Rules Column: Pat Campbell

Rules of the Game:

Making a stroke might be harder than you actually think it is

What could be simpler than making a stroke? You swing the club, you hit the ball, you move on! But let’s look into all the components of making that stroke. It’s way more complicated than you think.

Rule 10.1 is “Making a Stroke.” Do you know what constitutes making a stroke? All kinds of physical (and mental) requirements are necessary for a “stroke” to be made. First of all, the player must INTEND to make a stroke. Have you ever accidentally bumped the ball off the tee when addressing it, and then someone with an incredibly original sense of humor says, “One!”? Sorry, but it’s never “one” in that case. The player had no intent of making a stroke. It’s the same when you are making a practice swing and accidentally hit the ball. You haven’t made a “stroke.” But there’s a caveat here: If you accidentally hit the ball with a practice stroke on the tee or on the green, there’s no penalty. Just replace or re-tee the ball. But if you accidentally hit the ball with a practice stroke anywhere else on the course, you still haven’t made a “stroke,” but in that case you need to add a one-stroke penalty in addition to replacing the ball.

Next, the “stroke” doesn’t begin until you start your downswing. Yes, it’s true. The backswing is not part of the “stroke.” When you get to the top of your backswing, and then start down, that’s when the stroke actually begins. What if you swing and whiff the ball? If you INTENDED to make a stroke and whiffed it, it’s a stroke, and this time it really is “one”! So, if you’ve made the downswing intending to strike the ball, you’ve made a stroke whether you whiff it, top it, skull it, shank it or hit it 320 yards! It’s the great equalizer.

Now, let’s throw a wrench into this. What if you decide NOT to make the stroke after you’ve started your downswing?

Actually, you can do that, but you have to be careful. If you pull up and are able to abort your swing without striking the ball, you haven’t made a stroke. But what if you try to abort your swing but still strike part of the ball? Well, first of all we have to trust your integrity that you really were trying to abort your swing. Assuming you’re telling the truth, we have to decide on what part of the course this action took place. If it happened on the tee or the green, you just replace or re-tee the ball. But if it happened anywhere else on the course, you need to add a one-stroke penalty in addition to replacing the ball.

Now let’s see what part of the club you have to use. The Rules say you must use the head of the club to make a stroke. It doesn’t matter what side of the head: face, toe, heel or back edge. But you can’t use any other part of the club to make a stroke without incurring a penalty. So, if you’ve got a 6-inch putt and you decide to hole it using a billiard stroke with the butt of the grip, you get a two-stroke penalty in addition to the stroke.

The Rule also states that you must not “push, scrape or scoop the ball.” A “push” would be if you place the club immediately behind the ball and then pushed forward to move the ball – essentially, without making a backswing or downswing. A “scrape” (along with a push) is most likely to happen on the green. “Scraping” is when you place the club behind the ball, and then scrape it along its path to the hole. A “scoop” is when the ball is up against an object, such as a tree or fence, and the only way to move it forward is to place the club behind the ball, and then scoop it forward, again without a backswing or downswing. Pushing, scraping and scooping a ball with the intent of making a stroke will cost you two strokes, in addition to the stroke itself. Other things you can’t do are making a stroke while standing astride the line, anchoring the club to your body, and making a stroke at a moving ball.

But I think we’ve given you enough to digest for now.

The 2023 Rules of Golf went into effect on January 1, 2023.