LOS ANGELES – Harold Varner III did not appear in the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club. He didn’t come close. He started bogey, double bogey, bogey on his first three holes on Thursday en route to a six on par 77. Despite recovering with a 69 on Friday, he missed four strokes.
It’s not important. He made the putt that would have made his year.
The shot, from 92 feet, is for the eagle. It came on February 6 on the final hole of the Saudi International at the Royal Greens Golf Club in Al Murooj, Saudi Arabia, giving him a one-shot win over Bubba Watson, the champion Two-time Masters champion. From off the field and at such a distance, his goal was to hit two shots and force the playoffs, Varner said. The ball climbed the slope, and as it passed the hill, he realized that it was approaching.
“When it went in,” he said last week, “I just lost my mind.”
But he also achieved a lot. Besides winning $1 million and rising to 50th in the world rankings for the first time – he’s at 47 – Varner, 31, could also qualify for the Masters. The top 50 players on March 28 will receive an invite.
“It would be a big deal,” said Varner, who has never competed in the event.
The victory over Saudi Arabia was the second of his professional career. First came during the 2016 Australian PGA Championship.
“We both know how good he is and how hard he works,” said Chris Rice, his caddy for the past year and a half. “It is only a matter of time before he gets the job done. The next step is to win the PGA Tour. ”
No wonder Varner was inundated with texts and calls after his win. He thinks the attention will drop after two or three days, but his fellow players at the Riviera Country Club in the Pacific Palisades last week congratulated him.
“It was a great moment,” Varner said, referring to the win. “I want to do it again.”
Varner, who is in his seventh season on the PGA Tour, had his share of peaks and valleys. During the 2019 PGA Championship at the Bethpage State Park Black Course in Farmingdale, NY, he made it to the final group on Sunday, against eventual champion, Brooks Koepka. The week did not end well for him. Varner shot 81 to end the game in 36th place. Some players might have been frustrated after posting such a score on such a big stage. Not Varner.
“It was my best finish in a major,” he said. “I took a lot from it.”
Varner, who grew up in Gastonia, NC, was a star at East Carolina University, where he was Player of the Year at Conference USA. He turned pro in 2012 and later joined the so-called Web.com Tour. His best on that tour was two for second place. In the end, he won the privilege of playing for the PGA Tour.
One of only four players of African Americans on the tour – the others are Tiger Woods, Cameron Champ and Joseph Bramlett – Varner is aware of the influential role a mentor can play in a young golfer’s development. When he was 16, he started working with Bruce Sudderth, who was a professional team leader at Gaston Country Club in Gastonia, near Charlotte.
“I had an unbelievable lead,” says Varner. “He retired and went back to teaching. He taught me everything.”
Sudderth, who was watching on television, said he “jumped out of my seat” when Varner converted the eagle shot in Saudi Arabia. He acknowledged his role in Varner’s career.
“I felt like, for a while, I was like a second father to him,” Sudderth said, “in giving him advice on how to be a pro, how to act in tournaments. ”
Varner has also befriended another golfer from North Carolina, six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan. Varner gave him 10 strokes per round.
“You don’t want to lose to him,” he said, “because you won’t hear the end of it.”
After his victory in Saudi Arabia, Varner made an approximately 20-hour plane trip, with two stops, to Arizona to compete at the Phoenix Open. “Yeah, it’s not very smart,” he said. Varner fired salvos of 75 and 69, and missed by four shots.
At the Riviera, Varner is determined to play well in the second round after his opening 77th, although the odds are against him cutting. He had a promising start, with birdies on his first two holes, but skipped Nos. 4 and 6 to put an end to all hopes for the weekend.
Watson, who also missed the opportunity, had strong words for his friend.
“I caught him,” Watson said. “I said, ‘You can’t celebrate, man. These young men are hungry. It was a victory. You must keep playing. ‘ Everyone here loves him. No brains to try to help him succeed.”
Varner said he will be taking a few weeks off before competing at the Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., which begins March 10.
“He gave me some good advice,” Varner said, referring to Watson. “I think you should always play with a chip on your shoulder. I’m just worried about winning a little bit. Got to build on that, and I’m learning from that. “
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/21/sports/varner-putt-saudi-arabia.html Harold Varner and his 92-foot hit could get him a masters offer