Harold Varner III understands the position he’s in on PGA Tour

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — It’s just after 9 a.m. on Wednesday morning, just less than 24 hours before Harold Varner III is scheduled to tee off in the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. Traffic getting to the course on this rainy day has already reached levels so nightmarish that Tiger Woods offered, during his news conference, that there’s a possibility a golfer might miss his tee time.

If Varner’s worried or flustered the day before playing in his second U.S. Open, he’s definitely not showing it.

“I’m literally laying in bed,” the 27-year-old Varner says as he answers the phone, his Southern drawl revealing his childhood roots being raised in Gastonia, North Carolina. “How do I feel going into the U.S. Open? I feel pretty relaxed.”

Being “relaxed” just wasn’t the case when Varner played the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, as an alternate. To understand why Varner might have been a bit uptight, you have to consider the two-year journey that led to his very first PGA event.

In 2011, Varner won the North Carolina Amateur Championship.

In 2012, Varner earned the Conference USA Player of the Year award, capping a great college career at East Carolina University.

In 2013, Varner had just turned pro with the desire to reach the PGA Tour when he was named a U.S. Open alternate. After hearing several players had dropped out, he drove to Pennsylvania and got word along the way that he had gotten into the field. Weeks after playing on the eGolf Tour, Varner was in a tournament with Woods, Phil Mickelson and the other greats of the game.

He didn’t make the cut.

“I was really nervous and didn’t know what to expect,” Varner said. “I didn’t know how to play an Open. I was used to just being aggressive, hitting my driver everywhere and just moving fast. I learned that you don’t really need that.”

Five years later, Varner finds himself in a better place to compete at the U.S. Open. He’s been a regular on the PGA Tour since 2015, the first African-American golfer to advance to the PGA Tour from the Web.com Tour. Just last month he had a seventh-place finish at The Players Championship at TPC at Sawgrass, earning Sunday TV time as he battled for contention.

“I’m a lot more experienced now, and I have a better approach to the game,” Varner said. “I’m going into this knowing it’s going to be hard, and instead of just going out and hitting the ball, I have to use my head to try to figure the course out.”

Varner had to try to figure it out early, as he teed off at 6:45 a.m. on Thursday with the first group of the tournament. He shot a 79 and was 9-over-par heading into his 12:30 p.m. tee time on Friday.

It was 22 years ago that Woods debuted on the PGA Tour, winning the first of his 14 major events within a year. His dominance in golf was expected to inspire an increase in African-American golfers.

That didn’t happen. Varner is the only African-American to play on the PGA Tour since Woods turned pro.

The two met for the first time this year, giving Varner a chance to spend time with the player he looked up to as a kid.

Not because Woods was black.

“Because he was dominant,” Varner said. “He beat everybody and just had this mental toughness about him.”

Varner understands that some see him as a novelty on tour, and that black fans might follow him around a course during his rounds simply because of his skin color.

“I get asked about color all the time, but I want to help and reach out to not just black fans but all fans,” Varner said. “I do understand that I’m in an awesome position to help black kids, but I want to help all kids. I want to be able to relate and to help all people in society that we live in, especially at a time where this is so much dividing us.”

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • LinkedIn

The trait in relating to a wide spectrum of people is something that Varner appreciates about Woods.

Both have similar backgrounds: Woods was introduced to the sport by his dad, Earl, while Varner’s dad, Harold Varner Jr., placed a golf club in his son’s hands at a young age.

When Varner was a kid, his parents spent $100 on a pass that allowed him to play as much golf as he wanted. Varner’s father, a car salesman, would drop him off at the golf course while on his way to work. And either Varner’s mother or father would pick him up at night.

“That’s all I would do all day, play golf, from June 1st to September 1st,” Varner said. “Playing that much really allowed me to realize that this is something I could be good at.”

Eventually Varner would begin playing regularly with a group called the Par Busters, a longtime Charlotte, North Carolina-based group of African-American golfers. Varner laughs about the many hours he spent being the only kid playing regularly with the adult group.

“Honestly, I just felt like I was one of the guys — without the drinking and stuff that goes on at the golf course,” Varner said. “Those guys looked after me. They fed me on the course, and they often made sure I got home.

“The biggest lesson I got from them: to just have fun. That’s the reason why they played golf, to get out with their friends, talk some smack and have fun.”

Of course, Varner also wants to win. While he’s yet to win a title on the PGA Tour, Varner did win the Australian PGA Championship in 2016. He’s only the second American to win the Australian PGA title, joining Hale Irwin, who won it in 1978.

“That was huge in terms of thinking, ‘OK, I can do this on this level,’ ” Varner said of the win in Australia.

And huge in terms of Varner showcasing his development from his first U.S. Open, where he entered with the attitude of pulling out his driver and crushing every shot. Varner’s game is more fine-tuned entering this year’s tournament, with the help of some advice he took from Woods just a month ago.

“I asked him about how he focuses with so much going on around him, and he said it’s like when you read a book with the TV and you can hear the noise in the background, but you don’t know what’s being said,” Varner said. “He told me to use that on the golf course: to hear the noise, but just focus on my book, my game. It was great advice.”

For Varner, the time has come to see if that advice, and the advances in his game, can carry him into the weekend in his second opportunity at the U.S. Open.

“I’ve been playing well and with confidence, and that’s a big difference from the first time I played the U.S. Open,” Varner said. “As a kid, I always wanted to be in a situation where I’m competing against the best people. I’m here now, and I’m enjoying the opportunity.”

Harold Varner III

Harold Varner III
HaroldVarneriiigolfer.jpg
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • LinkedIn
Personal information
Nickname HV3
Born August 15, 1990 (age 30)
Akron, Ohio
Height 5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)
Weight 165 lb (75 kg; 11.8 st)
Nationality
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • LinkedIn
 
United States
Residence Jacksonville Beach, Florida
Career
College East Carolina University
Turned professional 2012
Current tour(s) PGA Tour
European Tour
Former tour(s) Web.com Tour
Professional wins 1
Highest ranking 73 (April 18, 2021)[1]
(as of June 13, 2021)
Number of wins by tour
European Tour 1
PGA Tour of Australasia 1
Best results in major championships
Masters Tournament DNP
PGA Championship T29: 2020
U.S. Open CUT: 2013, 2018
The Open Championship T66: 2016

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • LinkedIn

Harold Varner III (born August 15, 1990) is an American professional golfer who plays on the PGA Tour. Despite his smaller stature, Varner is one of the longer drivers on tour. Varner is one of just a handful of African-American PGA Tour golfers. He won the Australian PGA Championship in December 2016.

Michael Jordan texted Harold Varner III with an offer to be just the second Jordan Brand golfer and had a deal 2 days later

 

Harold Varner III stands with his caddie at the RBC Heritage in 2021.
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • LinkedIn
  • Harold Varner III is just the second golfer ever to be sponsored by Jordan Brand.
  • Varner said the deal with Jordan came together in two days and began with a text from MJ.
  • “If MJ wants to do something, he’s going to do it,” Varner said.

Nike sponsors some of the biggest names on the PGA Tour, but 30-year-old Harold Varner III is the only player in professional golf currently sporting the iconic Jordan Brand.

The deal between Varner and Jordan was an easy match, with Varner proudly representing the state of North Carolina, where he was raised. But listening to Varner tell the story, the undoubtedly expensive agreement between the two parties came together even easier than he expected.

“Insanely easy,” Varner said of the deal while speaking as a guest on GOLF’s “Subpar” podcast.

“MJ texted me and said, ‘I’d love to have you in the brand.’ And two days later, Harold Varner was in the brand. It was the most non-complicated thing in the world,” Varner said. “If MJ wants to help or wants to do something, he’s going to do it.”

Varner said that the most complicated part of setting the deal up was responding to Jordan’s initial text. Before the deal was made, Fred Whitfield, a friend of Varner’s who also happens to be the President of the Charlotte Hornets, gave Varner the heads up.

“The boss is going to text you,” Whitfield’s message read. “I’m like, ‘Who the hell is the boss?'” Varner said.

Varner said he received a text from Jordan in the morning ahead of a practice round but forgot to reply to his future boss. Finally, “like seven hours later,” Varner got around to texting Jordan back, and the deal was made.

Representing Jordan Brand comes with plenty of perks – namely, a bunch of cool shoes.

Varner guessed that he had roughly 400 pairs of Jordans thanks to the regular shipments he gets from the brand as one of their sponsored athletes.

But Varner said the best part of the relationship is how it enables him to give back.

“Obviously, I get to do stuff with my foundation, but there’s kids that are like ‘Can I get some Jordans for some foundation.’ Yeah sure! That’s the coolest part for me,” Varner said. “Because at the end of the day, no one is going to remember all the shoes I had. They’re going to remember, ‘Man Harold gave me this shoe, and I made X amount of dollars for my foundation.'”

While Varner has yet to secure his first PGA Tour win, he’s been inching closer this season, including a T2 finish at the RBC Heritage in April.

When Varner finally beats the field and lifts his first PGA Tour trophy, he’ll be repping Jordan from the winner’s circle.