WHIFFS AND SHANKS
Hey Rules Guy: In an effort to slay the dreaded shanks, I ran across a tip that involves addressing the ball as if I'm going to hit it, and then taking a practice swing in which I miss the ball to the inside, reminding me to clear my hips. It works so well that I've made it a regular part of my pre-shot routine. Trouble is, my buddies say that, since I'm addressing the ball, my practice swing counts as a stroke. They all know my routine, and that my "whiff" is intentional, but they insist it counts. Do I have to give it up?
— Mark K., Lake Orion, Mich.
Good for you, Mark — the first step to curing the shanks is admitting you have a problem. According to Rule 7, a practice swing may be taken at any time, at any place, provided it does not break any other rules. Even the definition of a "stroke" by USGA standards involves intent, as it is "a forward movement of the club made with the intention of striking at and moving the ball." If you have no intention of hitting the ball, then you're in the clear. It's a gentleman's (and lady's) game, so your friends will just have to trust you.