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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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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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Morning 9: OWGR point allocation issues | Reed on switch to Titleist irons | Els picks assistants



By Ben Alberstadt (

March 20, 2019

Good Wednesday morning, golf fans.
1. OWGR issues
Overshadowed by rules-related discontents, many tour pros are less than thrilled about the allocation of Official World Golf Ranking points. So great is their grieving that the PGA Tour tasked a duo of mathematicians to investigate.
  • Their findings: Relative to the PGA Tour, other tours are allocated too many points.
  • An AP report with this anecdote…”Against a field as strong as some majors, Tommy Fleetwood shared the lead after 18 and 36 holes, played in the final group and was still in the mix at The Players Championship until a tee shot into the water on the 17th hole. His three-way tie for fifth was worth 16.53 ranking points.”
  • “Earlier that day, Guido Migliozzi won his first European Tour title at the Kenya Open, which until this year was a Challenge Tour event. The strength of its field was slightly weaker than the Boonchu Ruangkit Championship on the Asian Development Tour in January…Migliozzi received 24 ranking points, the minimum for the European Tour.”
2. Captain Els picks Choi, Immelman, Weir
Captain of the Presidents Cup International team, Ernie Els named K.J. Choi, Trevor Immelman and Mike Weir to join Geoff Ogilvy as his assistant captains for the December event.
3. Good on them
Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols with the news that a pair of the expecting Brittany Lincicome’s sponsors will pay her full contracts for 2019, even though she won’t meet the required minimum number of starts.
  • “…Two of her sponsors, CME Group and Diamond Resorts, will honor her full contracts in 2019 even though she won’t play a full season.”
  • “Lincicome, a two-time major winner, and husband Dewald Gouws are expecting a baby girl, due Sept. 1, two weeks before the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles.”
  • “I mean, I never thought in a million years that they would do that,” said Lincicome. “I feel so honored and blessed to be represented by two great companies that are going to do this. It’s just fantastic.”
4. Pepperell’s process
Never change, Eddie Pepperell. He’s a bit from the Englishman following his T3 finish at The Players, via Doug Ferguson at the Associated Press.
  • “There is a method to what others might consider madness.”
  • ”’Historically, whenever I’ve been at courses a long time, come Thursday I can be de-motivated,” Pepperell said. ”I don’t want to work my (tail) off too hard on Monday through Wednesday. That represents you’re lost. I don’t want to be lost. That always represented a sign of struggle for me.”’
  • “Pepperell is more interested in being technically sound….”Most courses are in front of you, require good shot-making and skill,” he said. ”It doesn’t matter how well I know a golf course. If I’m struggling with technique, I ain’t going to go out there and beat these guys.”’


5. Monahan speaks
Golf Digest’s Stephen Hennessey mined the transcript of PGA Tour Commissioner, Jay Monahan, for some of the most interesting morsels.
Here’s one.
  • Q: “You mentioned some things you wanted to sort of button up with the other organizations. Can you give an example of something where you feel like the relationships have been strained and need fixing, and is some of that related to your view on distance versus what they’re kind of building to with their distance study?”
  • MONAHAN: “I think — so the way I’ll characterize that is that if you look at — let’s talk about slow play, my favorite subject. There’s a lot of discussion about slow play. And when you have six or seven different organizations that have different policies and different perspectives and we’re not each fully aware of what those are, that may not be serving the best interests of the game. So how do we learn from each other on a subject like that? How do we diagnostically look at something that is getting a lot of discussion and ultimately can we improve? So that would be one.”
  • “Driving distance is another. How do we fully understand each other’s perspectives, and then how do we have good debate and discussion about what the solutions, what the opportunities or where we go from here. But I just think that — and I want to be clear that this is on us, too. We just need to be more transparent, more forthcoming about our thinking across the board, and I think that’s going to get us to a good place.”
6. Reed’s switch to Titleist irons
Andrew Tursky at talked to Patrick Reed about his wholesale iron switch ahead of last week’s Players.
Why the big iron switch on the week of THE PLAYERS?
  • “I needed a new set because my irons were getting worn out. When I talked to the Titleist guys, I was fortunate enough that they were able to help me out and work with me to get a new fresh set of irons into play. After they built them, I absolutely loved the way they I hit ’em and how they were performing. From that point on, I felt like I had to get them battle-tested and put them under-the-gun, and I was able to do that last week…I actually got them that week (of THE PLAYERS). I was looking for new irons already because, my Callaways were great, they were just worn out. The grooves were gone.
  • For me, (I just had to) make sure (the Titleist irons) had the right weight and the right swing weight, because they looked the same and felt the same going through the turf (as the Callaway irons). For me, it was just making sure they were fresh. I knew I needed a fresh set leading into this stretch [of tournaments]. When I tested [the new Titleist irons] on the range, they were unbelievable on Tuesday, and Wednesday when I played on the course they were just as well. I felt like… I hit them great on the golf course, I just needed to dial in distances a little bit…They feel great. I look forward to continue playing with them.”
Reed also added that Titleist’s tour van added the lead tape to match the head weights to his previous gamers.
7. Eyes on Akshay
Golf Channel’s Will Gray on the 17-year-old phenom, Akshay Bhatia, who will play in this week’s Valspar Championship, and his somewhat atypical path to turning pro.
  • “Like many skilled players his age, Bhatia aspires to turn pro. But his timeline is significantly shorter than most of his peers, as his amateur career is measured in months, not years. He is open about his plan to turn pro later this year, eschewing any thoughts of college in a decision he made along with the help of his father, Sonny, and “inner circle” when he was still in middle school.”
  • ‘”I’ve never liked school. I’ve never been very smart, like sitting in a classroom, and I have the worst attention span when it comes to it. But I love being outside and love playing golf, just competing,” Bhatia said. “So my dad was like, ‘You know what? Let’s just not go to college. Let’s not do it.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s fine.’ I mean, I’m an eighth-grader, of course I’m going to say no to school.”‘
8. A tiny oral history of Ho Sung at Pebble

Stellar stuff from Anna Katherine Clemmons at ESPN, talking to the folks who teed it up with Ho Sung Choi at Pebble Beach…

“AARON RODGERS, PACKERS QUARTERBACK: I watched video of his swing, and I tweeted that I’d love to play with him because I already had a Pebble Beach partner, Jerry Kelly, who leans a ton. I thought that’d be a fun pairing.”

“JERRY KELLY, THREE-TIME PGA TOUR WINNER: I thought the swing wasn’t real. Then I saw he’d won in Japan, so I tweeted, “Hey, my long-lost brother on the Japanese Tour!”

“CHRIS O’DONNELL, ACTOR WHO WAS WITH RODGERS, KELLY AND CHOI AT PEBBLE BEACH: I’d seen his swing when it first went viral. Then, when the pairings came out, I asked, “Who is Ho Sung Choi?” Later I watched the video again and was like, “Oh my god, it’s him!”

“RODGERS: His impact positions are incredible. He tees it up so high, and other than a popup on 10, he really hit it well off the tee. He’s super flexible-it’s like a yoga backbend. I tried to do one at one point on the range, teasing with him, and my back started hurting.”

Full piece.

9. The 14
If you didn’t catch our new series (in partnership with TXG), I think you’ll want to. Johnny Wunder and TXG’s Ian Fraser do a deep dive into the PGA Tour winner’s WITB in “The 14” (like, half-an-hour-long video deep). If you’re a gear junkie, it’s must-watch stuff.

See “The 14” here.


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Rahm’s water ball at 11: Is the Spaniard his own worst enemy, or should his caddie have stayed silent?



Few shots on the course have stunned golf fans and analysts alike more than Jon Rahm’s water ball on the 11th hole while leading the Players Championship on Sunday.

The exchange prior to the shot went viral on social media, which has now been removed by the PGA Tour. With his caddie, Adam Hayes, pleading for Rahm to lay up, the Spaniard pulled rank and proceeded to fire his ball into the water, in a moment of madness which proved a fatal blow in his bid to capture the Players trophy.

Immediately after the incident, announcers called the move “perplexing” as well as explaining how they “didn’t understand any of that,” referring to the seemingly rash decision made by Rahm after what appeared to be a calm and constructive assessment of the situation with his caddie.

Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee went even further than those commentators, calling the fiery 24-year-old’s decision and subsequent water ball “the most baffling decision” in the history of the tournament.

Rahm, however, came to a very different conclusion to what had occurred. With the ball taking a splash, the Spaniard lost his cool and was audibly heard saying “I was so f****** sure the first time,” which could only allude to him believing that his caddie had injected some doubt into his mind, causing the error.

Another water ball at 17 sank his chances entirely, and speaking after the round, Rahm stuck to his guns, believing that he had done the right thing and confirmed how he believed that his caddie’s involvement had hindered him.

“Adam was trying to convince me to go right. When I first got to the ball, I was really sure I could do it. If you give me 10 balls, besides that one, I’ll hit the other nine on land. Unfortunately, I got a little bit of doubt in me.”

Veteran caddie Kip Henley, speaking to GolfDigest, explained that while Hayes and the rest of America knew he was suggesting the right thing, he had no choice but to back down.

“Ninety-eight percent of America looks at that and knows Adam was making the right call. Birdie is great, but par doesn’t kill you, and a good caddie is able to look at the situation without as much emotion as the player.

“The whole time you’re fighting you better be aware where your guy is leaning because if you know he’s not coming over, you need to start backpedaling. You then need to make him feel like it’s a good decision. Everybody does that. You read your guy, and you find a way to change your tune.”

How the incident will affect their future working relationship remains to be seen. But Rahm’s refusal to accept that he may have been better served by listening to his caddie while speaking after the event is only likely to ignite the doubts over the Spaniard’s impetuous temperament.


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19th Hole