Rules Guy: If my club breaks on my downswing, does it count as a stroke?

March 30, 2019

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.

I was recently playing with a friend whose 9-iron snapped somewhere mid-swing. That much is agreed upon, but then the stories diverge. I saw him begin his downswing and, about halfway down, feel something odd and finish his swing, albeit not at the ball. He recalls starting the downswing and stopping halfway down. A third member of the group says he stopped at the apex of the backswing. Should a stroke be counted? —JOE BOCK, VIA E-MAIL

John Senden's club snapped on his downswing at last year's Australian PGA Championship.
Twitter: @GolfChannel

First, Joe, Rules Guy suggests you Google “Rashomon effect,” and then go watch the great Akira Kurosawa film that the term references. (For the lazy and/or Philistines among us, the Rashomon effect is when the same event yields contradictory interpretations by different people involved.)  

In golf, a stroke is defined as “the forward movement of your club to strike the ball.” Apex of the backswing wouldn’t cost Mr. Snappy a stroke; in every instance of starting the downswing, it would, with the lone exception of the player immediately stopping the swing upon shaft breakage. 

Even swinging away from the ball still counts as a stroke in this instance. In match play, the group can make the determination of when the shaft broke among themselves; in stroke play, you’d want to present all the viewpoints to the film critics, er, golf committee, and let them sort it out.

Got a rules question? Of course you do! Whatever it may be, send yours to [email protected] and the question may be answered in an upcoming issue of GOLF. Until then, play by the Rules!