Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches

PGA National (Champion Course)

Rules of Golf

Rules of Golf Review: I stopped my swing before hitting the ball. Does that count as a stroke?

January 04, 2024

Keyur Khamar

Among the dozens and dozens of on-course accolades Tiger Woods deservedly has received during his career, we'll highlight an underappreciated one: He might be the all-time best at aborting a golf swing. How good is he at stopping short of hitting a ball when he's not ready? Well, it says something that there are multiple YouTube compilation videos of him pumping the breaks.

Of course, when Tiger does that, he's not counting that swing as a stroke on his scorecard. But that leads to a logical follow-up question: What exactly constitutes a stroke? For instance: What happens if, in your downswing, a car alarm goes off and you swing over the top of your ball, intentionally missing it but still letting the club move into the follow-through? Is that a stroke?

The Rules of Golf provides some clarity on the issue. In the definitions section of the Players' Edition of the Rules, it states that a stroke is "the forward movement of the club made to strike the ball." But that doesn't completely help us with the situation above. After all, you had every intent of striking the ball and your club was moving forward. But at the last second, you changed your mind. Fortunately, the full Rules of Golf definition further clarifies what a stroke is by saying that even if you stop your swing in the downswing, or, if you can't stop your swing and deliberately miss the ball, you have NOT made a stroke.

It's also does not count as a stroke on your scorecard if you're making a practice swing and accidentally hit the ball. You are subject to a one-stroke penalty, however, depending on where you are when you make the mistake (Rule 9.4). If you do this in the teeing area, there is no penalty (Rule 6.2b). You might recall this happening to Zach Johnson at the 2019 Masters Tournament. And if you do it on the green, you're also OK (Rule 13.1d). Just make sure to move the ball back to where it was.

So remember, if you intended to stop your swing, it doesn't matter if your club passed over the ball, to the side of the ball, or you even spun out and fell over trying to halt it. You can play on without counting it as a stroke. And kudos to you for being able to do something apparently very few of us have the self-control to do.