The Whiff: One of Golf's Most Embarrassing Shots

Golfer preparing to hit tee shot, hoping not to whiff
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In golf, a "whiff" is when you swing at the golf ball and ... miss. Whoops! If you were trying to hit the ball but missed, you just whiffed it. When you whiff a golf shot, you just have to re-set yourself and try again. (But wait for the laughter to die down first.)

Also known as: Air shot.

Examples of use: "Try to relax on the first tee of your first round of golf, or you might whiff." "I can't believe I just whiffed the ball."

Do I Have to Count a Whiff in My Score?

The short answer: If you are trying to hit the golf ball and you miss, yes, you have to count it. There are scenarios, however, in which you might intentionally miss the ball, and that's different. See our Rules FAQ entry on this:

One of Golf's Most Embarrassing Swings

Yes, the whiff is one of the most embarrassing things that can happen to a golfer. And if you're a beginner, you're probably going to whiff a few shots. And your playing partners will laugh when you do.

Just laugh right along with them. What else can you do? Laugh it off and get ready for your next attempt. Just remember: We've all been there. We all had to start from ground zero in golf, and there are very, very few golfers on the planet who've never swung and missed when they were starting out.

Now, if you keep whiffing even as you become a more experienced golfer, well, you might want to take some lessons!

I remember a round playing with three friends when one of them whiffed his tee shot. Of course, the other three of us began chucking and chortling (it's the law, at least among friends). But then the whiffer began clutching at his chest, staggered a few steps and fell to the ground. Motionless.

After a few beats of stunned silence, we rushed over to him.

He remained still and one of our group began grabbing for a phone to call for help. That's when the whiffer opened one eye and smiled. He'd faked a heart attack to distract attention from the fact that he missed the golf ball.

Do the Pros Ever Whiff?

Believe it or not, yes, professional golfers haven been known to whiff a shot. But almost never on a full swing (e.g., a driver or iron shot).

For pros, the exceedingly rare whiff usually happens one of two ways. The first is on a short wedge shot around a green when the ball is sitting up on top of very fluffy or very thick rough. In that scenario, it's easy to misjudge just how high the ball is sitting off the ground, and one's wedge can slide right underneath the ball, failing to make any contact.

The second scenario is on putts. Yes, you can whiff a putt. If it happens to a pro, it happens this way: The pro is probably agitated he or she just missed a putt they thought they should have made. The ball is sitting right next to the cup, a tap-in. They hurriedly walk up to the ball and make a jab at it with their putter to knock it in. But, not really paying close attention, they miss. Oops! That's a whiff.

The most famous example of this is when Hall of Famer Hale Irwin whiffed a tap-in putt in the third round of the 1983 British Open ...

then finished one shot out of a playoff for the win!