Harold Varner III was penalized two strokes on the 11th hole in the first round of the 2019 Players Championship when a planned, legal equipment swap was foiled by a walking scorer.
Varner was unhappy with his driver on the range before Thursday play at TPC Sawgrass, and he intended to begin the round without it. He wanted someone with his team to bring out a driver to him during the round. That was legal under the Rules of Golf because he would begin the competitive round with 13 clubs, one shy of the maximum allotted.
The East Carolina University product wanted to continue using the shaft in the driver, replacing the head. After starting on No. 10, Varner and his caddie talked to PGA Tour officials on the 11th tee, per Golf Channel, about the planned change.
Varner left the driver shaft on the tee box to be changed out off the golf course and brought to him as soon as possible with a new head. However, a walking scorer noticed the club on the tee box and brought it back out to Varner, who then had his agent change out heads. At that point, he violated Rule 4-1b, which prohibits players from assembling a club using “parts carried by anyone for the player during the round.” The rule is designed to prevent players, or their team members, from assembling clubs on the fly during competition to adjust to conditions or making adjustments to equipment (changing lofts, lie angles, etc.) for the same purpose.
The penalty changed Varner’s par on No. 11, his second hole of the day, to a double bogey 7. With the penalty, Varner carded 2-over 74.
Under the Rules of Golf, had Varner left the shaft on the tee for someone else to assemble it, or if the club had been assembled elsewhere other than the golf course for Varner, he would not have been penalized. Varner was penalized because he had the improperly assembled club in his bag. Had Varner used the driver on any shot, he would have been disqualified.