Stumped by something you’ve seen out on the course? Our rules expert will find you the answers

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s level 2 rules exam with distinction, I am more than happy to help.

This week, Phil got in touch on email to talk about something we’ve all done.

“What is the rule on taking a practice swing with a club – NOT A PUTTER – and catching the ball?”

Rules of Golf explained: Our expert says…

All right, Phil, no need to shout…

But seriously, I am going to talk about putters too because the answer to this question can depend upon which part of the course you are in.

There’s not one of us out there, for example, who hasn’t accidentally knocked it off the tee – usually to be greeted by that idiot who goes ‘one’.

As we all know, it isn’t. That’s because when you are playing a ball from the teeing area, it’s not in play until a stroke is made at it.

That’s defined as the ‘forward movement of the club made to strike the ball’.

You can make a practice swing and, if you accidentally hit it, you’ve neither made a stroke nor moved a ball in play. You can re-tee the ball or another ball without penalty. Rules 6.2b (5) is your friend here.

Who can forget Zach Johnson doing this, to hilarious effect, at the Masters last year?

It’s a very similar situation on the putting green too. Strike or move a ball with a practice swing there – or just accidentally cause your ball to move – and you replace it on its original spot and move on under Rule 13.1d (1).

Where the rules are less forgiving is if this happens anywhere else in the course – be it general area, penalty area or bunker.

What’s the difference? While you still haven’t made a ‘stroke’, if you catch it with a practice swing you’re going to pick up a one-stroke penalty for moving a ball that’s already in play.

If this unfortunate situation happens to you, don’t make it worse. Make sure you replace the ball back where it was. Forget to do that and you’ve played from a wrong place. Now it’s a two-shot penalty (or loss of hole in match play) for your troubles.

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