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Players Championship 2019: Harold Varner III gets unusual two-stroke penalty for assembling a club on the course

Golf Digest logo Golf Digest 3/14/2019 Christopher Powers
a baseball player holding a racket: PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA - MARCH 14: Harold Varner III talks with his caddie on 16th fairway during the first round of The PLAYERS Championship on The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 14, 2019 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) © Gregory Shamus PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA - MARCH 14: Harold Varner III talks with his caddie on 16th fairway during the first round of The PLAYERS Championship on The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 14, 2019 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Another week, another bizarre rules situation on the PGA Tour. Stop us if you've heard this one before.

This time, it involved one of the more happy-go-lucky guys on tour in Harold Varner III, but it did not involve one of the new Rules of Golf that have become so talked about in 2019. It wasn't a knee-height drop or a caddie standing behind Varner to line him up. Rather it was an equipment-related rule. Even so, it still amounts to one one of the stranger violations we've seen all season.

Here's how things played out: Varner began his round at TPC Sawgrass on the par-4 10th with just 13 clubs, his driver being the only one missing from his bag because it had cracked on the range prior to the round. Varner asked rules officials if he could replace it, and they said yes. This is allowed under Rule 4.1b, which states that a player who begins a round with fewer than 14 clubs may add clubs during the round up to the 14-club limit. Varner informed rules officials that his plan was to have his agent take the cracked driver back to the locker room and come back out with a new one.

That's where things got confusing.

Varner wanted to still use the shaft he had in the cracked driver, but with a new driver head. But under the same Rule 4.1b, Varner could NOT take the shaft with him on to the course, have a driver head brought out and assemble the club during play. So Varner left the shaft back at the tee, hoping to have his agent get it assembled off the course then brought out to him. However, a walking scorer mistakenly brought the shaft out on the course, and when the driver head was brought out, too, they assembled the club on the course in violation of the rule.

PGA Tour rules official Mark Russell attempted to explain the situation afterwards:

"So we were under the impression he was going to take the driver back to the locker room and his agent was going to come back with another one. But he wanted to use that shaft. So the clubs were interchangeable, so he took the head off and had the shaft and he was going to put the driver head, who he sent a representative to obtain and bring it back. Well, he couldn't take that shaft with him on the golf course. [The club] cannot be assembled on the golf course. His caddie was told that when he asked one of our officials. So he left it there on the tee, and the walking scorer picked it up and took it on the golf course, and Harold and the caddie were aware of this. So when they brought the head out and assembled it out there, it broke Rule 4. Can't do that. They don't want clubs assembled and adjusted on the golf course. So that's the reason for that rule. The rule basically says a player must not build a club from parts carried by anyone for the player during the round. They were aware of that situation, so that's why he received a two-stroke penalty."

The penalty was assessed to Varner on the hole he assembled the club, which was the par-5 11th, his second hole of the day. Varner had made a par that became a double-bogey 7 at the end of his round, changing his score from an even-par 72 to a two-over 74. According to Russell, Varner could have avoided the penalty if he had left his shaft back at the tee, had someone assemble it there and bring out the assembled club to him. Same goes for if he had someone assemble it in the locker room or parking lot; it just cannot be on the course.

"I guess they [the walking scorer] were thinking they were helping out or whatever, but when Harold and his caddie were aware that a walking scorer was carrying the golf club and it was assembled on the golf course, that's when it violated the rule," Russell said.

Varner quickly bounced back, playing his next eight holes in five-under par, including making an eagle at the par-4 first. But he stumbled into the clubhouse, making three bogeys and a double bogey at the par-4 seventh to card a 74. He's currently tied for 108th, rather than being T-65 had he been at even par.

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