News & Opinion

Harold Varner puts his faith in human spirit

Harold Varner III 2020 Genesis Invitational
Harold Varner III, in his 5th season on the PGA Tour, has used his position as a black player in a predominantly white game to help promote better understanding among Americans.

One of PGA Tour’s few black players promotes better understanding among Americans as golf returns to competition this week amid the nation's troublesome racial divide

The black America in which Harold Varner III was raised is much different than the black America that many of our fellow citizens have been discussing in the past two weeks.

As the late George Floyd was being eulogized Tuesday in Houston, where he was laid to rest next to his mother, some 260 miles to the northwest, in Fort Worth, Varner talked about his experience of being a black man in America as he prepares to return to work this week at the Charles Schwab Challenge. The tournament, which begins Tuesday at Colonial Country Club, will signal the PGA Tour’s season restart after a three-month suspension because of the coronavirus pandemic (tee times).

Growing up in Gastonia, N.C., Varner, 29, was raised in what he described as a caring family environment in which his parents “loved on me” but “corrected me when I was wrong.”

In an interview more than two years ago at the Honda Classic, Varner discussed his rise from Forestview High School in Gastonia to college golf at East Carolina and eventually a career as a touring professional.

In a perhaps surprising admission, Varner said he never experienced harassment or discrimination during his formative years, in college or as a golf professional.

“I don't feel like anyone's called me the ‘N word’ out here,” Varner said after the third round of the 2018 Honda Classic. “That may happen in other sports sometimes, and no one has ownership of it, so I think it's a little different mindset. I don't feel any pressure to say anything because I didn't grow up in the ’hood or anything like that. I just have never been affected by it, like, directly.”

Yet, because Varner is one of only a handful of black players on the PGA Tour, many observers have looked to him for thoughts and guidance on racial issues that have troubled America for centuries.

On June 1, Varner posted a letter to his Twitter account in which he urged better understanding among all races.

“I don't like when people are like, just because you're black you know the answers to racism, so that letter was super good for me because it let me expose that even like you were telling white people they need to listen right now, black people need to listen right now, too, and we need to come together and figure out what it is,” Varner said.

In his letter, Varner addressed a misconception after he received many requests to speak up about the social issues because he is black. Varner takes a more balanced approach regarding elements from both sides of the debate and the recent public demonstrations. Many of the protesters and the police officers are well meaning, he says, but, of course, some are not.

“Look, I grew up in Gastonia, NC. I had nothing. No nice clothes, no lights and, hell, sometimes no buck-fifty to eat lunch in high school,” Varner said in his open letter. “I bought my first pair of jeans when I was in college.”

Varner went on to say that blacks and whites helped him with clothes, bills and food, and he owes much of his success – in his fifth season on the PGA Tour, he stands No. 124 in the world ranking – to blacks and whites alike.

Varner’s approach on racial issues is grounded in a much different experience than what many black men in America have faced. It’s a perspective that frames racism as being wrong and demands that the bad actors – citizens and police alike – be held accountable for their actions.

Varner said he was given boundaries by his parents – Harold Jr. and Patricia Carter – with his mother serving as the disciplinarian and his father as a man who would extend a helping hand when necessary.

“When I was down, he picked me up,” Varner said of his father. “I think that's what a father should do. He put me in position to be the best Harold I could be.

“Actually, my mom was pretty strict.”

In his letter, Varner seeks responsible dialogue on all sides of any issue, and he tries to see the innate good in people.

Varner has taken a stand that might not be popular among other blacks in America in 2020, but it’s a position based on trust and understanding that’s needed as we navigate a minefield of hate and distrust.

“That letter was super good for me,” said Varner, who will be looking for his first victory on the PGA Tour this week. “It let me expose that even like you were telling white people they need to listen right now, black people need to listen right now, too, and we need to come together and figure out what it is.”

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