The Dreaded Lip Out in Golf

In golf, "lip out" refers to a putted ball that catches the edge, or lip, of the hole without falling in. The rim around the hole is also called its "lip," so a ball that catches the lip but stays out is a "lip out."

Lip outs can be dramatic and heartbreaking. Usually when the term is used, it means the ball caught the edge of the hole, appeared to be falling, but then whipped around a portion of the rim before finishing outside the cup. The ball can actually appear to dip into the hole a tiny bit and come back out.

That's because the speed of the putt was too fast. The more a ball rims around the hole on a lip out, the more dramatic it is. The worst (or best?) lip outs are when the ball horseshoes around the back edge of the cup, from one side to the other, and then comes back toward the golfer a few inches.

An older expression, not that common anymore, is to say that the ball "lipped the hole." That expression was in use the 1800s, and in the 1900s the term "lip out" arose to name such a putt.

The book Let the Big Dog Eat! (affiliate link), a dictionary of golf slang, defines lip out as "a putt that kisses the rim of the hole but chooses not to go in." The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms (affiliate link) defines lip out as "... to run around the lip of the hole and fail to drop."

In an 1899 issue, the magazine Golf Illustrated, covering a match between Harry Vardon and J.H. Taylor, wrote that on one green Taylor's ball "lipped the hole, ran around and almost, if not absolutely, stymied Vardon, who failed to hole." So Taylor's ball caught the edge of the cup, whipped around the rim at least partially without falling in, and wound up in a position where it somewhat blocked Vardon's line to the hole.

"Lip out" can be used as a noun or a verb. "That was a harsh lip out on the last hole," or "I can't believe your putt lipped out like that."

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