By Ralph N. Paulk President, Tiretown Golf Club
Akron native Harold Varner III stood on the fringes of the long, undulated 18th green at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in Saudi Arabia anxiously waiting to see if his near-100-foot putt would finish near the hole for a tap-in birdie that would force a playoff with two-time Masters champion Bubba Wallace.
As Wallace warmed up on the range, Varner’s putt climbed the hill then rolled slowly toward the hole. The ball drifted slightly left to lift Varner’s hope of a making an improbable eagle putt.
Still, even as a vociferous crowd grew confident, Varner remained stoic. But in an instant, his years of agonizing close-but-no-cigar finishes ended with one of the most stunning, memorable victories on any pro tour.
Varner’s putt was worth $1 million. More importantly, his second career win catapulted him to 45th in the world rankings to position him to earn his way into this year’s Masters at Augusta National.
Varner, leaning on a long, accurate driver and a consistent short game, played himself into contention several times in 2021 – including a tie for second in last year’s RBC Heritage where he finished four shots behind Stewart Cink. This time, even with a field of 21 of world’s top 50 players vying for this prestigious Asian Tour title, Varner held it together to give himself a chance at victory on the 72nd hole.
“The last hole capped it off for me. I’ve been playing well, and I know I’m a good putter, so I felt like I could definitely make it,” said Varner, among the longest drivers on the PGA Tour. “I’m glad this one worked out in my favor because it doesn’t always go that way. I wanted to win, and I couldn’t ask for a better ending.”
The 31-year-old Varner, who captured the 2016 Australian PGA Championship for his first professional win, seeks his first PGA Tour win this weekend at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He’s feeling good about his chances, mostly because he’s confident in his swing and mental toughness is stronger.
“My caddie, Ricey (Chris Rice), has been there with me through a lot of close ones and upsets, so we were both ecstatic about this one,” said Varner, who along with Tiger Woods and Vincent Tshbalala, became only the third Black golfer to win on the European tour in Australia. “It felt like a long time coming, but I never lost faith that I could get it done. If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.”
Varner, who played collegiately at East Carolina University, honed his game on public courses around Charlotte, N.C.
Varner, though, began to find himself soon after a disappointing final round 81 at the 2019 PGA Championship. He began the round tied for second and was paired with eventual champion Brooks Koepka. Even as he faltered, he started to believe in his game – and himself.
“Being from small town roots, born in Akron and raised in Gastonia, NC, I’ve always been taught to appreciate these moments but stay humble,” said Varner, whose father Harold Varner Jr., once a Tiretown Golf Club member. “I wouldn’t be here without the support of my family, sponsors and team. “I’m grateful to be where I am with these types of opportunities.”