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 when 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 area until it is in the hole.

If the ball is on the teeing area 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.

Unless: The exception to the preceding statement is when the ball is on the putting green before you take your practice swing. If the golf ball is on the putting green and the golfer accidentally moves the ball, it is not, as of the 2019 edition of the rule book, a penalty so long as the ball is replaced.

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