Most of the definitions in the Rules of Golf pertain to things that happen after you've hit your shot, such as how to deal with out-of-bounds and immovable obstructions. But here are some important things to remember before you make contact.
1. ADDRESSING THE BALL
You've addressed the ball if you have grounded the club in front of or behind it, regardless of whether you've taken your stance.
> If your ball moves after you've taken your address position, it's a one-shot penalty. (And you must replace the ball.) If you're virtually certain an outside force caused it to move, such as wind, you're not penalized. (Play from the new spot.)
2. TAKING YOUR STANCE
You've taken your stance when you place your feet in position for making a stroke.
> If you move, bend or break anything growing or fixed in the process of fairly taking your stance, there is no penalty. But if you build a stance or intentionally move, bend or break anything growing or fixed before taking your stance, it's a two-stroke penalty or loss of hole in match play.
3. MAKING A STROKE
You've made a stroke when you begin the forward movement of the club with the intention of hitting the ball.
> If you try to stop your swing before the clubhead reaches the ball, it's not considered a stroke—even if the clubhead eventually passes over the position of the ball. However, if you accidentally hit the ball after trying to stop, the stroke counts.
1. Your ball ends up in a bunch of leaves that have been piled for removal. Can you take free relief from this condition by calling it ground under repair?
Yes. Materials piled for removal by golf-course workers are considered ground under repair, even if unmarked. (Definitions)
2. Your ball is very wet and your feet are soaked from morning dew as you address a shot. Can you take free relief from this condition by calling it casual water?
No. Ice, snow and water accumulations are casual water. Dew and frost are not. Play it as it lies. (Definitions)
from DEAN KNUTH, former senior director of the USGA Handicap Department.
Q: I know first-tee mulligans are a widely accepted norm. How do I record my score for handicap purposes if I take one and finish with a second ball to start the round?
You can't use your mulligan score when you post your handicap. You didn't play that hole under the Rules of Golf. Instead, record par plus any handicap stroke(s) you'd receive on that hole. For example, if you have a course handicap of 15, and the first hole at your course is the No. 15 handicap, you would record a score of bogey for that hole. If it were the No. 16 handicap hole, then you would record a par (even though you hit a poor tee shot). You can do this because you just need to play at least 13 holes under the Rules of Golf to post an 18-hole score.