Harold Varner III wasn’t necessarily planning on playing five consecutive PGA tournaments. When he looked at his schedule he actually thought he would take the second full week in June off from traveling and competing.
But then he qualified for the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, and he wasn’t about to turn down that opportunity.
With unfriendly conditions and a course setup that drew criticism from some in the field, the U.S. Open didn’t end the way Varner, or many other golfers on the tour, had hoped.
“A lot of good players didn’t play well,” he said. “You can hit a lot of good shots and not get rewarded for them. I was just so excited to get going. I probably should have been better prepared.”
Even though the former East Carolina standout didn’t make the cut in New York, Varner is feeling healthy after struggling with a hip injury through the spring, and he is optimistic about his next two tournaments at the TPC Potomac and The Greenbrier. With every tour event he plays, Varner grows in confidence and in his understanding of what it takes to excel at that level.
“Right now, I just feel really good, I feel like I’m working on the right things,” he said. “When I was hurt I couldn’t quite do the things I wanted to do. Playing golf, it’s a lot more fun when you’re healthy. I’m learning a lot, learning what it takes to be really good. I’m enjoying it.”
Varner had one of his most memorable experiences as a pro in May, when he had the opportunity to play a practice round with Tiger Woods before the Players Championship at Ponte Vedra Beach. The two talked about putting techniques, about staying focused during big tournaments and about the necessity to stay focused on the fundamentals.
Varner was struck by the simplicity of Woods’ game and by his willingness to share wisdom with Varner, the only other African-American player on the tour.
“Obviously, I’ve always looked up to him as a golfer; he’s the best player I’ve ever seen,” he said. “So that was just super cool to get the chance to hang out with him and ask him some questions.”
Varner couldn’t pass up the opportunity to rib Woods a little bit about a day 14 years ago, when Varner was just 13 years old, and he camped out by the path at the Wachovia Championship in Charlotte focused on just one goal—getting an autograph from golf’s biggest star. But Woods only signed one autograph, for a different child, and strode away.
Woods joked with him that the long-ago snub had lit a fire under Varner that had led him to a career in professional golf.
“He told me, ‘That’s the reason why you’re out here,’” Varner said.
On a more serious note Woods advised Varner, a natural extrovert who loves interacting with fans, that the happenings outside the ropes can sometimes distract a golfer from his chief job — focusing on the things he can control on the course.
“He said that you should handle your business first,” he said.
Varner plans to do what it takes to stay at this level and turn some heads at future tournaments, but it never feels much like work to him.
Soon enough the PGA schedule will slow down and he will be planning trips to as many Pirate football games as possible, but this summer he is enjoying every day of this adventure. With the improvements he has made in his game, he is expectant that any tournament could be his tournament.
“I just know something good is going to happen,” he said. “I just want to be ready when it does.”