What's the Ruling: Accidentally Hitting Golf Ball with Practice Swing

Is it a penalty when a practice swing makes contact with the golf ball?

Golf Alex Cejka makes a practice swing before playing his golf shot.
Let's be careful out there with our practice swings. Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

You take a practice swing. You step a little closer to the golf ball and take another. Whoops — you just accidentally hit the golf ball with that practice swing! What were you thinking?

What you're might be thinking now is: Do I have to count that? Is it a stroke? Is there a penalty?

First, Answer This Question: Was the Ball 'In Play'?

The answer to what happens you accidentally hit the golf ball with a practice swing depends on whether the ball was already "in play" (or not). Remember: A ball is "in play" from the moment you make a stroke at it on the teeing ground until it is in the hole.

If the ball is on the teeing ground and you have not yet made a stroke at the ball, then the ball is not yet in play. And accidentally hitting the ball with a practice swing in that situation does not result in a stroke or a penalty. You can read more explanation of this scenario in our FAQ titles "Does it count as a stroke if I accidentally bump the ball off the tee?"

If the Ball Is In Play, a Practice-Swing Mishap Results in a Penalty

However, once you've made a stroke at the ball on the teeing ground, the ball is considered "in play" until you hole out. Then the question of whether a practice swing that makes contact is a stroke or penalty (or both) is covered under Rule 18, "Ball at Rest Moved."

And here's the ruling: If you accidentally move a ball that is in play with a practice swing, it's a one-stroke penalty. You must replace the ball to its original position and play it correctly.

Failing to replay the ball from its original position results in a total penalty of two strokes in stroke play or loss of hole in match play.

Rule 18-2 provides a list of scenarios in which accidentally causing the golf ball to move does not result in a penalty. Alas, clipping the ball with a practice swing does not appear on that list.

So be careful with those practice swings! If you do not yet have sufficient control of the golf club head during a swing, then be sure to stand well clear of your golf ball during those practice strokes.

A Change Is Coming in 2019

There are major changes to the Rules of Golf proposed for implementation in 2019, and one of those affects the topic at hand. When a ball is accidentally moved on the putting green, there will be no penalty under the proposed 2019 revisions.

As noted, that will be for balls on the putting green, and so practice putting strokes will be covered. However, there will be no change to what we've written above for golf balls that are off the putting green. Practice strokes that move a golf ball will still result in penalties.