Rules Guy: I hit my ball with a practice swing, after taking a free drop. What now?

ball at impact

Can you replace your ball without penalty if you accidentally hit it with your practice swing?

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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.

On a par 3, I hit my tee shot behind an immovable structure and was granted a free drop. I made my drop, then took a practice swing — and inadvertently skulled the ball into a penalty area (specifically, a pond). With a new ball, I subsequently got up and down for par … or a 5? Should I have been penalized? Does the free drop make any difference in this situation? —Russell Nathe, via email

In point of fact, Russell, you made a rather quirky 4. Under Rule 9.4, you get a 1-stroke penalty for accidentally causing the ball to move and must replace it.

Rules Guy: Can you ground your club with a practice swing in a bunker when your ball is outside of it?
By: Rules Guy

That this happened after a free drop is immaterial, and indeed you were not required to fish your ball from the penalty area if it couldn’t be quickly and easily retrieved. And Rules Guy is far too polite to tweak that old golf joke about standing too close to the ball … after you hit it vis-a-vis your pre-shot routine … but consider taking a half-step back, yes?

Read on for more practice-swing guidance from our guru …

Is there a rule against taking a practice swing at a tee placed in the fairway to check one’s swing, alignment and so on?
—Otto Van Dieren, Aruba

In a recent post, we informed loyal readers that a flagstick may be used on the green to practice one’s stroke but that alignment rods, being a swing or training aid, may not.

As it is defined as equipment, a tee is legal to use in this case since it doesn’t eliminate or reduce the need for a skill essential to the challenge of the game — we hope its efficacy proves larger than its size. That said, don’t forget about Rule 10.2b(3), which prohibits setting down an object to help take the stance for the stroke to be made. Working on your alignment in general? The tee is OK. Aligning for your upcoming shot? Verboten.

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