GREENSBORO — Harold Varner III is here this week. And so are his friends from ECU.
So much for a quiet little week at the Wyndham.
Varner, the Tour rookie from Gastonia, said he’s here to play golf, not to party. His friends from East Carolina? We’ll see.
He’s one of the fresh faces in golf, a 26-year-old African-American walking in the footsteps of Charlie Sifford and Tiger Woods, a man who himself is making history just by being here. Varner is the first African-American player to win his tour card on the Web.com Tour, having finished 25th on the 2015 money list, the last guaranteed spot.
Of course, he had to make it interesting.
This will be an interesting week for Varner. The last time he played a Tour event in North Carolina, at the Wells Fargo in Charlotte, well, let’s just say the party bus made its presence known.
“I learned from that,” Varner said.
He’ll have his friends here this week. His family and his girlfriend are also coming to watch him play in his first Wyndham Championship. He thinks they’ll behave. He can’t make the same promise about the Pirate crew.
“My teammates from ECU will be up, maybe a few from Gastonia,” he said. “It should be a, um, good time. I say that with a little bit of trepidation.”
The 69-year-old singer visits the temporary Margaritaville bar set up on the grounds of Sedgefield Country Club for Greensboro's 77th PGA Tour event.
This week at the Wyndham began with a party when Jimmy Buffett showed up Monday and made it 5 o’clock everywhere. On Wednesday, we expect country singer Eric Church to bring the Nashville crowd. And on Thursday, we'll get the ECU Pirates.
“It’ll be all right,” Varner said with a wink in his eye. “We’ve had our good times. We’re going to have some more good times. It just won’t be this week. I mean, they will. They’ll be on another level.”
They rode him mercilessly at the Wells Fargo in May. Varner said he fed off the energy. Well, actually he said he tried to ignore the energy. He might be the only rookie in PGA Tour history to have his own hecklers, certainly the only one with the hecklers being his best friends.
“I think it’s exciting,” he said. “I like when they make fun of me, because I get to make fun of them. It should be a good time.”
The folks at button-down Quail Hollow didn’t know what to make of Varner’s friends, assuming them all to be a bunch of hooligans from Gastonia. And in a sense, they were right.
Even Varner has to be careful about how he interacts with his “friends.”
“I don’t put them down,” he said. “You can’t do that. They’ll come back too hard.”
He used to pay attention to the noise. But he finally realized it was hurting him as much as it was helping. He had a hard time focusing at the Wells Fargo. It was a little too close to home. Varner eventually just stopped looking outside the ropes.
He can be forgiven for not completely buying into the whole quiet thing golf perpetuates. He didn’t watch a lot of golf growing up. In fact, he still doesn’t.
“It’s not my thing,” he said Tuesday. “I like to play it. Watching it is another story.”
GREENSBORO After a long and strange year in golf, the game returns to Greensboro this week.
He’s not familiar with the Wyndham history despite growing up in North Carolina. When he joined the mini-tours he played in Greensboro, but it was mostly at Forest Oaks, which he loved. He likes Sedgefield, too. He knows there are some Pirates living along the fairways.
After a session on the putting green, he was asked if he knew the history of Sifford coming here in 1961, the first African-American player to play in the PGA Tour event in the South. Sifford led after the first round that year.
“No, I did not know that at all,” he said. “Thankfully he paved the way so I could be here now.”
He knows he’s a part of history, but he said most of what he knows comes from the media filling him in. That, too, is part of his makeup. When he said he doesn’t watch golf, he means he really doesn’t watch golf. Asked what he watches, Varner sort of shrugged.
“Basketball,” he said. “Football’s back on. There’s some great HBO series out right now. Netflix. Everything except, kind of, golf. If it’s slow it’s just hard to get into.”
Varner said he keeps up with the guys he hangs with on Tour.
“They have apps for that,” he said.
Asked if it was just a way to get away from the game until time to play, Varner didn’t hesitate.
“No,” he said. “I just love competing, and golf is my outlet for competing. You don’t get that competing side of it watching on TV. You just want to play. You don’t get any better watching. At least I don’t think so. You get a lot better going out to practice.”
He’s had a good rookie season. Varner is 79th on the money list, which means his card is secured for 2017. He is ranked 167th in the world.
Varner is looking forward to the playoffs and everything that will follow. This is all still new to him, but as he comes to the last regular-season tournament in his first year on tour, he’s pretty satisfied.
“Right now I feel good,” he said. “I just wanted to seal my card. That’s the biggest thing. I got into two majors. There are a lot of positives, but there are a lot of big tournaments coming up.”
He saw his peers winning early, players such as Smylie Kaufman and Emiliano Grillo, and he figured he could do the same thing.
A win this week would be wildly popular, especially in his home state. He has the game. And he has the support. Even if a few of them will sound like anything but.