MEDINAH, Ill. – Harold Varner III was driving to his hotel after playing in a pro-am Monday when he explained why he’s always looked on the bright side of things.
“I’m driving a brand new BMW that got delivered to my pro-am. It has 70 miles on it,” he said. “The first car I ever had ran out of oil and died.
“Life is pretty good.”
The hearty laugh on the other end of the phone spoke to the optimistic nature that makes Varner’s heart tick and has him feeling mighty fine heading into his 29th birthday on Thursday, which also happens to be when the BMW Championship, the second leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, begins at Medinah Country Club.
Varner’s glass has never been half-empty, his positive passion meter never stuck on zero. There is, in his world, always a silver lining.
Even when he fired an 81 in the final round in this year’s PGA Championship at Bethpage Black on Long Island in May. Paired with eventual champion and current major master Brooks Koepka in the final pairing, Varner, after making birdie on the first hole, staggered home with three doubles and six bogeys to fall to a tie for 36th.
But he didn’t refuse to talk to the media after the round. Instead, he stood like an oak in front of the assembled Fourth Estate and didn’t sob or place blame on anything. He said he’d use the dreadful 18 holes to his advantage.
“I learned there that I was capable that day,” Varner said. “Sure, I could have beaten myself up, but I’ve never done that. You learn in the darkest moments. I’ve been playing really well this whole year. I just had one bad round.
“I’ve always seen the best in the worst situations. And what happened that final day, well, that’s life. But if that’s the worst thing that happens to me, I’ve had a really good life.”
Life was pretty good last week in The Northern Trust at Liberty National Golf Club in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. In search of his first PGA Tour title, Varner was tied for the lead on Sunday after three consecutive birdies starting at the 12th but missed two putts for birdie inside 6 feet on the 16th and 17th holes and lost by two to Patrick Reed.
Some would have been devastated by the short misses. Not Varner. He looked like he won the tournament.
“That was the first time I had a chance to win a golf tournament with three holes to go. I didn’t crumble, I just didn’t execute,” he said. “One of the putts I misread. The world didn’t end. I got into contention and I just fell short. I’ll learn from it.”
What he learned was he was a huge winner on Sunday even if he didn’t get the hardware. He was sitting at 102nd on the FedEx Cup points list at the start of the week, with only the top 70 advancing to the BMW Championship. The odds were long to get to Chicago but his tie for third vaulted him 73 spots to 29th – the biggest jump by anyone. Only the top 30 advance from Chicago to next week’s season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta.
If he remains in the top 30, grand rewards await in Atlanta. Players who get to the Tour Championship earn spots in next year’s Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. Varner has never played in the Masters.
“I earned my way to the BMW Championship and then, when I saw I was in the top 30, you bet I felt like a winner. I was like, man, let’s go,” Varner said. “I know what’s out there. I’m going to compete to be the best I can be. I’m playing well. And when you’re playing well, it’s easy to go.
“Everything ahead of me is an opportunity. So, it’s time to get busy.”