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By Snyper on 2/7/11
Matt is an opinionated* golf enthusiast from Pennsylvania. He coaches at the high school level, molding the minds and swings of our next generation. His column will appear each Monday on ClubSG. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts and opinions of Matt in the comments. Don't hold back- because Matt won't.

One of the most embarrassing things that can happen during a round of golf is accidentally hitting your ball during a practice swing. While everyone is laughing, most guys just return their ball to the original spot and try again. Well, while part of that action is proper, the process isn't quite that simple or forgiving.

The first thing that we need to know to make the proper ruling when this accident happens is where the ball was when it was contacted. The reason that this is important information relates to whether the ball was in play or not at the time that it was moved. When a player accidentally contacts his ball during a practice swing before hitting his tee shot, he does not incur a penalty. Until the ball is intentionally played from the teeing ground, the ball is not considered to be in play. So, whether you bump the ball off the tee when you sit your club down behind it or hit it 50 yards sideways on a practice swing, you are not penalized because neither of those actions where intended to be an attempted stroke. Thus, the ball can be replaced to the tee and play can continue without adding any penalty strokes.
While moving your ball accidentally is a violation, the actual process of moving the ball is not considered to be a stroke.

Unfortunately, accidentally contacting your ball with a practice swing will cost you a stroke if it happens anywhere other than the tee box. Whether you are finding your rhythm with a 3-wood or establishing your tempo with your putter, contacting the ball with your club accidentally while it is in play violates rule 18-2a. However, while moving your ball accidentally is a violation, the actual process of moving the ball is not considered to be a stroke. This might not seem relevant initially, but it turns out to be very important. Because the movement was caused unintentionally, no stroke was made, which means that the ball must be returned to its original position before being contacted again. If you fail to replace the ball before making your next stroke, you will be considered in breach of rule 18, which results in a two-stroke penalty instead of the original 1-stroke violation. You should note that this is different than violating rule 20, which regulates playing a ball from an incorrect position. Though you are playing the ball from an improper spot, this action is a continuation of your violation of rule 18, so you would not be penalized additionally under rule 20. Thus, if you accidentally move your ball with your practice swing and then continue play without replacing it, your maximum penalty for the entire incident is two strokes.
When it comes to accidentally moving a ball, there are about a million different scenarios that exist. The rules of golf covers pretty much all of them.

A more common violation of this rule that also involves practice swings is when your ball moves as a result of your practice swing moving loose impediments. For example, you take a practice swing near your ball, which moves a stone and thus causes your ball to move. This action is covered by the same rule as if you were to actually hit the ball with you club. The ball must be replaced and the player incurs a penalty of one stroke.

When it comes to accidentally moving a ball, there are about a million different scenarios that exist. The rules of golf covers pretty much all of them. If you have a spare couple of days to sit and read through the many rules and consequential decisions regarding accidental movement, you can find some pretty interesting situations that are addressed. However, when it comes to hitting your ball while taking a practice swing, the ruling is quite simple. It costs you one stroke and you have to return the ball to where it originally was at rest. But, don’t forget to put it back! If you do, you will be penalized an additional stroke for your breach of rule 18.

The lesson here is simple, stay away from your ball when you are taking practice swings. Whether you contact the ball directly or you cause it to move by moving loose impediments around your ball, you will be penalized. You will notice that most of the guys on tour take their practice swings while standing behind the ball some 15 or 20 feet. Very few contact the ground anywhere close to their ball for this very reason. A one-stroke penalty to those guys can turn out to be a pretty costly practice swing!


* Matt's views and opinions are his own do not necessarily reflect those of SkyGolf.

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