An up-and-coming PGA golfer hits the jackpot in a major, pulling out enough outstanding shots in the first three rounds to enter the final day sitting in second place and paired with the tournament leader.
After two good holes the wheels fall off, and our presumptive hero falls from second place to a tie for 36th on national television on one of the sport’s largest stages.
Disaster? Some observers thought so.
But former East Carolina golfer Harold Varner III is so steeped in perspective that he refuses to waste even a minute wallowing about Sunday’s PGA Championship final. As he owned the situation publicly early this week, Varner found that his exploding fan base included NASCAR drivers and people with the connections to get him a potential sponsorship from Bud Light.
“I never really regret anything,” said Varner, who played for ECU from 2009-2012 and has been playing PGA tour events for five years. “I’ve never really had anything to regret, so I’m not going to start now. I played some really good golf to get there. I just didn’t play well when it seemed to matter the most. I’m really over it now. I just want to get better, I want to figure out why I didn’t perform when it counted the most because I had a great opportunity and I didn’t execute.”
This isn’t really a story about a lost ball on the fourth hole, unpredictably windy conditions and a final round gone awry. The viewing public saw that play out in high-definition, as a day of promise turned into frustration for Varner and plenty of white-knuckle moments for his playing partner Brooks Koepka, who shot four-over for the day and saw a seven-stroke lead shrink to just two strokes ahead of Dustin Johnson.
This is a more of a Monday tale, of an HVIII who got out of bed, already looking ahead, and stumbled into a chance to teach “golf Twitter” how to deal with something that looks like adversity but really, at its core, is actually not a hardship at all.
Varner magnified his national stage with the response he composed to national sports business analyst Darren Rovell, who tweeted the following in the wee hours of Monday morning: “Harold Varner III began the day tied for second, in line for $968,000. After a +11 4th round, he finished tied for 36th. He will take home $48,200.”
Rovell’s numbers were accurate and his tweet was straightforward, but it also seemed designed to rub salt in the wound of the man who was having none of it. Varner has met Rovell and has no hard feelings, but he felt he needed to reply to let his fans know he viewed the whole thing as a fabulous learning experience.
Varner tweeted back, “This is great, didn’t know… life goes on. Let’s get better. Thanks DR for a little motivation.”
Of course, very few exchanges between prominent people end that simply, and this one prompted 344 replies, mostly from people praising Varner for showing himself as a classy competitor and individual.
One representative tweet, from a man named Mike Costa, said, “You gained in fans what you missed in dollars. Keep plugging. You have a lot of folks pulling for you now that they’ve been introduced to you.”
Another follower, Steve Davies, told Varner, “You have a fan for life.”
Some of Varner’s new Twitter fans mentioned that they had played golf over the weekend and had most certainly spent money on the sport rather than making it, and college basketball analyst Gary Parrish weighed in with, “I’m gonna focus on the fact that you made $48,000 on a Sunday. Think about that. Such was a dream once upon a time.”
But one of Varner’s favorite responses came quickly from NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip, who evidently lost a friendly sports wager to fellow driver Denny Hamlin on Sunday: “If it helps any I started yesterday even and lost $590 to @dennyhamlin. So you are $49,000 ahead of me.”
Varner might even be in pursuit of a new sponsorship deal because of the fallout from Sunday. One fan on Twitter messaged Budweiser directly (Varner’s beer of choice is Bud Light) and if asked the beer company could hook Varner up with “some swag.” Negotiations, Varner said, are in the works.
As he prepares to play in the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village starting on May 30 and the Canadian Open right after that, Varner is home in Gastonia training hard, only taking a short break on Wednesday to watch some of the Carolina Panthers organized team activity. (Panthers coach Ron Rivera, already a member of the HVIII fan club, wore a T-shirt honoring the golfer to talk to the media after the practice session.)
Garner needs to win one of those two events to qualify for the U.S. Open next month, so his time on the course is dedicated to solidifying every part of his game and making sure the next time a high-pressure situation presents itself, he will be ready to overcome it.
“I’ve never been there before, and there’s nothing out there that can prepare you,” he said. “You just get in the fire and see how hot it is and get ready for the next time. I just want to get back in there and do it all over again.
“It was awesome, I enjoyed every second of it.”