up your mini marker disc (or your upshot disc if you choose not to mark the lie). This is an easy way to demonstrate complete balance and it will generally keep you from falling forward. As you practice putting and play casually, it’s a good idea to think about your footwork and try to avoid falling putts (even on little tap-ins). It may be no big deal to lean in and step through over your marker disc on a tester putt when playing with your buddies. However, those bad habits could come back to haunt you when you are playing in tournaments and every stroke counts.
Work on Your Footwork
Otherwise, it just pays to be mindful of your footwork in general. Whether it’s a tee shot, a full fairway drive or a mid-range upshot, work on getting your plant foot in the legal spot behind the marker and work on avoiding falling putts while on the green. This will help you become a better player and avoid unnecessary foot fault penalties when a tournament is on the line.
Unfortunately, foot faults called in competitive play can create some bad blood between card mates. That’s why you may not see these penalties enforced as often as you probably should—usually only in really blatant instances when the player foot faults egregiously or repeatedly for everyone on the card to clearly see. As a disc golfer, it is ultimately your own responsibility to hold yourself to the rules and call yourself on certain penalties. Even if no one backs you up on your self-enforced foot fault call and you avoid the penalty, at least you are trying to do the right thing on the disc golf course. Being honest with yourself and your fellow competitors is a big part of improving your game. Enforcing official rules upon yourself is one unique thing that sets ball golf and disc golf apart.
We encourage you to learn the rules of disc golf and follow them. You don’t need to be the guy calling a foot fault on every single shot and causing mayhem within your group, but you should pay attention to what yourself and others are doing on the course. Over time, you will see how learning and following the rules will truly benefit your game.