Varner opens busy week by hosting his inaugural AJGA event
June 30, 2020
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
Harold Varner III hosts AJGA event
CLEMMONS, N.C. – Harold Varner III is a busy man this week.
On Monday, he flew from Connecticut to North Carolina for the AJGA’s inaugural Harold Varner III Foundation Junior All-Star tournament at Tanglewood Park.
Less than 24 hours later, Varner hopped another plane, this time bound for Michigan to begin preparations for this week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club. It’s the fourth event in a dizzying span of six straight he plans to play before taking a break on the PGA TOUR.
And on Wednesday afternoon, Varner will be mic’ed up and playing in a nine-hole exhibition to raise money for the Rocket Mortgage Classic’s Changing the Course initiative to end the digital divide in Detroit. Varner will partner with Bubba Watson, with the duo taking on Jason Day and Wesley Bryan.
The match will air as a special presentation of PGA TOUR LIVE and simulcast on Golf Channel.
Oh, and there’s a $7.5 million golf tournament to try to win over the July 4 weekend.
Varner was clearly in his element on Monday as he posed for pictures, talked golf and offered words of encouragement to many of the 78 boys and girls playing in the AJGA event. Varner joins Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Annika Sorenstam and Stacy Lewis, among others, in hosting an event.
“The coolest thing for me is the ropes (along the fairways) because that's like the stuff we have on TOUR,” Varner said, the excitement evident in his voice. “I was like, that's crazy.”
The teenagers waited patiently to have photos snapped with Varner beside the larger-than-life photos of him flanking the board that recognized the sponsors. They were sure to space themselves out six feet apart so they could briefly take their masks off.
“They're so nervous,” Varner said with a laugh. “They're like any other kid and then, you know, they're like, I don't want to talk to Harold. ... They just want to play. They want to compete. They don't really care that Harold's here. They know they’ve still got to play a tournament and that I respect that.”
Varner was being modest. The kids were anxious, if a little shy at times, to speak with him. One played on the Drew Charter golf team in southeastern Atlanta that became the first all-black team to win the Georgia Class A Public State Championship, a title it claimed by a whopping 15 strokes in 2019.
After that championship run, Varner’s HV3 Foundation gave the Drew Charter program $5,000. He started his foundation to “give back to less fortunate kids that could greatly benefit from increased access and opportunity in sport.” His goal is to provide financial assistance for equipment, after-school programs, instruction and camps so kids can realize their athletic dreams.
Varner’s AJGA event is another way to help. Proceeds will fund an ACE Grant to support players who want to play at the highest level of junior golf, paying entry fees and qualified travel expenses for state and USGA junior events. The program, which started in 2003, has reimbursed more than $4 million.
The way Varner sees it, affordability is the biggest obstacle in introducing golf to more minorities, particularly African Americans. He started playing when he was nine at a club that offered a $100 junior membership, then later worked the range and eventually earned a scholarship to East Carolina.
Varner tried to qualify for an AJGA event once. But he never played in one and he knows first-hand that competition at its highest level can be cost-prohibitive.Harold Varner III takes in the action on Tuesday. (Emma Varela/AJGA)
“Obviously there needs to be more black people, but it's just hard to do it if you don't have the money,” he said. “That's facts, whatever color you are. There's just more poor people that are black. So, it's just harder to get them in there, but we're going to do the best we can and figure it out.
“I've just been super fortunate in my journey to have people help me. So, it makes it easier to come back and help.”
One of those people was Bill Williamson, who helped raise money so Varner could get his professional career under way. His parents and instructor Bruce Sudderth were also “important people in my journey of life,” Varner said, along with a group of his dad’s friends called the Par Busters.
“I'd play with them especially in the summer, probably four to five times a week,” Varner said. “So, it was just, it was a combination of black, white, everything. So, my journey's a little different than many, many in general just how I grew up.
“I just had a great opportunity and I was happy to maximize it. And now we're maximizing. I want to win on TOUR. But while I haven't won on TOUR, I have a great team that makes it where I can give back while still competing.”
Varner’s Foundation also hosts a high school tournament and did an event in Greenville, North Carolina to raise money for the men’s and women’s golf teams at ECU. But the inaugural Daniel Meggs Memorial Junior that the HV3 Foundation is putting on with the Carolinas Golf Association at Providence Country Club in Charlotte on July 28 is a real labor of love.
The tournament honors Varner’s good friend who played collegiately at Wake Forest and later taught at TPC Piper Glen. Meggs was diagnosed with colon cancer in May of 2017, weeks before marrying his high school sweetheart Jordan, and died in February.
“So that one's way more personal,” Varner said. “That one’s going to suck, honestly, because the last few years me and Daniel just talked more than we had, similar to how we talked to her junior golf and I'd see him around. We obviously gambled together playing golf, but the conversations changed a lot when life's up for grabs.”
A month ago, Varner also took on a very public face as outrage and protests ignited in the days after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Seven days after a policeman kneeled on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, Varner posted an impassioned letter on Twitter and sat down with PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan for a wide-ranging discussion on race.
“It’s what I thought,” Varner said of his balanced words. “It was just articulated in a way where people could just understand why I think the way that I think and yeah, the reaction was good. (I) talked to a lot of players about just what we can do to just improve about the world.
“But it's not like we weren't trying improve injustice before. It just wasn't. I don't think the PGA TOUR just blast out like, hey, we're doing this, we're doing that. Your job as a human is to do it because it's right. Not because you get a like, or so that's my whole thing.”
Eleven days after Varner posted the tweet, he was tied for the lead at the Charles Schwab Challenge in the TOUR’s first event since the coronavirus shutdown. Varner, who won the 2016 Australian PGA, held sole possession of the lead after the second round, too, before falling back on the weekend.
Social consciousness stepped aside as Varner’s competitive instincts took over.
“I wanted to win the tournament,” he said. “I was not thinking about no letter, no injustice. I was thinking about winning a golf tournament. That was, that's why you play. It's the greatest feeling in the world, just having a chance to win.”
Varner’s hoping to have that chance again this week at Detroit Golf Club.