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Harold Varner III penalized 2 strokes in bizarre fashion



Another week, and now, yet another rules infraction on the PGA Tour. While we’ve seen penalties handed out in 2019 for improper drops and confusion over the new caddie alignment rule, on Thursday evening, Harold Varner III fell foul of a very different regulation.

Varner III damaged his driver on the range before teeing off on Thursday and began his opening round at TPC Sawgrass with just 13 clubs in his bag after stating his intent to officials that he planned on replacing the club during his round, which is all perfectly legal under Rule 4.1b.

Varner III, wanting to keep the original shaft of his driver, and knowing that under the same rule that he is not permitted to take the shaft with him on to the course and have the new club assembled during play, left the shaft on the tee so that his agent could assemble the driver in the locker room.

However, a walking scorer believing that Varner had forgotten the piece of equipment brought the shaft to Varner on the course, and when the driver’s head was brought out to Varner, and the club was assembled on the course, Varner was deemed to have violated the rule and incurred a two-stroke penalty.

Speaking on the incident, PGA Tour vice president of rules and competition Mark Russell stated, per the Tour,

“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. 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.”

Russell further explained how he understood that Varner III, who was in discussion with officials throughout the incident but misunderstood the situation, was not trying to gain an advantage, and how the walking scorer in their attempt to be helpful had led to the unfortunate event.

“Harold was trying not to do anything wrong. I guess they (the 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.”

The 28-year-old’s opening 72 was adjusted post round to a 74, leaving him nine shots off the front runner Tommy Fleetwood.

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Gianni is a freelance writer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Diploma in Sports Journalism. He can be contacted at Follow him on Twitter @giancarlomag



  1. OB

    Mar 18, 2019 at 1:09 pm

    I think there should be an easy solution. They should always ask what the intent was, go by the honor system, and leave it at that, especially if it’s a first time infraction.

    They do it for other rules. This should be the same.

  2. Bo Fadeeznuts

    Mar 16, 2019 at 11:25 am

    Guys not a true wrxer. A true wrxer would have had three shafts at the ready and two tour issue heads with adjustment tools in the bag.

  3. Herm

    Mar 16, 2019 at 8:00 am

    My question to the PGA Tour rules officials …

    What should HV3 have done in this instance to avoid the penalty?

    Not accepted the shaft & had it run back to the clubhouse for assembly?

    It seems to me he was trying to follow the rules …

  4. John Rominger

    Mar 15, 2019 at 9:43 pm

    Poor interpretation of rule 4. Varner could have carried the broken club since it did not put him over the 14 club limit. One could argue that carrying the shaft is equivalent to carrying the broken club. It is permissible for someone other than him or his caddy or his entourage to bring a new head to him and it is permissible for him or anyone else to install that head on the course. Of course the PGA Tour may have their own version of Rule 4 that specifically proscribes that, but the USGA Rule j4 as written allows it.

  5. chip75

    Mar 15, 2019 at 7:44 pm

    The question is, why did they assemble the club on the course? why did the head turn up when it was meant to fixed off-course or in the locker room? It would have been completely acceptable for them to get a new club from one of the tour vans, why didn’t he have a back up? I’d argue that there was no intent by the player when the scorer brought them the shaft, but they didn’t assemble the club on the course, so the ruling was fair enough.

  6. Curt

    Mar 15, 2019 at 5:26 pm

    Unfortunately he should know the rules. Hence being a pro. Fully deserved DQ. Sorry but I hate when people are messing around with drivers hole by hole.

    • Tony

      Mar 15, 2019 at 6:55 pm

      That’s what you got out of that. You did read it didn’t you? No intention to change his club setting, it was to get his actual club in his bag after starting with 13.

    • Scratchscorer

      Mar 15, 2019 at 9:23 pm

      Your comment makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

  7. Tiger Noods

    Mar 15, 2019 at 4:06 pm

    So if he steps OB to assemble it, is it still a penalty?

    I’m sorry, but this is one where an exemption needs to be made. The player did not ADJUST a club mid-round. He simply made it a playable condition, and he attempted to follow the letter of the law. It’s like saying if your shoe is untied, you can’t fix your shoe.

    This is sickening, really. I wasn’t a proponent of the PGA doing its own rules, but maybe that’s the way out of this cave. People always follow the pro rules; ask someone about pass interference! And if the PGA clears some of this on-course stuff up, while sticking to the same equipment, maybe we get to a better place.

  8. Mark

    Mar 15, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    It’s ok to protect the field and there should be a way to write a more logical rule. When Tennis, Hockey, Baseball and so forth are allowing to replace broken equipment. R & A, USGA rule makers aren’t there yet…!

  9. Adam

    Mar 15, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    Just insanely dumb. HV3 does everything he’s supposed to do and an outside agent (not his agent) screws it up for him. And he gets penalized. This is so stupid. I sure hope that other players come to his defense. He should definitely get those 2 strokes back.

    • Scratchscorer

      Mar 15, 2019 at 9:25 pm

      I agree. It wasn’t his mistake, it was the walking scorer who screwed it up. Should be no penalty under these circumstances. Varner did everything correctly.

  10. jack

    Mar 15, 2019 at 1:20 pm

    Hey PGA Tour and USGA – find some COMMON SENSE!

  11. Dave

    Mar 15, 2019 at 1:01 pm

    What part of this do you not understand?

    Restrictions When Adding or Replacing Clubs. When adding or replacing a club under (1) or (3), a player must not:
    • Unreasonably delay play (see Rule 5.6a),
    • Add or borrow any club from anyone else who is playing on the course (even if the other player is playing in a different group or competition), or
    • Build a club from parts carried by anyone for the player during the round.

  12. dat

    Mar 15, 2019 at 11:32 am

    And people wonder why we have such disdain for the USGA, no one plays by these rules in REAL life, and the game is dying…

    Gee, I wonder why????

    • Simms

      Mar 15, 2019 at 5:23 pm

      Game is dying because they only thing carrying it at the public level is the over 60 golfers playing during the week (5 hour rounds) and only playing the under $40 dollar green fee courses…so the $50 and up nice courses are not getting enough play and the lower end courses (less the $40) are getting the land re-zoned for housing and owners are selling…..

      • Tim Armington

        Mar 17, 2019 at 8:14 pm

        If the 60 year old five hour round guys are only playing the under $40 courses, then why are they developing the land into housing?
        Why wouldnt they develop the elite courses that you say nobody is playing?
        Also, where are the 25 yr old 2 hr round, speaker in the cart with music blaring guys playing?

  13. Boyo

    Mar 15, 2019 at 11:11 am

    Another Philadelphia lawyer rule. Oy vey!

  14. MikeB

    Mar 15, 2019 at 11:06 am

    No wonder golf is not attracting younger players and golf clubs are closing everywhere. This type of severe penalty just seems to typify the ” Golf has Rules” mentality that disuedes young folk from even getting involved with the game. HV3 clearly signalled his intent when he left the driver shaft at the first tee, what more could he have done? Perhaps in hindsight his caddie should have told the scorer to take or have gotten someone else to take it back to where it was left and have it assembled off course, caddies need to think about this stuff and let the player play.
    The other guilty party is the person that brought the new head onto the course for assembly, surely they knew about the rule infringement.
    Either way it’s another nail in the coffin for the mighty game of Golf.

  15. joe

    Mar 15, 2019 at 10:51 am

    One rule the USGA/PGA Tour need to implement is the notion of “common sense”. The governing bodies have already added the word “intention” to some potential rulings, such as the player having the no intention to put the ball in play on a practice swing on the tee box which brushes the golf ball off the tee peg – So clearly there is a way for the officials to remove the fuzziness from tournament play. In this case there was no “intention” for Harold to violate the fundamental reason of why the rule regarding building your club from parts – was implemented. His case was DIFFERENT than the reasons he rule was designed. Come on officials. It’s crystal clear!!! NO INTENTION.

  16. C

    Mar 15, 2019 at 10:37 am

    This ruling makes no sense. It’s a NEW driver head. Not the same one, adjusted during the round for play. So it should be considered a NEW club, therefore, not a 2 stroke penalty. Especially when they all found out how the new head came to be, regardless of who was carrying it, the shaft wasn’t being carried in the bag while they waited for a head.
    I feel sad for golf.

  17. Scott

    Mar 15, 2019 at 10:30 am

    Jebus Crikes, the PGA tour just can’t get out of their own way sometimes. I understand the intent of the rule. But Varner literally did everything he was supposed to do here at the beginning of the round. So because the walking scorer didn’t understand the situation it leaves him with two choices: 1. play the remainder of the round without a driver, or 2. take the two stroke penalty.

    Or, OR, ORRRRRRRR the PGA Tour could actually uses some intelligent thought process here and realize that there was no intent by the play to circumvent the rules and reverse this unjustified two stroke penalty. SMH!!!

  18. Shanker2000

    Mar 15, 2019 at 10:19 am

    Ok, so this is a pretty easy rule to follow, and it even makes sense. BUT…… the HV3 knew the rule, did everything in his power to follow the rule, no harm, good job. A person working at the tournament see’s that HV3 has left something, thinking “I need to grab that for him”, not doing anything wrong either. Then all of a sudden there is a rules violation and HV3 gets hit with a 2 shot penalty. This was not changing a loft setting from one to another, this was not gaining an advantage over any other player and this was not a case where the player HV3 knew the rule was being broken in the act of it happening. There was no need to give him a 2 shot penalty in this instance, there was no need to “Protect the Field” in this case. Reverse the ruling for this instance.

    • Chuck

      Mar 15, 2019 at 10:41 am

      So I want to amplify two things and add one…

      1. “Ok, so this is a pretty easy rule to follow…” Yes. Maybe not “easy” in the trickiest of PGA Tour circumstances, but for the most part, yes; easy.

      2. “…and it (this Rule) even makes sense…” Yes, definitely. The USGA has to make Rules to avoid players taking interminable amounts of time to adjust clubs if they were allowed to on-course… or to fake damage to clubs to get specialized clubs added for specific holes/shots… etc., etc. The Rule makes sense, the more technical you get (and the USGA does have to be technical).

      3. And to add; this is a Rule, and a circumstance, that has little bearing on most recreational players. Who do not have a locker full of OEM-supplied backup clubs, and a tournament staff or personal manager to go get them when and if the need arises. The 2019 Rules changes were in fact intended to make some aspects of the “broken club” problem easier for recreational players. Another thread would be needed to address all of them.

      No doubt there will be much more whining about how the USGA is dumb and inflexible and elitist, without any regard to the actual facts.

  19. James Heard

    Mar 15, 2019 at 10:13 am

    Doesn’t intent account for anything? There was no intention of violation.

  20. D

    Mar 15, 2019 at 9:55 am

    Grow the game

    • alexdub

      Mar 15, 2019 at 10:02 am

      Don’t forget #liveunderpar

      • Chuck

        Mar 15, 2019 at 10:33 am

        #liveunderpar is a PGATour marketing slogan. Has nothing to do with the USGA.

        HOWEVER; if you are going out of your way to mock the PGA Tour (and it was the PGA Tour, not the USGA that made what seems to have been a perfectly correct decision that lots of sports fans don’t like), then fine. Leave the USGA out of it.

        But I think that Mark Russell is one of the very finest rules officials in the game, and with his colleague Slugger White, is part of the best Rules staff in the history of the Tour.

  21. ShanksALotUSGA

    Mar 15, 2019 at 9:49 am

    What is the difference between tightening a screw on the course and walking to the locker room to do it? I get they didn’t want people adjusting their clubs on the course during a round, but I think using a wrench to tighten something is a little different than “building” a club on the course.

  22. bulls9999

    Mar 15, 2019 at 9:21 am

    Is there no ‘body’ or committee that can say, the outside guy (walking scorer) made the mistake and not the player and say ‘no infraction’. This is just dumb, imo.

  23. Crusher

    Mar 15, 2019 at 9:01 am

    They better fix these rules situations fast. It is negative toward the game. Please tell me how Varner’s “rules violation” gave him a competitive advantage over the field? Just plain stupid that he was assessed a 2 stroke penalty. Taking all fun out of playing the game and watching the game.

  24. Tim

    Mar 15, 2019 at 8:54 am

    Wait? Is the scorer considered a ‘rules official’ in any way?

    If so, that means that one rules official brought the shaft to Varner in the middle of his round and another rules official gave him a penalty because of that. He was essentially left with no choice but 1) to assemble the club on the course or 2) wait another hole or two for someone to run back to an area that is considered ‘off the course’ and assemble it.

    • Geoffrey Holland

      Mar 15, 2019 at 5:25 pm

      yes he should have waited for someone to take the shaft and the head off the course and assemble them there because if he knew it was illegal to assemble them on the course he was just being an idiot by doing so.

    • Jack

      Mar 17, 2019 at 10:20 pm

      Scorers are not rules officials. They’re just volunteers who help out and are not experts on the rulebook.

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Morning 9: DJ: I’m as close as I have been pre-2017 Masters form | How much should a Tour pro pay his/her teacher?



By Ben Alberstadt (

March 21, 2019

Good Thursday morning, golf fans.
1. DJ: I’m as close as I have been to pre-2017 Masters form
A scary thought for the competition: Dustin Johnson feels he’s as close to his pre-2017 Masters slip-and-fall form as he has been since the unfortunate tumble down the stairs that derailed the green jacket hopes of the then Masters favorite.
  • Golf Channel’s Will Gray…”Johnson has won plenty of tournaments in the two years since, and he’s spent much of that time as the top-ranked player in the world. But with victories already this year in Saudi Arabia and Mexico and coming off a T-5 finish at The Players Championship, Johnson believes heading into this week’s Valspar Championship that his game is as strong as it’s been since his ill-fated week in Augusta.”
  • “Now is the closest I’ve been to that. I mean, back then that was probably the best form I’ve ever been in, and getting injured it’s taken a while to get back to that form,” Johnson said. “Obviously, I played very well in that stretch, but I wasn’t as comfortable as I was then, kind of throughout the whole bag. But it’s getting, it’s definitely the closest I’ve felt to that stage of my career.”
  • “Johnson’s result last week was his first career top-10 finish in 11 trips to TPC Sawgrass, and his dominating run to the title last month in Mexico was reminiscent of the one he offered up two years ago during his strong run of form. When asked if he believed the performance he authored in Mexico City would be good enough to win his first green jacket next month, Johnson didn’t back down.”
2. #DriveOn
Golf Digest’s Keely Levins on the LPGA Tour’s new initiatie…”The LPGA is enjoying a time of growth. Purses are bigger than ever, and more companies are partnering with the LPGA than at any other time in the tour’s history. It was in part looking at why this is that led the LPGA to its new campaign, Drive On.”
  • …The campaign itself is about more than the LPGA or golf, it’s about empowering people of all ages and genders to pursue what they are passionate about, regardless of what others may think of them. As the tour explains in its press release, “Drive On isn’t just about golf and it isn’t just about women. For girls and boys, women and men. It’s about the fire that burns inside you when you discover your passion. It’s about the motivating power of big dreams and the resolve to defy convention and stereotypes. It’s about finding the vision to see beyond what has already been done and to believe something greater is possible.”
3. More Akshay Staff report on a few of the 17-year-old phenom’s pre-Valspar Championship remarks.
  • …”In 2014, he participated in the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National, the weekend before the start of the Masters. He was among 88 juniors who advanced their way to the finals, and his family was there to enjoy the moment.”
  • “So humbling and such a great experience,” dad Sonny told the News and Observer.
  • “He’s had lunch with Jack Nicklaus at a Walker Cup event – and heard Nicklaus say, “You know, when I went to college, I didn’t learn much.” Said Akshay: “Which is funny, because you know, arguably the best player in the golf.”
  • “At the recent Dustin Johnson World Junior Golf Championship, Akshay shot a tournament-record 10 under at TPC Myrtle Beach en route to winning the event. Afterward, Akshay said Johnson “is a mentor of mine. It was an amazing week.”

Full piece.

4. Meanwhile, in Malaysia…
European Tour report…”Matthias Schwab was pleasantly surprised after opening his Maybank Championship account with a 66 on Thursday.”
  • “The Austrian, making his first appearance at Saujana Golf and Country Club this week, carded seven birdies and a solitary bogey on day one to sit a single stroke behind co-leaders Marcus Fraser and Nacho Elvira.”
  • “On a morning of low scoring, Schwab recovered from a bogey at the tenth – his first – with birdies on the 13th, 14th and 17th to avoid falling too far behind the early pace-setters.”

Full piece. 

Thomas Pieters is two back at 5 under.
5. Fair price to pay a teacher?
The Undercover Tour Pro (with Max Adler) tackles the question of a fair price for a pro to pay a golf instructor.
  • A few morsels…”I pay my guy 40 grand a year. He’ll hop on a flight and cover his expenses whenever I need him, but neither of us wants that happening often. Usually, I can send him a swing video and we can talk on the phone for five minutes, and that’s plenty. Our deal used to be 20 grand annually, plus a bunch of percentages that kicked in for top-25s and top-10s, but then I had my best season. The number I was supposed to pay him was ridiculous. I said, “Whoa, buddy, I’ve barely seen you. How ’bout here’s a check for 40 grand and we call it square?” He didn’t say no.”
  • “I know one famous teacher whose deal is $150,000 per year. Even if you pay that, you’re on his schedule, because he might have four or five players to visit before you at any given tour event. He had one student who was a major champion, a veteran who’d made more than $20 million in his career. But this player had some real dry seasons in his 40s. His decision to stop working with said teacher was purely financial.”
6. Back back to OK, Day trying not to push it
Golf Channel’s Will Gray…”Showing no signs of issue during Wednesday’s pro-am at the Valspar Championship, Day explained that his back feels “good” and that he has required no further cortisone shots since the initial dose.”
“It seems like every time my back goes out I get the questions for about two or three weeks, and then they slowly go away,” he said. “It’s coming along. I’ve just got to not push myself too hard. But I feel good about it.”
7. Monday Q
Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols on the rigors of Monday qualifying–on the Symetra Tour, no less–through the eyes of Cheyenne Knight. In short, just like on the mens’ circuit, you better be ready to circle some numbers on your scorecard.
  • ‘”That first one is always the hardest,” said Knight, who knocked in a 25-footer on her 15th hole. Birdie putts from 6 feet followed on the next two holes and on the closing par 5, she hit the green in two with a 3-hybrid and poured in a 30-footer for eagle.”
  • “Knight thought for sure that she’d be safe with an 8-under 63. Cheyenne Woods, playing two groups ahead, posted a 64. When Csicsi Rozsa turned in a 63 of her own, Knight headed to the range.”
  • “Could it really be possible that 63 wasn’t enough to get in?…Turns out it was – both Knight and Rozsa advanced out of the field of 72. But it took some red-hot golf….”You hear about Monday-qualifying and how hard it is on the PGA Tour and,” said Knight, “but it’s hard out here too. It’s really difficult.”‘
8. Stairs fell another Johnson
Golf Channel’s Will Gray…”This week at the Valspar Championship it’s his brother and caddie, Austin, who’s suffering. Austin Johnson was sporting a black cast on his left wrist Tuesday on the driving range, and he added a sling while carrying the bag during Wednesday’s pro-am.”
  • “Dustin Johnson explained that his brother broke a bone in his hand Sunday night, slipping while going up some stairs as the two were packing up their house near TPC Sawgrass following Johnson’s T-5 finish at The Players Championship.”
  • “He had a bit of a run-in with a pair of stairs, kind of like I did,” Johnson said. “Those stairs, man. They’ll get you.”

Full piece

Indeed, they will.
9. Russell Knox’s one-off Bettinardi
Great reporting by’s Andrew Tursky, getting the inside scoop on a very interesting flatstick…
  • “Every week on the practice green at a PGA TOUR event, you can find Arnie Cunningham, TOUR representative for SuperStroke grips, standing beside a SuperStroke staff bag. Propped up against the bag are a dozen or more putters from different manufacturers, each equipped with the newest versions of SuperStroke putter grips. The putters are there mostly so TOUR players interested in changing grips can see how the grips feel with a putter head and shaft on them. If the player likes a grip, Cunningham and team will build that player’s gamer head with the new grip on it.”
  • “One of the putter heads that Cunningham uses to show off the new grips is his old gamer putter that was custom-made for him by Bob Bettinardi prior to 2009, when Bettinardi still had a partnership with Mizuno.”
  • “I brought that [putter] out more as a novelty item because back in about 2007, Bob [Bettinardi] made me a SeeMore copy, let’s call it, with a red dot, that was on a Tomahawk head; there was an old putter company called Tomahawk back in the 60s and 70s,” Cunningham explains. “So I ask [Bob Bettinardi] to make me a Tomahawk head with a red dot and a straight-in putter… it is a one-off Bettinardi [from] back in the Mizuno-Bettinardi days, it has both names on the putter.”
Read the full piece for how Knox ended up with the wand.


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Stairs strike the Johnson family again, this time getting brother/caddie Austin



Two years after Dustin Johnson slipped down a staircase in his rented home in Augusta forcing him to withdraw from the event, another Johnson has now suffered a similar fate, with his brother and caddie Austin causing himself harm falling up a staircase.

Austin felt the wrath of the stairs late Sunday after the final round of the Players Championship, slipping while going up the stairs in their rented house. Austin suffered a broken bone in his hand, and his arm is now in a cast, but he will still be on Dustin’s bag this week as he tees it up at the Valspar.

Speaking before his opening round at Innisbrook, Dustin Johnson had this to say on the incident

“He had a bit of a run-in with a pair of stairs, kind of like I did. He was carrying the stuff in the house after TPC on Sunday night and slipped going up the stairs. Those stairs, man, they’ll get you.”

Back in 2017, Johnson was in imperious form heading to Augusta, winning three successive events before taking the drive down Magnolia Lane. Though we’ll never know what would have happened had he not injured himself on that staircase before the Masters that year, on Wednesday, Johnson sent this ominous warning to his competitors as the years first major looms large, saying he’s now the closest he’s been to that form since the accident.

“Now is the closest I’ve been to that. I mean, back then that was probably the best form I’ve ever been in, and getting injured it’s taken a while to get back to that form.

Obviously, I played very well in that stretch, but I wasn’t as comfortable as I was then, kind of throughout the whole bag. But it’s getting, it’s definitely the closest I’ve felt to that stage of my career.”

Dustin Johnson is the betting favorite this week and tees it up alongside Gary Woodland and Paul Casey in the opening round at 18.03 ET.




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Ernie Els announces final 3 Presidents Cup vice-captains – which includes 2 previous Masters champions



Ernie Els has revealed that Mike Weir, K.J. Choi, and Trevor Immelman will take on the role of vice-captaincy for the 2019 Presidents Cup.

The trio joins Geoff Ogilvy, who Els named as one of his vice-captains back in November, in what is a truly international team of captain’s assistants.

Both Choi and Weir have experience with the vice-captaincy role, with Choi being a part of Nick Price’s team in 2015, while Weir was an assistant captain under Price in 2017. Immelman will be making his debut as a vice-captain.

Speaking concerning his choices for assistant captains, Els cited the importance of his vice-captains coming from all corners of the globe and stressed how a “new formula” was needed to previous regimes to help the International side defeat the U.S. team for just the second time in the event’s history.

“We’ve got almost every continent covered with these four guys. So that’s basically why I chose these guys, and we really need to change things up from previous Cups. And I wanted them to buy into this new formula and make them take this formula forward.”

The South African also mentioned how he would be approaching the pairing process for the event at Royal Melbourne differently than his predecessors, and that he would be leaning heavily on statistics and science before the biennial team event kicks off in December.

“I’ve seen what other captains have done in the past. In this instance, I really wanted to try and start a new thinking process around the pairing system. I’m using a lot of data, a lot of science into what we’re going to be doing in December in Australia, and I wanted to get guys who have played a lot of Presidents Cups like myself.”

U.S. captain, Tiger Woods, has thus far appointed three vice-captains — Fred Couples, Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker. Woods has the option to choose one more captain ahead of the event.

The 2019 Presidents Cup gets underway on Dec. 12 at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, the site of the International team’s sole victory in the event back in 1998.



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19th Hole