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Rules of Golf

Rules Review: Does a whiff count as a stroke?

November 14, 2022
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Sam Greenwood

Golfers have a lot of fears, so calling any single one their "worst" would be doing a disservice to the myriad of on-course scaries that own space in their brains. Having said that, completely whiffing the golf ball during a swing has to be at the very top of the list.

The thing is, a whiff is not limited to the beginner golfer who simply cannot make contact until their third or fourth hack. A whiff can happen to any of us at any moment, particularly in some thick rough, or when facing a tricky lie out of the fescue or somewhere deep in the woods as you attempt to punch out sideways Club Pro Guy-style.

Hell, it can even happen to one of the best players on the planet. It did in June 2021 at the Memorial Tournament. Collin Morikawa was attempting to hit a flop shot out of the juicy Muirfield Village rough, only for his club to go directly under the ball. "I believe that was a whiff," said a shocked Dottie Pepper on the CBS broadcast.

It sure was, Dottie. And for those wondering if it counted, it sure did. Morikawa went on to lose the tournament in a playoff to Patrick Cantlay. One costly whiff.

Now, you may be thinking "well, yeah, that's the PGA Tour. Of course it counts. When I'm playing on the weekend with my buddies I'm not taking a stroke for that." That's fine, but you are technically cheating.

As far as the Rules of Golf are concerned, the thing you need to know about a whiff and whether to count it all comes down to intent. As long as you intended to hit the ball and you whiff, it counts. If you accidentally hit it on a practice swing, as Zach Johnson infamously did at the 2019 Masters, it does not count as a stroke because he did not intend to hit the ball, which was easily provable. But if you meant to, and missed, it counts. As the Rules of Golf defines it, a stroke is made with "the forward movement of a club made to strike the ball," which is quite literally what a whiff is if you've had the unfortunate pleasure of experiencing one.

The good news is there is no penalty, just an added stroke to your score. Of course, that still hurts but it beats the alternative. Happy whiffing, folks.