Inspirational Harold Varner III competing in the inaugural Masters

AUGUSTA, Georgia — His son had just made himself a weekend contender in his very first Masters when Harold Varner Jr., a 70-year-old man built like a 1-iron, began sharing the fondest memories of Harold’s youth Summon III.

“I used to tell him, ‘That’s your putt for the Masters, take it seriously,'” the father recalled.

Harold Jr. stood behind the Augusta National Clubhouse with his wife Patricia. Both became more emotional at their son’s journey from a 2-year-old wielding plastic bats to a 31-year-old climbing the Masters ladder in a day when many second-round hopes were gone with the wind.

Patricia started talking about that memorable day when Harold III was 2-under for the tournament, half a dozen strokes behind Scottie Scheffler’s 36-hole lead, when she started to cry.

“I’m so proud of him,” she said. If her son can attack from behind and win the Masters in his first attempt, Patricia later added, “You may have to call an ambulance for me.”

Harold Jr., once a six handicap, was the one who taught Harold III the game. The father practiced his swing in front of a mirror and froze his textbook execution, and the son then did the same. Harold Jr. would replace Harold III’s plastic clubs with a sawed-off 8-iron.

“And that’s how it started,” said Harold Jr.

Harold Varner III hits a tee shot on the 12th hole on the second round of the Masters.
Harold Varner III hits a tee shot on the 12th hole on the second round of the Masters.

The boy carried the 8 iron everywhere. Harold III began learning the game at Good Park, a town square in Akron, Ohio, before his family moved to Gastonia, NC, where a $100 pass bought him a play-all-you-want junior membership at the town brought space. Harold Jr., a car salesman, dropped his son off at the class early in the morning on the way to the dealership, and Patricia picked him up in the evening. At the age of 12, Harold III set a goal to beat his father by 20 punches.

“And he beat me at 21,” Harold Jr. said.

Harold III grew into a collegiate star in East Carolina and in 2015 became the first African American player to make the PGA Tour from what was then known as the Tour. But Varner never wanted to define himself by his racing in a largely white country club sport.

“I would hope [representing] Kids who just don’t have access would be my number one choice,” he said on Friday. “If a black kid or a white kid wanted to be like me, I think that would be an inspiring thing. I would hope that I would behave in a way that would make them want to be as close to the profession as possible. I think the black community is often more about economic issues. It’s just hard to play golf. You can’t just go and play golf for a reasonable price. I am very determined to help these people and if they are black I will help them and if they are white I will help them.

A role model for everyone, a 5ft 8 golfer with a heavyweight game, Varner put himself in position to qualify for the Masters by winning the Saudi Invitational in February with a 92ft putt for Eagle on the last hole won. His mom watched in bed as the putt fell and his dad watched from the couch and they both screamed madly while their dog ran and ran around.

“I couldn’t get out of bed,” Patricia recalls. She was too busy shouting, “Oh my god, he won.”

Harold Varner III
Harold Varner III

Yes, he won. The only disadvantage? As the tournament champion, his sponsor and friend Michael Jordan will now require Varner to give him 10 shots in his matches instead of 8.

It’s still an enchanting life that the 40th player in the world lives as there aren’t many people on the planet who receive text messages from Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.

“Tiger told me the greatest thing,” Varner said. “I asked him, ‘What does it take to win?’ He said, ‘You stop worrying about winning.’ It has helped me to just do what I’m good at, play golf and hit the shot that it takes.”

Varner deciphered the last time he had a chance to win a major, shooting 81 on the final day of the 2019 PGA Championship. But that was then and that is now. He said he thinks about winning the green jacket “all the time” and that the pressure to do so has eased since the birth of his son Liam last autumn.

“You just hold him,” Varner said, “and you’re like, ‘He won’t budge whether I’ve got a green jacket or a gold jacket.'”

But Varner’s parents take care of it. Harold Jr. was too nervous to watch his son putt on Friday, so he made sure to keep going to the next tee whenever Harold III was on the green. That’s okay. The old man was supposed to be playing his traditional Masters Week golf in the Charlotte area with some old friends from Akron, but he gladly canceled.

If Harold III rallied to win the Masters, his father said, “It would be the fulfillment of my dreams for him.” And the culmination of one of the most inspiring journeys in the field. Inspirational Harold Varner III competing in the inaugural Masters


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