When Harold Varner III jumped to LIV Golf last year, he was honest in his reasons for joining. The large, guaranteed-money contract the league was offering was too good to ignore.
“I know what it means to grow up without much,” the man from Gastonia, North Carolina, wrote in a statement at the time, explaining why he joined the rival league, which is funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
Today, the 32-year-old won on his new circuit for the first time at its Washington DC event at Trump National Golf Club by one shot over South Africa’s Branden Grace. With it came a $US4 million cheque, the largest of his career.
“I feel like I get to help a lot of people now, even more people,” Varner said of his charity, the HV3 Foundation, which aims to provide children affordable access to golf and mentorship. “That’s what kills me sometime; it costs a lot of money to help a lot of people.”
As a child, Varner’s family could only afford to buy him $15 Stephon Marbury shoes, which had no midsole support. He developed a degenerative nerve condition that still requires daily anti-inflammatory medication. It was one of the reasons he signed with LIV, knowing his playing days could be limited.
When Varner started to earn decent money as a pro golfer, he developed an obsession with Nike’s Air Jordan range. He estimates his sneaker collection is about 800 pairs – most of which are Air Jordans.
Varner also became one of only a handful of pro golfers who are Air Jordan ambassadors. Recently, Varner watched the movie “Air” in which Matt Damon plays Sonny Vaccaro, the sneaker guru at Nike who signed Michael Jordan to the company and launched its Air Jordan range. Varner loved the movie, and had previously developed a friendship with Howard White, the VP of the Jordan brand who is played in the movie by comedian Chris Tucker.
Varner’s win was his first as a professional on US soil. He had won the European Tour co-sanctioned Australian PGA Championship in 2016, at Royal Pines on the Gold Coast, and the 2022 Saudi International. But he had never on the PGA Tour. Varner began the final round in the American capital one shot behind the lead, but fired a 68 to finish at 12-under par. He holed out from a bunker on the 11th, before draining a 12-footer for birdie on the 15th hole that increased his lead to two.
“I knew exactly what I had to do [to win], when I had to do it, how I have to do it. I love that,” he said. “That’s why you play, that moment. You don’t get as many in golf, like those types of moments but that was mine.”
Grace had holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the tough par-4 second, his last of the shotgun start, to force Varner to two-putt birdie his last, the par-5 18th, for a one-shot win.
“Those are the battles of golf. It’s like, I want to go home. If I make this, I get to go home sooner that. I went in there and I was [thinking], Shut the f–k up, just make the putt,” Varner said.
Mito Pereira, the 36-hole leader, shot 71 and finished third. Pereira’s team, Torque GC, also won the team event. Brooks Koepka, who won the PGA Championship last week for his fifth major, finished 14th, seven shots behind Varner.
Varner, who had earned a runner-up and two third place finishes in his PGA Tour career before LIV, said he didn’t feel pressure to secure his first US victory. Instead, he remembered a saying from his first golf coach.
“The guy who taught me how to play golf, he always said, ‘If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me,’” Varner said. “It’s not great but it’s exactly what you need to have to be successful in life and in golf because there’s no one else you can lean on.”