Rules of Golf Explained: Does an Air Shot Count as a Stroke?

Surely, you had this experience. We all did. You take your stance, step up to the ball, and grasp the club firmly, fully concentrating your mind on the shot. The club goes “swoosh,” and… that’s it? You’ve just made an air shot. 

Even though it’s not a coined term specific to the Rules of Golf, an “air shot” is something we golfers are all familiar with. Also known as a “whiff,” it refers to a swing at the golf ball that doesn’t connect with the ball in any way. Whether because you missed it entirely or because your club passed underneath it.

But does it mean that you made a stroke? Well, that’s a great “to be or not to be” Shakespearean dilemma of the golf world.

Defining the Basics: Stroke

According to the Rules of Golf, a stroke is “the forward movement of the club made to strike the ball.” Regardless of whether or not the ball was struck when you swung at it, your scorecard will reflect a stroke, with just a number of extremely unusual exceptions.

So, would an unpurposeful shot at the golf ball during your practice swing count as a stroke? No, it won’t!

Perhaps you heard a noise that diverted your attention. Or, out of the corner of your eye, you saw something that made you worry that your swing would hit them, so you stopped in the middle of it. Don’t sweat it out, the Rules won’t recognize it as a stroke.

Air Shot Doesn’t Count When…

Two common cases exist when an air shot doesn’t count as a stroke.

  1. A player’s clubhead comes loose from the shaft during the backswing, allowing the player to finish the downswing with the shaft but missing the ball. 

Keep in mind that swinging the club in reverse is different than swinging it in forwarding motion. If the same thing happened on the downswing, the stroke would still count because the club was already moving forward at that point.

  1. If the ball becomes stuck in a tree limb that is too high for the player to reach with a club, and the player succeeds in releasing the ball by striking the lower section of the branch instead of the ball, then this is allowed. 

However, there’s a catch. You should know that Rule 9.4 (Ball Lifted or Moved by Player) would apply in this situation, and instead of it counting as a stroke, you would be penalized one stroke for moving your ball at rest. Although the end result would not affect the scorecard (one stroke), strictly speaking, this was not a stroke but more of a penalty for breaking the rules.

Take a Step Back

Although “breaking the rules” sounds harsh and somehow disheartening, don’t forget that golf is not a game of perfection. A bad move or two can slide through anytime, but that doesn’t mean you’re a bad player. Air shots can happen even to the best players. 

As soon as you become aware of your errors, you must go on to determine their origin. What gives with the wild swinging? Could you be trying to make too big of an impact with the ball? 

Don’t be embarrassed to consult an expert if you need help with your swing. Hiring a professional teacher is your best bet if you want to improve it.

Moreover, there is no shame in taking some classes if you find yourself genuinely struggling. Instead of fighting with your swings for years to come, it is preferable to spend the money now and learn how to do things correctly.

Find Your Peace

Many beginners have been instructed to focus on the ball at all times during the swing. Instructions are to keep their heads down and gaze at the ball to increase their precision and command of the swing.

But such guidance is a little stale at this point. In reality, your swing speed will suffer dramatically if you insist on keeping your head firmly lowered throughout the entire motion. As a result, this well-intentioned instruction can devastate novice golfers, halting their development at a crucial point.

Instead, direct your visual attention toward the direction of the ball. Keep your head still and your eyes on the ball as you make contact, and watch it fly as you follow through. This allows you to maximize your strength and precision by allowing your body to loosen up and use its natural biomechanics.


So, before blaming yourself for an air shot, remember that many factors can lead to it. And what’s the best thing you can do at that moment? Honestly, take a quick break and laugh it through with your playmates! Any mistake shouldn’t keep you from having the time of your life.





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