‘It doesn’t make sense’: Pro says official took fan’s word over his on ruling 

Harold Varner on Saturday on the 17th hole at Harbour Town Golf Links.

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Harold Varner said a fan moved Varner’s ball from inbounds to out of bounds in the second round of the RBC Heritage. The fan, Varner said, saw things differently. 

And, according to Varner, a PGA Tour rules official sided with the fan. 

“I don’t think that’s right,” Varner said. “I don’t think that’s right at all. Like I don’t get it. It doesn’t make sense.”

The sequence in question happened on Friday, when, after Varner hit his tee shot right and toward a white-staked out-of-bounds area on the par-4 6th at Harbour Town Golf Links, he called on a spectator to help him search for his ball. Separating Varner from where the ball could have settled was a small creek, and the onlooker, likely staying in one of the nearby homes, was on its other side. 

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At this point, Varner said after Saturday’s third round, a ball turned up. Varner asked the fan to identify it, and as the fan relayed that it was Varner’s, Varner said, the fan accidentally moved it from inbounds to out of bounds.   

“Hit it out of bounds and just — man, I just didn’t really know what to do,” said Varner, who was not asked to talk to reporters on Friday. “This old man was trying to help, and he ended up picking up my golf ball, and then he almost fell in the creek. Then we’re sitting there, and we’re like, well, the ball’s not exactly where it was.”

As shown on PGA Tour Live’s broadcast, Varner and his caddie, Chris Rice, then called for rules official Stephen Cox. After the three of them crossed over to where the ball was, Cox ruled that the ball out of bounds, forcing Varner back to the tee to hit his third shot. But Varner said on Saturday that he had told Cox that the fan had moved his ball. Varner also said that Cox had asked the man about what had happened.

“Coxy asked him where the ball was — the guy’s like, oh, I put the ball back right where it was,” Varner said. “I just happened to be right there, and I’m like, no, he didn’t. I find it weird that the rules are — why would what he says matter about what I saw? I don’t get that. So I’ll talk to Coxy about it. I thought that was very odd.”

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A reporter then asked Varner, “Is the idea that it might have been inbounds and he might have moved it out by accident?”

“Without a doubt,” Varner said. “The biggest thing for me that I could sleep on is that there was out of bounds right of the creek, and the TV said it’s in the creek. There’s a golf ball right there. I’m not going to be naive and be like my ball couldn’t go there. So I did the right thing, and I said, hey, can you see if that’s my ball? At the time, we couldn’t find a bridge to get across the creek.

“It’s great. I won’t stop talking about it until I talk to Coxy. At some point, the players should have — if I wouldn’t have been there and didn’t see the guy move the ball, I don’t — cool, I’ll go back to the tee. But I’m looking there, and I’m like that’s not right. The rules are there to protect the players, I thought.”

When reached for comment by GOLF.com, a PGA Tour spokesman said, “Stephen is not going to comment on it until he has a chance to talk to Harold about it.” 

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If the fan had moved the ball from its original position, Varner would have been allowed to move it back to its original location, under under Rule 9.6, which states: “If it is known or virtually certain that an outside influence (including another player in stroke play or another ball) lifted or moved a player’s ball: There is no penalty, and the ball must be replaced on its original spot (which if not known must be estimated) (see Rule 14.2).”

Instead, Varner was hit with a penalty, and he double-bogeyed the hole. The incident, Varner said, motivated him in the third round. 

Varner shot an eight-under 63 on Saturday, tying for the low round of the tournament. At 11 under for the week, Varner enters the final round with a one-shot lead over Shane Lowry, Eric van Rooyen and Patrick Cantlay.

“I would say I’m really good at putting things aside, but I did not put that aside,” Varner said. “I was very not happy how it panned out, but it was great for me. I just wanted to execute and just respond to like a situation to where I didn’t have any control over it. I could have hit a better shot, but I didn’t really like how it went down.

“You know, it was good for me because I was very irate till I got to the golf course today.”

Nick Piastowski

Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor

Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at nick.piastowski@golf.com.