I have a new hero. His name is Harold Varner the Third.
You may have heard of him, but the bit after his name is normally spelt III. In my house we don’t do that because growing up, III was pronounced ‘ill’. When Davis Love III was in his pomp the question was always posed: ‘How sick is he?’ Well, after what happened to Harold Varner at the Charles Schwab Challenge in May, the answer ought to be, ‘as a parrot’.
I was home alone, watching the SuperSport coverage and admiring, in particular, Harold’s unorthodox stance and swing. He’s also a little fella: 1.75m and 75kg. And yet, he hits a long ball, sticks his chin out and ignores the fact that when Tiger isn’t playing he’s pretty much the only black man on the PGA Tour.
So when he joined the leaders at 10 under with just seven holes to play in the final round, Harold had my attention. What happened next drew me closer than ever to him, because he shot 10 over on the last seven holes, finishing in a tie for 27th at level par for the tournament.
In monetary terms, the meltdown meant he took home $56,000 instead of a possible $1.5-million. This is where we part company, of course, since the most I’ve ever won playing golf was a 2kg braai pack. But let me take you back to the moment it all started to go wrong.
On the par-four 12th hole Harold crunched his drive down the fairway, but then hit his wedge approach into a greenside bunker. He blasted out to 15 feet and then things started to unravel. But, and how many times have I heard this excuse, it wasn’t his fault.
The problem was that his playing partner, Scott Stallings, had hit his approach over the green and needed a ruling to get relief from a TV tower. As is par for the course on the PGA Tour of late, it took 15 minutes for Stallings to get a ruling. So Harold had 15 minutes for his putter to get cold. And I mean ice-cold.
He left his first putt three feet short, hit the left edge and spun out, then missed the one back. The fourth putt found the cup; triple-bogey seven. On the par-three 13th he hit his tee shot into the water; double-bogey five. He then hit his drive on 14 out of bounds right, made five with his second ball; another triple-bogey seven. Eight shots gone in three holes. Give me a club, I can do that.
Amazingly he birdied the next and made par at 16, before finishing double-bogey, bogey. He came home in 45, 10 over par. Give me a club, I can do that. Well, on a good day.
And yet, far from rushing to the car park, Harold stayed and signed autographs, perhaps cognisant of the fact that one week earlier, at the second Major of the year, he became the 11th golfer in PGA Tour history to earn $10-million without winning a tournament. $10-million.
How many braai packs is that?
– This column first appeared in the July 2022 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine. Subscribe here!