Varner penalized 2 shots in unlikely driver change

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Harold Varner III was penalized two shots in the opening round of The Players Championship in a bizarre case of adding a driver head to his shaft.

Rules officials say Varner felt his driver was broken on the range. He started the round with 13 clubs, with plans to have the head of the club added to his shaft. He left the shaft on the tee when he began on No. 10. Chief rules official Mark Russell says the walking scorer noticed the shaft and carried it along.

That’s where the violation occurred.

Even though Varner wasn’t carrying it, Russell says he was aware the walking scorer had it.

The new driver head could have been placed on the old shaft, as long as it wasn’t done on the golf course. Rule 4.1b on replacing clubs has a stipulation that players cannot build a club “from parts carried by anyone for the player during the round.”

That turned his 72 into a 74.

Russell says Varner could have avoided the penalty if he had left his shaft on the tee and the replacement club was taken to him.

“He couldn’t take that shaft with him on the golf course — cannot be assembled on the golf course,” Russell said. “His caddie was told that when he asked one of our officials that. 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.”

Russell did not say how officials became aware of this.

It capped a wild day for Varner. He holed out from the rough on No. 1 for eagle. He had three birdies on the back nine. He finished by playing a five-hole stretch in 5 over on the front nine, including a double bogey on No. 7.

The violation was not part of the modernized Rules of Golf that took effect this year. It has been in place for the better part of a decade, written into the rules when clubs became adjustable. Players now can easily swap out a driver head with a quick twist of a specialized wrench.

Just not on the golf course.