Rule incident sees 2 balls out, a decision and a man in slippers

Harold Varner and a man on the 6th hole of the Harbor Town Golf Links on Friday.

PGA tour live

Two golf balls out. A Rules Officer and a Judgment. A man in a white t-shirt, shorts and slippers tries to help. What did this rule incident not have?

In a bizarre sequence during the second round of Friday’s RBC Heritage, Harold Varner hit his tee shot right and toward a white-marked out-of-zone on the par-4 6. At Harbor Town, he challenged a man to identify a ball, confirmed Varner that it was his after the man bent down to check, and Varner and an official eventually determined the ball was inches out of play. But announcers at PGA Tour Live in Hilton Head, SC believed the ball was also touched by the man, which could have cost Varner the penalty.

“He could only have been seriously injured there,” said a spokesman on the show. “And for anyone who ever sees this, has the opportunity to never pick up a golf ball that’s on the ground. If you can identify it, identify it, but never touch it.”

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After Varner hit his iron, a search began, but a small creek began between the fairway and the right rough where the ball could have landed. Enter the man in a white t-shirt, shorts, and brown slippers who was across the water and likely lived in one of the nearby houses. As broadcast on PGA Tour Live, Varner’s caddy asked him to check a ball that was a few yards out of bounds.

“I thought I heard it hit over here, but I didn’t see where,” the man said. He leaned in to look at the ball, then called out to Varner, “Black marked Titleist 1.”

It wasn’t his. Then, as Varner started to walk back to the tee, the man screamed again.

“Here’s a ball. Titleist Red 2.”

“Does it have a black dot on it?” Varner said.

“Yes,” said the man.

“That’s my ball,” Varner said.

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But when the man bent down again to check, PGA Tour Live broadcasters believed he may have moved the ball to identify it. Had he done so, Varner could have moved his ball back to its original location under Rule 9.6, which states: “When it is known or reasonably certain that an outside influence (including another player in stroke play or another ball) has lifted it 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).”

From there, Varner, his caddy, and a rules officer crossed the creek, and they found that the ball had crossed the OB white stakes by inches and that Varner was going to hit again from the tee. The ball stopped moving; Varner actually left it there.

“Okay, here’s the key,” the show’s announcer said as Varner and the officer spoke. “The gentleman found the ball, picked it up and moved it, so now they’re trying to figure out if he actually moved it from inbounds to out of bounds and where did he move it from? … From now on the ball is out of bounds. But when he picked it up, he didn’t necessarily put it back in the right spot. Now they’re trying to find out – they’re going to hunt this guy down and get him to give his best interpretation of where the ball actually was. Unless it’s already decided. If that’s the case, he’ll be driven back to the tee.”

Varner missed the hole twice, ended with a one-over-72 and didn’t speak to reporters about the decision after that.

“I don’t blame the gentleman at all for asking, does it have a red two, does it have a black dot,” said a second speaker on the show. “And he was just trying to help them identify it. Perhaps Team Varner should have thought about moving the ball and maybe bothered to check and identify it themselves. That could have been possible instead of letting the Lord do it.”

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Nick Piastowski

Nick Piastowski editor

Nick Piastowski is Senior Editor at and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf community. And when he’s not writing about how to hit the golf ball further 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 contact him on any of these topics – his stories, his game or his beers – at

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