Harold Varner III’s dream has long been to compete in major championships. But unless he qualifies after the next two PGA Tour events, he won’t play in the PGA Championship Aug. 7-13 in Charlotte.
Varner, 26, grew up in Gastonia, almost a 40-minute drive from Quail Hollow Club, site of the first major championship to be held in the Queen City.
The chance to play in his fourth major in front of a home crowd hinges on Varner’s performance in the upcoming tournaments. He’s playing in the Canadian Open this week in Oakville, Ontario, and then the World Golf Championship-Bridgestone Invitational Aug. 3-6 in Akron, Ohio, his birthplace.
“I want to be there. That would be special. But I’ve got some work to do,” Varner said of the PGA Championship. “I'm starting to play a little bit better and I'm starting to get my swagger back, and that’s important.”
That swagger took a few dings recently, but he said he sees improvement. He’s made the cut in two of the past three events he played this month and earned $58,940. But to make the PGA Championship field, he must be in the top 70 for earnings. He’s made $546,200 on the PGA Tour, which ranks 141st.
In December, Varner won the Australian PGA Championship, his first professional win since turning pro in 2012. He’s also gained recognition as the only African-American on the PGA Tour, as Tiger Woods is recovering from back surgery. But Varner said he wants to become a household name for his all-around body of work.
Inconsistency has plagued his brief PGA Tour career. Varner ranked 82nd last year in earnings ($1,327,320) and his 71.045 scoring average last year ranked 100th. He made the cut in 18 events, including the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, where he tied for 24th and earned $62,232.
But 2017 hasn’t been as fruitful.
Varner has missed the cut 12 times in 26 events, and his world ranking is 157th. He was ranked 109th last year, when he missed 10 cuts in 28 events.
“I just have to play better,” Varner said of this season. “If you play better, then you get to play wherever you want. But it’s easier said than done.”
In three previous major championships, Varner’s best finish is a tie for 66th place at the 2016 British Open at Royal Toon in Scotland. He missed the cut in the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club (Pa.) and at last year’s PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club (N.J.).
Varner said he must correct this year’s driving issues to be successful. In 2016, his accuracy ranked 104th (59.33 percent) and his distance ranked 22nd (302 yards). His driving accuracy currently ranks 110th (60.05 percent) and his driving distance ranks 29th (300.2 yards).
“It’s all because I was making bad swings,” said Varner, who is 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds. “I’ve been getting better, I can see it, so I know I’ll be OK.”
If he doesn’t qualify for the PGA Championship, he said it won’t be for a lack of effort.
“ I think I've been given a lot of talent, and Biblically if you're given a lot of talent you're supposed to use them all until it runs dry,” Varner said. “I’ve gotten better and you can take a guess at what I've been doing: Put in the time and you will reap the rewards.”
Emmanuel Morgan: 704-358-5337, @_EmmanuelMorgan