When is a Player Penalised for Accidentally Hitting their Ball with a Practice Swing?

When is a Player Penalised for Accidentally Hitting their Ball with a Practice Swing?

Well, there’s been another talking point about the Rules of.

This concerns hitting your ball and moving it during a practice swing.

If you were watching the second round of the Masters Tournament last Friday, you may have seen Zach Johnson accidentally strike his ball with a practice swing on the 13th teeing area at Augusta National Golf Club. Johnson then re-teed his ball and played on without penalty.

Watch the video by clicking on Zach Johnson Accidentally strikes Ball with Practice Swing.

For many of you, this may raise the question about when exactly you may be penalised for accidentally striking and moving your ball with a practice swing.

The answer comes down to whether you may have played a stroke, your ball was in play and on what area of the course it may have occurred.

Let’s start by looking at a couple of definitions.

Firstly, the definition of ‘in play’, or the relevant part of the definition,

  • A ball first becomes in play on a hole:
    • When the player makes a stroke at it from inside the teeing area, or
    • In match play, when the player makes a stroke at it from outside the teeing area and the opponent does not cancel the stroke under Rule 6.1b.
  • That ball remains in play until it is holed, except that it is no longer in play:
    • When it is lifted from the course,
    • When it is lost (even if it is at rest on the course) or comes to rest out of bounds, or
    • When another ball has been substituted for it, even if not allowed by a Rule.

Secondly, the definition of ‘stroke’, or the relevant part of the definition,

The forward movement of the club made to strike the ball.

But a stroke has not been made if the player:

  • Decides during the downswing not to strike the ball and avoids doing so by deliberately stopping the clubhead before it reaches the ball or, if unable to stop, by deliberately missing the ball.
  • Accidentally strikes the ball when making a practice swing or while preparing to make a stroke.

For a stroke to be made you have to have the intention of wishing to hit your ball, therefore since you are making a practice swing you are not intending to hit your ball and it does not count as a stroke in the Rules of Golf, even if you strike your ball accidentally

Now we come to the outcomes for hitting your ball with a practice swing on different areas of the golf course, and this is where you will see inconsistencies in the Rule remembering the definitions I have just mentioned:

  • On the Teeing Area: When you are playing a ball from the teeing area, the ball is not in play until a stroke has been made at it. This means that when your ball is teed or on the ground in the teeing area and you make a practice swing that accidentally strikes and moves the ball, you have not made a stroke or moved a ball in play. The Rules of Golf allow you to re-tee the same ball, or another ball, without penalty. This is exactly what happened to Johnson. Note that there is also no penalty if this occurs when playing again from the teeing area after starting the hole (such as after hitting a ball out of bounds or hitting a tee shot that strikes a tree and ricochets back within the teeing area). This is covered under Rule 6.2b(5) and 6.2b(6). Please note that the “teeing area” does not include the entire tee box. It only includes the two club-length-deep area measured from the tee boxes on the tee you are playing.
  • On the Putting Green: Just as in the teeing area, the Rules of Golf are lenient if you strike and move your ball which is already on the putting green with a practice swing (or accidentally cause your ball to move in any other way), you can simply replace your ball on its original spot, or estimated spot, without penalty and play on. This is covered under Rule 9.4b Exception 3

Exception 3 – Accidental Movement on Putting Green: There is no penalty when the player accidentally causes the ball to move on the putting green (see Rule 13.1d), no matter how that happens.

  • Anywhere Else on the Course: This would include a ball that lies in a bunker, a penalty area, or anywhere in the general area (defined as anywhere on the golf course that is not the teeing area, the putting green, a bunker or a penalty area). When your ball lies in any of these areas, it is already in play. If you then take a practice swing and cause your ball to move, you still have not made a stroke, but you will get a one-stroke penalty for moving your ball in play. The ball must be replaced on its original spot. This is covered under Rule 9.4. If the player instead plays the ball from where it was moved to after their practice swing, it becomes a two-stroke penalty (or a loss-of-hole penalty in match play) and the player may or may not be required to correct their mistake (see Rule 14.7 for more information).

So, there we have it. The inconsistencies as I see them are:

  1. In the General Area, even though according to the definition of ‘stroke’ you have not made a stroke at your ball, you get a 1 Stroke-penalty
  2. On the putting green, even though your ball is in play, according to the definition of ‘in play’, you are not penalised.

Please let me know your thoughts on this, I may be wrong.

Enjoy your Golf,


Rules of Golf Blog: www.my-golf.uk

Email: tony@my-golf.uk

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