It happens every once in a while: A golfer hits a shot during a golf tournament that winds up a little -- or a lot -- off line. The ball winds up plopping down out of the sky, maybe after hitting some trees or caroming off a cart path or some grandstands.
Then, all of a sudden, a clueless spectator sees the ball on the ground and just decides to pick it up like it's some kind of souvenir like a foul ball as a baseball game. Inevitably, someone with that spectator or very close to them runs toward them and advises them of what they've done. The fan who picked up the ball looks absolutely panicked and embarrassed, and then they wind up running back to where they found the ball and putting it back about where they found it.
So what happens to the golfer when a spectator picks up their golf ball?
Fortunately for the golfer, they suffer no penalty for the ball being picked up by someone in an accidental situation. (The penalty is huge if a player is knowingly colluding with someone to pick up their ball as it lands and to place it in a different position on the golf course, but that's a whole other article.)
The result of the situation is that the fan is likely admonished and then asked to put the ball back as close to the spot where they took it as they can best remember. Of course, if there is video footage of where the ball landed, then that can be used to help place the ball approximately where it was. Since that likely doesn't exist in most of these situations, getting the ball back as close as possible to the prior location is as good as it gets.
From there, the golfer continues to play out the hole like they otherwise would. It's a weird situation unique to pro golf, but this is a great opportunity to remind golf fans to never pick up a golf ball of any kind -- outside the merch tent -- when they're attending a golf tournament.