Hit An Air Shot In Golf? Here's What The Rules Say

The air shot in golf is not a phrase specifically mentioned in the Rules of the game, but they make it clear what the outcome is...

air shot in golf
(Image credit: Kenny Smith)

"Air shot" is not a term used specifically within the Rules of Golf, but we all know what people mean by it – an attempt to hit the golf ball that fails to make any contact whatsoever, whether that's missing the ball completely or your club passing right underneath it when it's perhaps sitting up in a fluffy lie. This can even happen to the world's best sometimes, particularly when there's thick rough close to the putting green as there often is in the US Open.

But does it count as a shot or stroke when you try to hit the ball but merely make contact with that mix of nitrogen and oxygen that surrounds us? Despite "air shot" not being one of the definitions in the Rules of Golf, those Rules are nonetheless unequivocal on this - it's a resounding, yes!

The reason is that a stroke is defined in the Rules of Golf as being “the forward movement of the club made to strike the ball”. Once you have made a pass at the ball with your club with the intent to strike it, it is going to count as a stroke on your scorecard whether or not you actually make contact with the ball, other than in a couple of very rare scenarios that are pretty unlikely to ever darken your golfing doorstep.

air shot in golf

If your intention was to strike the ball, then an "air shot" counts as a stroke

(Image credit: Kenny Smith)

The two scenarios when an "air shot" would not count as a stroke are...

1) When, during the backswing, a player's clubhead separates from the shaft and the player completes the downswing with the shaft but does not strike the ball. Note the distinction between backward and forward movement of the club, though. If the same thing were to happen on the downswing, the stroke would count, as the forward movement of the club would have started!

2) If a player’s ball is lodged in a tree branch beyond the reach of a club and the player moves the ball by striking a lower part of the branch instead of the ball. But before you get too excited, in this scenario Rule 9.4 (Ball Lifted or Moved by Player) would apply, so rather than it counting as a stroke, you would be penalised one stroke under that Rule for moving your ball at rest. The net result would effectively be the same - one shot on the scorecard - but technically it was not a stroke under the Rules, but rather a penalty for a Rules breach.

So there you have it - although "air shot" is not mentioned as such in the Rules of the Golf, it does count as a stroke on the scorecard.

Jeremy Ellwood
Contributing Editor

Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly. He is an expert on the Rules of Golf having qualified through an R&A course to become a golf referee. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played 1,000 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts. He reached the 1,000 mark on his 60th birthday in October 2023 on Vale do Lobo's Ocean course. Put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.

Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf

Jeremy is currently playing...

Driver: Ping G425 LST 10.5˚ (draw setting), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 55 S shaft

3 wood: Ping G425 Max 15˚ (set to flat +1), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 65 S shaft

Hybrid: Ping G425 17˚, Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange 80 S shaft

Irons 3-PW: Ping i525, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Wedges: Ping Glide 4.0 50˚ and 54˚, 12˚ bounce, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Putter: Ping Fetch 2021 model, 33in shaft (set flat 2)

Ball: Varies but mostly now TaylorMade Tour Response