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Does an air shot count as a stroke?

If you swing and miss are you adding one to your score? Our Rules of Golf expert gets into a scenario that’s been giving plenty of you a headache

 

The air shot in golf. It’s one of those urban legends that never seems to die. Being able to declare your ball lost is another. Once again, you can’t.

There are players out there who will tell you an air shot doesn’t count – that you can just brush off the embarrassment and move on without a stain on your scorecard.

That’s not helped by some frankly confusing information on the internet that will give you some very contradictory explanations. Just google it, but some are worryingly wrong.

I think you can see which way I’m leaning with this. But, for anyone who is still wavering, here’s how it’s explained in the Rules of Golf…

air shot in golf

Air shot in golf: What do the Rules of Golf say?

A stroke is defined in the Rules as the “forward movement of the club made to strike the ball”.

If you start the downswing with a club, and you intend to hit the ball, it counts as a stroke whether you rip it down the fairway or you swing and miss.

Is the ball in play when you’ve whiffed one?

There can be some confusion around this and it revolves around what you believe “in play” to mean. You think it’s when you’ve HIT the ball, right?

But the definitions say a ball first becomes in play on a hole “when the player makes a stroke at it from inside the teeing area”.

Rule 6.2b (5) also says that whether a ball is teed, or on the ground, when starting a hole – or if you’re playing again from the teeing area under a Rule – “the ball is not in play until the player makes a stroke at it”.

Remember that definition of stroke? So even though you failed to make contact with the ball, it is in play because you carried out that “forward movement of the club made to strike the ball”.

You’re hitting your second. And yes, the ball can remain on the tee peg under Rule 6.2b (6).

What isn’t a stroke? You already know if you strike a ball accidentally while making a practice swing, or while preparing to take a shot, it’s not a stroke.

You can also decide during the downswing not to strike the ball and either deliberately stop the clubhead before it makes contact or deliberately miss it.

But don’t try any funny business with this after you’ve gone after one and performed a neat double pike and half twist.

It’s pretty obvious to everyone whether you were trying to hit it or not.

Got a question for our expert?

Despite the changes to the Rules of Golf in 2019 and 2023, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. I’ll try to help by featuring the best of your queries in this column.

What do you think of this air shot in golf rule? Do you agree? Let me know by leaving me a comment on X.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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