Golfer Harold Varner aims to hold a trophy not a torch
Steve DiMeglio, USA TODAY Sports 4:55 p.m. EDT September 17, 2014
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – From the first days he started running around the neighborhood with other kids, Harold Varner III never gave the color of his skin a second thought. He was just a kid playing games and having fun, after all, and his friends represented many races. As he grew up, that scenario remained the same. And to this day he understands why he’s asked about being an African-American player in the world of golf, but he doesn’t understand why it matters.
“I don’t carry a torch or anything, but I can be a light and I can inspire people, but I want to inspire people of all races,” Varner, 24, said Wednesday. ” … In golf, it is a little different, obviously, but times are changing. My dad has always told me we don’t see color. You treat the person for who they are.
” … I’m not out here thinking I’m standing up for all black golfers.”
Out here is the Web.com Tour, where breaking par – and not barriers – has been Varner’s main objective despite the sport’s continuing search for young African-American golfers since Tiger Woods starting winning majors. This week the main color the only African-American in the field is concentrating on is green. At the Web.com Tour Championship on the revamped Dye’s Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass, Varner needs a top-10 finish in the season finale of the developmental tour to earn enough money to achieve his lifetime goal – getting his playing card for the PGA Tour. He’s one of 128 players in the field, which includes 26 PGA Tour winners, three major champions and 69 Web.com Tour winners.
Harold Varner III is shown during the Nationwide Children?s Hospital Championship last week on the Web.com Tour
(Photo: Greg Bartram USA TODAY Sports)
“If I play well I’ll take care of business,” said Varner, who has two top-10s in 20 starts this season. “Pressure is a good thing. That means you’re doing something right and you are close to something great.” He was in a better position to earn his card for the 2014-15 season going into last week’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship. But a final-round 75 dropped him down the money list. He said it took him 10 minutes to get over it and it wasn’t on his mind during the 12-hour drive from Columbus, Ohio, to his home in the Jacksonville area. That’s the way he’s always been. His glass has always been half-full since he first got Fisher Price golf clubs when he was 2. He quickly fell in love with golf, spent many of his summers playing and working at golf courses in Gastonia, N.C., played his way through high school to East Carolina where he earned the 2012 Conference USA’s player-of-the-year award. After turning pro, he found success on the mini-tours and then earned a spot on the Web.com Tour. All the way up golf’s ladder, he’s been learning. Currently he’s learning how to deal with his driver. Despite being 5-9, the compact, muscle-bound Varner with the big smile is a big hitter.
He is averaging 312.7 yards per drive this year while hitting 61% of his fairways. And while he ranks in the top-5 in greens in regulation at 74%, he knows he hits the driver too much. “There were times all I cared about was how hard I could hit the ball and how far I could hit it,” he said. “I think the driver is the best club in my bag so why wouldn’t I hit it. But sometimes you need to relax and take what the golf course gives you. But I know I’m way better with course management.” What he needs most to improve on is his short game. “You just can’t be average in putting and chipping,” he said. “What gets you paid out here is consistency.” If this week doesn’t pay off for Varner, he’ll just keep going back to the golf course and working. That, Michael Jolly is certain of. Jolly, who works in player development for Srixon (the equipment Varner uses), first heard and read about Varner when he lived in a neighboring town and Jolly went and saw Varner play.
“The first four or five holes and I knew there was something special about this kid. He was super competitive, intense. I think he’s a special talent,” Jolly said. “And he just wants to keep getting better and better. He wants to be the best player out here, not the best black player out here. He has said that to me 1,000 times. He really believes he can be the best player in the world and he’s doing the things he needs to do to get there.”