Golf Smarter Tips Q: Rule re Stroke Legality

Golf Smarter Tips Q: Rule re Stroke Legality

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

September 12th, 2008, 12:02 pm #1

Hey Fred, Love the show I downloaded all the episodes and listen to them at work. I also love the golf better podcast as well.

This a rules question. Is it legal to place or ground the putter behind the ball say 6 inches or so (for a short putt) and just take the putter forward essentially eliminating the slight backswing.

Once again I love the show and keep Ôem coming.

Gary McDonald



Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

September 13th, 2008, 10:29 pm #2

Dear Gary,

The short answer is: "it depends."

The process for resolving this issue takes us in order thru the following: 1) Text of Rules, 2) Decisions under the Rules, 3) Historical Context of the Rules, and 4) Traditions of the Game and the Spirit of the Rules.


The Definition section of the Rules of Golfe defines "Stroke" in these terms:


A "stroke" is the forward movement of the club made with the intention of striking at and moving the ball, but if a player checks his downswing voluntarily before the clubhead reaches the ball he has not made a stroke."

Rule 14 of the Rules of Golf is captioned "Striking the Ball" and Rule 14-1 reads:

"14-1. Ball to Be Fairly Struck At

The ball must be fairly struck at with the head of the club and must not be pushed, scraped or spooned."


Elaborating on this Rule 14-1 is the following pertinent Decision:

"14-1/4 Striking Ball with Half an Inch Backswing

Q. A playerÕs ball lies close to an out of bounds fence, but there is room behind the ball to insert an iron club or a putter and leave a space of half an inch between the ball and the face of the club. If the player plays a stroke with such a limited backswing, is he in breach of Rule 14-1?

A. It is possible to strike a ball fairly with a half inch backswing. However, in most such cases the player would be pushing the ball, contrary to Rule 14-1. In the absence of strong evidence to the contrary, it should be ruled that the player has pushed the ball.

In order to strike the ball fairly, it must be swung at with the clubhead. If the ball is moved by any other method, it has been pushed, scraped or spooned.

If a ball is fairly struck at, there is only momentary contact between the clubhead and the ball or whatever intervenes between the clubhead and the ball."

Another Decision that "sort of" sheds a little light on the real functional meaning of Rule 14-1 is the following:

"14-1/6 Player Holds Club with Left Hand and Moves Ball by Striking Shaft with Other Hand
Q. A player addresses his ball lying in high grass on a steep bank. His ball does not move, but the player believes it will move if he takes a backswing. Accordingly, the player holds the club with his left hand and strikes the shaft of the club with his right hand, thereby moving the ball. Is this permissible?

A. No. The player pushed the ball, contrary to Rule 14-1."



This Definition of the "stroke" first appears in the Rules of Golf for the Royal Isle of Wight in 1886:

"A Stroke

77. A "Stroke" is the act of striking, attempt to strike, or (excepting at the Teeing-Ground) moving the ball with the Club. The ball must be fairly struck by the club-head only, not pushed, scraped, or spooned. A stroke may be arrested during the swing, provided the club-head do not reach and pass the ball, nor touch the ground. If, in swinging, the club break, it is, nevertheless, to be accounted a stroke, if the part of the club remaining in the player's hand either strike the ground or pass the ball."

This text in "Rule 4" appears in the Rules of Golf of St Andrews from 1891:

"4. The ball must be fairly struck at, not pushed, scraped, or spooned, under penalty of the loss of the hole. Any movement of the club which is intended to strike the ball is a stroke."

Historically, golf emerged with Rules in a specific social and recreational / sports context. One main purpose of the Rules of Golf is to distinguish the equipment and conditions of play of golf from other current sports. The principal sports that golf was historically distinguished from are croquet, shuffle board, bowling, and billiards.

The key terms in Rule 14-1 are "pushed", "scraped" and "spooned". Looking to the historical context for possible associative meanings of these terms, we look to the historical era of the formation of the Rules.


A "push" is a shot used in shuffleboard in which the stick or paddle or wand is used to "push" the weighted puck down the surface to the target area. Shuffleboard as a game dates back at least 500 years and was played by England's king Henry VIII in Tudor days. The typical shuffleboard wand has a concave face for capturing, holding, and guiding the puck during the push. Golf rules were designed to ban this sort of action in favor of something unique to golf, using a "stroke" like that in badminton or tennis.

The concave face of the shuffleboard wand:

The Rules of Golf for Clubs (Rule 4-1(e)) prohibits a club face from having any degree of concavity:

"e. Club Face
The face of the club shall be hard and rigid (some exceptions may be made for putters) and, except for such markings as are permitted by Appendix II, shall be smooth and shall not have any degree of concavity."

The idea of goose-neck hoseling or offset hoseling derives from the end of the 19th century and is based on the difference between "pushing" a putter and "pulling" a putter thru impact:

"The supposed distinction between putting cleeks and irons and metal putters is that the cleeks usually have some loft on the face while the latter are deeper in the face and have no loft at all. This want of loft is in my opinion rather a disadvantage than otherwise because unless there is loft the club is apt under certain conditions to make the ball jump and it need hardly be said that this is fatal to good putting. Putting being one of the most important parts of the game if not the most important a great deal of attention has been directed to perfecting this club and several makers have taken out patents for improvements on it. Among others I have endeavoured to improve the ordinary putter and hold a patent for a putting cleek of my own invention This cleek has a bend in the neck just above the blade it is shown in the group of clubs. Fig 3. The idea occurred during practice for a tournament when I happened to be playing with a cleek that had a shaft slightly bent over I observed that in putting with this cleek the balls seemed to run with more accuracy than usual and following up the idea the patent putter was produced. It is difficult to explain the principle of this club. With an ordinary putter the stroke is of the nature of a push while with this patent it is more a pull than a push. It has also the advantage of allowing the player to see the blade of the cleek while addressing the ball as the line of the shaft is in front of the blade. Although I run tho risk of being accused of partiality for my own patents I cannot refrain from saying that I find I can putt much better with this club than with any other I have hitherto tried and I have received testimonials in its favour from many of the best players of the day both amateur and professional." The Game of Golf With Numerous Illustrations By William Park, Published by Longmans, Green and Co., 1899, Original from Harvard University, Digitized Mar 11, 2008, 277 pages, pp. 29-30.

The verb "to push" in golf then has the special meaning of using an action similar to that in shuffleboard whereby a concave face of the stick captures and holds the puck while the directionality of the stick's push guides and controls the directionality of the puck once released from contact.


The first appearance in the Rules of the term "scrape" is in the Rules of Golf 1812:

"V. If the ball lie in a rabbit scrape the player shall not be at liberty to take it out, but must play it as from any common hazard; if, however, it lie in one of the burrows, he may lift it, drop it behind the hazard, and play with an iron without losing a stroke."

The website comments: "First example of relief from abnormal ground conditions, specifically rabbit scrapes and burrows. The links land of St Andrews had been given over to rabbit farming in the early 1800s."

A "rabbit scrape" is a common hazard in Scottish links golf, as discussed in The Bizarre Notes and Queries in History, Folk-lore, Mathematics, Mysticism, Art, Science, Etc, Published by S.C. & L.M. Gould, 1886, Original from Harvard University, Digitized Feb 28, 2007:

Vol IV p 252

The Game of Golf is very popular in Scotland and England It consists essentially in driving a ball by the aid of golf sticks into a series of small holes placed irregularly hundreds of feet apart and in uneven ground He who drives the ball around with the fewest strokes is the winner Do the readers of your magazine know of this game being played in the United States or Canada If so the address of a Golf club is desired DJAFAR Royal Montreal Golf Club founded 1873 Officers GA Drum mond captain DD Sidney treasurer James Aud secretary address Bank of Montreal Montreal Can The phrase getting into a scrape is said Book of Days to refer to this game which is usually played upon downs where there is an abundance of rabbits One of the golf player's troubles is the little hole a rabbit makes in the sward in its first efforts at a burrow This is called a rabbit's scrape When the ball gets into a scrape it can scarcely be played and the rules of golf indicate certain allowances to a player when he gets into a scrape."

WALTER H SMITH Montreal Can The Bizarre Notes and Queries in History, Folk-lore, Mathematics, Mysticism, Art, Science, Etc

This etymological analysis of the origins of the phrase "getting into a scrape" traces the phrase to Scottish links golf and rabbit scrapes:


This phrase involving the use of an English word in a sense quite different from the proper one appears to be a mystery to English lexicographers. ... There is a game called golf almost peculiar to Scotland though also frequently played upon Blackheath involving the use of a small hard elastic ball which is driven from point to point with a variety of wooden and iron clubs. In the north it is played for the most part upon downs (or links) near the sea where there is usually abundance of rabbits. One of the troubles of the golf player is the little hole which the rabbit makes in the sward in its first efforts at a burrow; this is commonly called a rabbit's scrape, or simply a scrape. When the ball gets into a scrape it can scarcely be played. The rules of most golfing fraternities accordingly include one indicating what is allowable to the player when he yets into a scrape. Here and here alone as far as is known to the writer has the phrase a direct and intelligible meaning. It seems therefore allowable to surmise that this phrase has originated amongst the golfing societies of the north, and in time spread to the rest of the public."
The Book of Days A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities in Connection with the Calendar, Including Anecdote, Biography, & History, Curiosities of Literature and Oddities of Human Life and Character By Robert Chambers, p. 78.

Some fanciful speculations on the origins of golf (a shepherd knocking a stone about with his crook happened to roll the stone into a rabbit scrape, and thus the idea of golf was born) appear in The Golf-Book of East Lothian, page 32: The Golf-book of East Lothian, By John Kerr, Compiled by John Kerr
Published by Printed by T. & A. Constable, 1896, Original from Oxford University, Digitized Dec 20, 2007, 516 pages.

"1 We are not alone in holding the view of the accidental origin of putting Sir Walter Simpson in his Art of Golf has with linhed humour long drawn out stated this theory of the evolution of golf. A shepherd tending his sheep would often chance upon a round pebble and having his crook in his hand he would strike it away for it is as inevitable that a man with a stick in his hand should aim a blow at any loose object lying in his path as that he should breathe. On pastures green this led to nothing but once on a time probably a shepherd feeding his sheep on a links perhaps those of St Andrews rolled one of these stones into a rabbit scrape. Marry, he quoth, I could not do that if I tried -- a thought so instinctive is ambition which nerved him to the attempt. But man cannot long persevere alone in any arduous undertaking so our shepherd hailed another who was hard by to witness his endeavour. Forsooth, that is easy, said the friend, and trying failed. They now searched in the gorse for as round stones as possible and to their surprise each found an old golf ball which as the reader knows are to be found there in considerable quantity even to this day. Having deepened the rabbit scrape so that the balls might not jump out of it, they set themselves to practising putting." The Golf-book of East Lothian By John Kerr"

The Walter Simpson story of the "rabbit scrape" origins of golf is also recounted in American Golfer magazine for 1917. The Simpson book is 1892:

Sir Walter Simpson, The Art of Golf 1892, Published: Edinburgh, Publisher: David Douglas, 1892.

Is there a difference between "scrapings" and "droppings"? Yes. Is there a difference between the "scrapings" of a "burrowing animal" like a rabbit or a mole and a non-burrowing animal like a dog? Yes, from this Q&A on

"Golfing, landing in woods, ask for free drop on animal scraping, how do you its animal, what is ruling thanks?

Best Answer - Chosen by Voters

The only relief you can get, is if the scraping is made by a burrowing animal. You might remember the Seve/John Parramor conversation.

Seve (with no shot against a tree). " John, I think these are animal scrapes "

Parramor: " It looks like a dog scrape to me Seve"

Seve: "Yes, John, I agree, a dog scraping"

Parramor: " A dog is not a burrowing animal, no relief Seve"

So the answer is, if there are droppings, you can move them under the loose impediments rule-being careful not to move the ball or you will be penalised. If the ball lies in a rabbit/mole scrape whether or not it is on droppings from those animals, you can get relief-one club length no nearer the hole.However, you don't get relief from droppings not in a scrape other than the loose impediment rule quoted earlier."

Here are images of a "rabbit scrape":


Midland Texas:

Accordingly, a "scrape" as a noun is the pile of dirt formed when the burrowing animal starts a burrow. The verb "to scrape" then has the special meaning of 'the action of the fore legs and fore paws of the burrowing animal in moving the dirt or sand from the hillside behind him onto the scrape (noun)." This action of the animal in "scraping" the dirt backwards consists in taking hold of the dirt and digging down to capture a handful (paw-full) and then guiding it with a thrusting action backwards onto the pile.


A "spoon" is a specific sort of club with a very lofted face that may also have a concave shape like the inside of a spoon eating utensil.

Circa 1900, the Rules of Golf defined a "spoon" in the following terms:

"Baffy spoon or Baffy A wooden club with a short shaft and very much lofted in the face formerly used for approaching." Practical Golf By Walter J. Travis, p. 218, Published by Harper & brothers, 1901, Original from the New York Public Library, Digitized May 22, 2007, 225 pages.

A "spoon" is an intermediate specialty club between a brassey and a cleek:

"Quite frequently however good players carry one or two additional clubs as a regular part of their equipment so as to bridge over the shades of difference existing between a brassey and a cleek a cleek and an iron and an iron and a mashie, thus making the playing of such hybrid strokes more easy of accomplishment. Very often shots of this kind are met with. You may be just that distance away from the hole that a full stroke with a brassey would carry you beyond while a full cleek would be a bit short. Now in order to get the exact distance desired you have either to let up a trifle with the one club or let into it a little more press in short with the other. The thing can be done of course but there is always an attendant risk of failure. To meet such exigencies a spoon is used. This is simply a brassey with the face laid back more than usual and with the shaft a little shorter." Practical Golf By Walter J. Travis, pp. 131-32

Willie Park Jr. describes the differences between a niblick and a spoon:

"The Niblick is used almost exclusively for bunkers and hazards and is undoubtedly the best club for this kind of play. The head is small and round not much larger than the ball. For bunkers it has no equal but if it is intended to strike the ball should it lie clear enough in a hazard the hitting requires to be somewhat accurate because the head is so small there is a danger of hitting with the heel.

Spoons are divided into long mid and short. The head of the spoon is the same as that of the driver but the face is made with just about the same degree of loft as a brassy and the shaft is similarly stiff. The words long mid and short refer to the length of shaft and may also be taken to be indicative of the distance the various spoons will drive as it is of course possible other things being equal to drive further with a club having a long shaft than with one having a shorter. Spoons are almost entirely superseded by brassies and cleeks but they are still sometimes used for strokes where it is an advantage to drive the ball higher in the air than can be done with a play club. Spoons are occasionally shod with brass on the sole in which case they are called brassy spoons. In addition to those above mentioned golfers of bygone days used a baffy or baffing spoon which was a modification of the short spoon with a very stiff shaft and a strong head having the face very much lofted. With the baffy all strokes approaching the hole used to be played Instead of hitting the ball clean the stroke was baffed that is to say the head of the spoon was made to strike between the ball and the ground the result being that a back spin was imparted to the ball which lessened the amount of run after alighting on the putting green. Nowadays the iron has taken the place of this club. To many who remember the brilliant way names are these spoons their disappearance is a matter of regret but it is to be feared that the iron age of golf has doomed them and that they will soon be known only as relics of the past."
The Game of Golf With Numerous Illustrations By William Park

A "bunker iron" was especially suited to getting the ball out of a scrape. The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms: From 1500 to the Present, By Peter Davies, Illustrated by Fran Carson, Published by U of Nebraska Press, 2005, p. 95, citing HB Farnie, The Golfer's Manual, 1857, pp 18 & 59 (noting the suitability of a "baffling-spoon" for escaping a "scrape" or bunker). The "baffy" was a wooden, short, stiff wedge-like club for approach play with a deep "spoon" face that was replaced by irons but was used well into the 20th century. Id., p. 16. When the ball in the fairway or elsewhere settled into a depression, a "spoon" was the club of choice, due to its face design, similar to what is required to play a ball out of a divot. Id., p.46, quoting Robert Chambers, A Few Rambling Remarks on Golf, 1862, p. 6.

A spoon is sometimes referred to as a "half-scraper" so this links the two "stroke" terms "spooned" and "scraped". Id., p. 150.

A "niblick" was a specialty club having a small head the size of an English half crown used to flip balls out of divots and rabbit scrapes, that was later used by Young Tom Morris for precise "target golf" approach shots. Tommy's Honor: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf's Founding Father and Son, By Kevin Cook, Published by Gotham, 2007, 336 pages, p. 132.

A "rutting iron" is designed for the same basic problem in early golf: golf ball lying in a rut or depression or scrape. The solution is a spoon-shaped face: "Rutting iron (archaic): a lofted iron with a very rounded and concave face (like an eating spoon), used commonly to play from between tree roots, ruts. Example: Clubs with concave faces, like an old rutting iron, no longer conform to the rules." Mark Blakemore, The ABCs of Golf, "R".

Here is a fanciful image of using a "spoon" illegally on the putting green:

The verb "to spoon" then has the special meaning in golf history of using a very lofted and perhaps spoon-shaped club face to "loft" the ball forward, especially out of a small depression. Again, the club face with its concavity captures and holds the ball on the face while the directionality of the club is used to guide the direction of the ball. A human who "scraped" the beginnings of a burrow in the links sand would doubtless used "cupped" or concave hands to move the soil or sand backwards and to guide its directionality.


The Rules of Golf and golf history do not relate these terms to the legality of the stroke: "raked", "slide", "glide", "pull" "draw", "shove" and the like. Despite this, modern golfers mis-interpret the Rules of Golf because they use these terms and think with the imagination of this action. This Florida website "summarizes" and dumbs-down and mis-states the Rules of Golf as follows: "A. You must fairly strike the ball with the head of the club. You may not push, scrape or rake the ball." At least they seem to realize that THEY do not know what is meant by "spooned", as they substitute "raked" for this term. Kinda unhelpful. One dilettante golfer who is fond of his uninformed opinions thinks that any moving of the putter that maintains contact with the green must be a "scrape" that violates Rule 14-1. This is typical of confusing stroking THE BALL with the club and moving the club in a certain way in relation to the green, as modern dilettantes think about "scraping paint" or "scraping a blackboard" or "scraping a surface", when the Rules of Golf speak only about "scraping" the ball to the hole.


Golf is a game of "stroking" the ball where it lies through the green into the hole, with the fewest possible "strokes". The definition of "stroke" is therefore vital in distinguishing the form of the game and its rules of competition, to keep it separate from similar sports or games.

Taking all of the above into account, the most reasonable interpretation of Rule 14-1 is that a "stroke" is a forward action with intention of moving the ball that makes only momentary contact with the ball in a manner that precludes steering or guiding the direction of the ball's movement by virtue of maintaining contact between ball and club while the club's motion gives definition to the ball's motion. A shuffleboard "push" with its concave face, a rabbit's "scraping" the sand backwards, and the use of a "spoon" with its concave face to hoist, loft and toss the ball and thereby guide its direction are all anathema to the action of the "stroke" -- fairly "striking" the ball with only momentary contact between ball and face.

The Decision quoted above fairly succinctly sounds these same notes: "In order to strike the ball fairly, it must be swung at with the clubhead. If the ball is moved by any other method, it has been pushed, scraped or spooned. If a ball is fairly struck at, there is only momentary contact between the clubhead and the ball or whatever intervenes between the clubhead and the ball."

In the final analysis, it boils down to what happens in the golfer's brain when he starts the club forward at the ball. If the action moves the club face onto the back of the ball with some care to cradle the ball against the face and then move the face in the desired direction before releasing the ball after the ball's direction is defined, this is a ball that is "pushed" or "scraped" or "spooned", depending upon the relationship of the upper body to the bottom of the stroke. A "pushing" has the hands and/or top of torso behind the ball while the face-ball contact persists and the release is more or less level; a ""scraping" has the hands and/or top of torso ahead of the ball while the face-ball contact persists and the release is more or less level; and a "spooning" has the hands and/or top of torso behind the ball while the face-ball contact persists and the release is upwards.

In contrast, if the golfer moves the club face THRU the ball with smooth motion, albeit slowly and deliberately, this action would be a stroke that "fairly strikes" the ball.

One can distinguish a stroke that "strikes" the ball and one that "fairly" strikes the ball. Perhaps it is unfair to strike the ball too slowly. Perhaps holding the club still with one hand and striking it laterally with the other hand is a "striking" but not a "fair" striking.

A related question is whether ANY backstroke is required to make a stroke legal. The apparent answer from the Decisions is "no", so long as the stroke is "clearly" not a pushing, scraping, or spooning. but if there is any backstroke, whether the forward stroke is a fair strike would seem to be much clearer, although the existence of backstroke does not in itself guarantee that the stroke is legal.

The bottom line is that the Rules of Golf, the spirit of the Rules, and the Traditions of the Game as separate from other sports and games calls for some "swing" action thru the ball as opposed to using the club in a manner that somewhat "places" the ball on the desired line of motion.


Geoff Mangum
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Joined: June 13th, 2016, 7:29 pm

June 13th, 2016, 7:56 pm #3

I have developed a new putting method for short putts 5 feet or less.
I setup normal for a putt. I take a wide stance with the feet 2 or 2 1/2 feet apart. I bend normally at the waist.

I bend my knees at address, enough bend of the knees to make my body 1 foot closer to the ground, compared to a normal putting address.

This technique uses knee manipulation to laterally move my body, and therefore my putter about 1 foot away from the ball on the back stroke. Again by manipulating the bend of each knee, during the forward stroke, my entire body (except the feet are stationary during the entire stroke, everything else on my body moves) my entire body moves 1 1/2 feet towards the hole resulting in my putter head hitting the ball.

The point is I am moving my body and therefore my putter away by 1 foot, and in the forward stroke my body move 1 1/2 foot towards the hole, and hits the ball.

The way it works is that my knees are bent a lot at address to the ball. I then straighten out my lead (left) knee). The result is that my entire body and therefore my putter moves away from the ball. On the forward stroke I reverse the knee sequence and I straighten out my trail (right) knee and at the same time bend the lead (left) knee, which was straightened in the act of the back stroke.

It all sounds cumbersome and complicate, but it works really well. I emailed the PGA and the R&A with a link to my video of cartoon frames which are a series of drawing demonstrating and describing the knee manipulation based putting stroke. The point here is that my knee manipulation method moves my body laterally away and towards the ball, which means I am making a collision happen between the putter head and the ball. In this method, I am not using my shoulder, or arms, or wrists, to swing the putter on a fulcrum. There is no fulcrum with my method. It is more like the putter is riding on a skate board and runs into the ball. That is the part that some might say is pushing. The point is that with my method, the putter shaft remains at the same angle during the entire shot.

If you want to watch the video go to my WIKIBOOKS page at ... y_the_Game

There is another way to putt in a straight line I have seen people use which is to stick the elbows out 90 degrees. In this method the putter shaft remains in the same vertical position throughout the swing, and again, this stroke has no fulcrum. The elbows change angles during the stroke. The shoulders do not move, but the angle that the arms form with the shoulder socket changes during the swing. This elbow manipulation swing is identical to my knee manipulation method, except I replace elbow movement and manipulation, with knee movement and manipulation.

Thanks in advance if anyone reads this post.