Whoops, that wasn’t supposed to happen! But if you’ve hit your ball on a practice swing, here’s how the Rules of Golf say you should proceed
There are some things in golf that are just universal – whether you’re an elite professional, weekend hacker, or brand new starter. I’ll bet there’s barely anyone who plays who hasn’t done this at some point or another.
You’re taking a practice swing and you accidentally catch the ball. What’s the rule? Let’s take a look….
Accidentally hitting golf ball on practice swing
The answer depends on which part of the course you find yourself. So let’s look at then all: the tee, the general area, and the green.
We all know what happens when you accidentally knock a ball off the tee. You’re usually greeted by that joker who goes ‘one’, for a start.
And, of course, 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 simply 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 back in 2018?
What about on the putting green? Strike or move a ball with a practice swing there – or simply accidentally cause your ball to move – and you must replace it on its original spot (estimate if you don’t know exactly) and move on under Rule 13.1d (1). Again, there is no penalty.
Where you’ll discover 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, Rule 9.4b means you’re going to pick up a one-stroke penalty for causing the ball to move.
If this unfortunate situation happens to you, take it on the chin and don’t make it worse. Make sure you put the ball back where it was.
If you forget to do that, and then make a stroke, you’ve played from a wrong place. You’ll pick up a two-shot penalty (or loss of hole in match play) for your troubles.
Got a question for our expert?
Despite the changes to the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, 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? Have you come to grief when you’ve hit the ball on a practice swing? Let me know on X.
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