Rules Guy: My club got tangled in tree branches at the top of my swing. Does that count as a stroke?

golfer under tree

The Rules of Golf are tricky! Thankfully, we’ve got the guru. Our Rules Guy knows the book front to back. Got a question? He’s got all the answers.

My tee shot lands under a tree, and my practice swings tell me I can’t hit a fairway wood due to overhanging branches. I opt for a mid-iron, but on my backswing the club gets tangled in a branch. As I start my downswing, the club stays caught and I complete my swing without a club in my hands. Is that a stroke? I said yes, as I intended to hit the ball. Others said no, because you can’t swing at a ball without a club. — Dave Haggbloom, New Port Richey, Fla.

Dave, you left out the part where everyone fell to the ground in hysterics! Still, you’re in luck.

If the club never moved forward, you never started the downswing — forward movement of the hands without a club is not a stroke.

See definition of stroke: “The forward movement of the club made to strike the ball.”

To repeat: not a stroke, merely hilarious.

Rules Guy: Can you take free relief from an animal hole in a tree?
By: Rules Guy

For more tree-related guidance from our guru, read on …

If I dislodge leaves or break a branch during my backswing, do I incur a penalty? — Robert Santoli

If a tree falls and no one hears it, is it still a loose impediment? What is the sound of one hand gauging wind direction? We digress.

Rule 8.1b covers actions you’re allowed to take even if you improve one of the conditions affecting your stroke, and you’ll be pleased to learn that there is no penalty in the case of you breaking something that creates an improvement during a backswing for the stroke that you go on to make.

Need help unriddling the greens at your home course? Pick up a custom Green Book from 8 AM Golf affiliate Golf Logix.

Got a question about the Rules? Ask the Rules Guy! Send your queries, confusions and comments to We promise he won’t throw the book at you.

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