GREENSBORO, N.C. – When Harold Varner III finished a pre-tournament press conference at the Wyndham Championship Wednesday, he told the videographer that he needed to play better so he stopped getting questions about his sparkling personality rather than his sparkling play.
Varner, 29, who is still seeking his first victory on the PGA Tour, made sure on Thursday that the questions would focus on the latter, shooting a career-best 8-under 62 to grab the first-round lead at Sedgefield Country Club.
“The first time I came here I couldn’t crack an egg, but slowly but surely getting better,” Varner said.
Indeed, he is. Varner posted 73 in his first round here in 2016, his highest score at the Donald Ross layout, and missed the cut. He shot 63 in the first round in 2017, and finished T-10. Varner carded eight birdies this time, including four in a row beginning at the eighth hole, though he didn’t even realize it until being told by a member of the media.
“I forget a lot of stuff,” he said. “Yeah, I did. That’s pretty cool.”
After overnight showers led to the first round being played under preferred lies, Varner took advantage of soft conditions and fired darts at the flags. The longest of his eight birdie putts came from 12 feet. His shortest? That was when Varner knocked a short iron from 143 yards to just more than a foot at No. 11. But the putt that meant the most to him was getting down in two from 65 feet to end his round, and “just not giving it away when you’ve worked that hard,” he said. Varner, who ranks No. 158 in Strokes Gained: Putting, ranked eighth in the 156-man field in the first round of the Wyndham Championship.
His stellar ball-striking can be attributed to the work he’s done with instructor Bradley Hughes, who helped resurrect Brendon Todd’s career. Varner initially did a phone lesson at Riveria Country Club on the Monday of the Genesis Invitational in February.
“I played unbelievable,” said Varner, who is a relatively short drive away from Hughes, who is based in Greenville, South Carolina. “I went one time and just started hitting it really well.”
Varner, who grew up in Gastonia, North Carolina, graduated from East Carolina University and makes his residence in Charlotte, would like nothing more than to make Greensboro the site of his maiden victory.
Varner opened with 63 in the first round of the Charles Schwab Championship in June and held the 36-hole lead, his first solo lead after any round on Tour. But he stumbled on the weekend and finished T-19.
“Colonial stung a little bit because I keep getting there about every month or so, but I just know that my time’s coming eventually,” he said.
Varner is one of the most likeable players and exudes a positive attitude. When asked if it is difficult to maintain his enthusiasm in his pursuit of victory, he said, “It’s not hard at all. Life’s really hard. What people are going through right now, yeah, this is easy. I don’t care if I don’t ever win. I want to win, but it is what it is.”
Among those players who believe Varner is on the verge of a breakthrough is five-time Tour winner Billy Horschel, who opened with 4-under 66 on Thursday.
“I’ve told him since Day One when he got out here on the PGA Tour he’s got a lot of talent, he could be a top-30 player in the world for a long time,” Horschel said. “I think it’s just a matter of time until he puts it all together.”
Varner, one of four Black players on the Tour, also made headlines for speaking out quite eloquently on racial unrest in the country after the death of George Floyd.
“It was important for me because I believe there’s a lot of good,” he said of his Instagram post. “It turned out great.”
But he’d much rather make headlines for his play, especially when it’s as sparkling as his personality.