Pro hits into fans — but rarely used rule lets him swing again

Zach Johnson

Zach Johnson on Saturday on the 18th tee at TPC Sawgrass.

You maaaay want to start standing an inch more away, captain. Or a foot. Maybe even a yard.  

Zach Johnson’s resume is desirable. His pre-shot routine? A little less than. During Saturday’s play at the Players Championship, the two-time major champion and next U.S. Ryder Cup captain set up just to the left of his ball on the 18th tee at TPC Sawgrass, swung — and rocketed his ball into the gallery on the right. And if that sounds familiar, it’s because it is. 

About a month ago, at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Johnson took a casual swipe at his ball as he backed away from it — and hit it. At the 2019 Masters, he stood maybe an inch to the left of his ball on the 13th tee, swung — and hit his ball. Three years, three dribbles off the tee. 

But no penalties. 

How come? It was Johnson’s tee shot, and the swings in questions were practice, and those are the essential parts. The rule in play that let the two-time major champion hit his ball penalty free in this case is Rule 6.2b (5), which states: “Whether the ball is teed or on the ground, when starting a hole or playing again from the teeing area under a Rule: The ball is not in play until the player makes a stroke at it, and the ball may be lifted or moved without penalty before the stroke is made.

“If a teed ball falls off the tee or is knocked off the tee by the player before the player has made a stroke at it, it may be re-teed anywhere in the teeing area without penalty.”

On Saturday, after Johnson’s ball went into the gallery, it was tossed back to him, he joked, “I’ll try that one more time,” and he re-teed. Johnson then turned around, said to the cameraman behind him, “I hope that’s on camera,” and hit his tee shot. 

That ball went 250 yards. 

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Nick Piastowski

Nick Piastowski Editor

Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at