There are these pivotal moments in my life, my career, that I look back to all the time, like, Man, THAT really happened.
There’s playing my first PGA Tour event, in 2014.
There’s my first professional win, in 2016 at the Australian PGA Championship.
And then there’s being in the final group on Sunday at the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.
That one, let me tell y’all, it’s not quite like those other memories.
Bethpage beat me up, ain’t no lie there. That’s a tough place. For three days I survived it. Major golf isn’t about what you accomplish, it’s about what you overcome. I knew that. But on that Sunday, man, I just didn’t have my good stuff. It’s just going to be like that sometimes — that’s just the rub of the green.
I think about that day a lot because I’m proud of that entire week and how I handled myself. I wouldn’t change a thing about how it ended. I know it may sound a little odd to y’all, but I really wouldn’t. I learned so much that day about myself. The mind is a powerful thing. The best athletes have an incredible amount of control over their bodies, no doubt, but they have even better control over their minds.
When I get to that position again — and you best believe I will do everything in my power to get there again — I’ll know how to get to THAT place mentally. Bethpage beat me up, but it didn’t beat me, if you feel me.
I’m still here, I’m still swingin’.
Because I got a secret for y’all.
Golf … golf isn’t the most important thing in the world.
It’s just not.
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When you start thinking that it is, then you start thinking that you can control the game. And, listen up, you CANNOT control golf. That’s the truth. Unless you’re Tiger Woods in his prime and have some otherwordly skill — you’re at the whim of the game. Remember that.
Maybe that day at Bethpage I forgot it for a few minutes.
But when I finished I was reminded of what really matters.
You think my parents cared whether I got a T6 or a T36?
They couldn’t care less. But in the best way. They know golf’s not the most important thing.
Where we come from — Gastonia, North Carolina — there’s a whole lot more that matters than getting a ball into a hole. In my family, our values were the most important thing. I was taught by my parents to be humble, to be gracious. And to always look on the bright side — to see opportunity where others may see disappointment.
Courtesy of Harold Varner IIIThese values, they all started in the house that helped make me the man I am today.
From the outside, it ain’t much. Pretty plain. Just 900 square feet. Some wood steps up to the porch that overlooked our small yard. That was where dad would spend a lot of his time. Round Christmas I’d be out front with him putting up the lights, getting it all nice. That was when our place looked the best. And a couple of weeks later we’d be out there again, taking ’em down. Open the door and you’d see a TV to your right, a little dining room table to your left.
And, man, I bet you’d smell somethin’ real nice that Mom was cooking. If you were coming over to the Varner house, you were going to eat like a king, believe that.
In my mind, my room was always full of golf trophies, so that’s how I’m going to describe it. I had this Murphy bed that I thought was the coolest thing ever. Every time I pulled it off the wall it was like magic. My mom used some of my closet space for her stuff. But mostly my room was an extension of me and the things I loved. It was a great room. My sister’s room was down the hall on the left, and my parents a little bit farther along.
It wasn’t the biggest or best house, but it was just perfect, you know?
To me, it was just peaceful. It felt like there were no worries in the world when I was there.
It was home.
Sports were always a part of our house, as well. I remember being in our living room watching the Panthers in the Super Bowl in 2004. The next year, Tiger won the Masters, but I was out on the course playing instead of watching that one on the couch with Dad.
Courtesy of Harold Varner IIII hit balls as often as I could back then. Just beside our house, a few hundred yards or so away, there was this water tank. And there was this strip of small trees between it and our house that the city would have to come by and trim to get to the tank to check on it every once in a while. I’d tee up balls in the driveway and whack ’em down in the direction of the tank. And as time passed, the branches on the trees would grow back, so you had to rip a perfect shot to not hit anything on the way.
Man, it was so cool. Looked like the 18th hole at Augusta, but way more intimidating, in its own way.
That house — and all the special little things about growing up there — has always stayed with me.
The values I learned there, they keep me in my place. I know that I’m not going to win every event, and that not everybody I run into in the world is going to like me. The golf world is an isolating place that really makes you need self-belief to survive. I’ve seen — at a bunch of different levels of the game — that when you start worrying about other people, and what they’re doin’ or thinkin’, you’ve already lost. And, I think, you’ve really got to be O.K. with that. As I’ve gotten a bit older and found my rhythm a bit more on the Tour and had some success, I try to remind myself of that. I think some people want to be liked more than they want to be great. Anybody who says they don’t want to be liked is either lying, or they’re Michael Jordan.
Mike didn’t care if you liked him, he was going to be him. And I think that that was because he came from a home — a family — that gave him the belief to do so, if that makes sense.
Trust me, I know. I’ve teed it up with the man. He’s just like you think he is.
I remember this round with him … oh man, it was incredible.
We were on this par-4 and Mike just whips his tee shot into the woods on the right. I’m thinking, O.K., no big deal. It’s just a lost ball. I was sure it was out of bounds or lost. But he goes in there, pushin’ back branches and stuff and finds his ball. He hacks it out back into play and gets it onto the green to leave himself a six-footer for par.
Of course he makes it.
I was on his team, thankfully — because you don’t want to be on the other end of Mike’s trash talk. And when he picked that ball up out of the hole, he just started talkin’ so much crap to the other guys. It was hilarious. Mike didn’t come out on top that day, but he didn’t care. He literally would not stop talking about that par for the next couple of holes. That’s just who he is. It’s obviously hard to take stuff from the best basketball player ever and put it into your golf game, but his ability to always be true to himself … anybody can take that and use it in their own lives.
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I kind of had to pinch myself the first few times I met him. It didn’t seem like that long ago I was hittin’ balls at the water tank and pullin’ out my bed before I went to sleep. And now I was there, meeting MJ and talking about my career as a pro golfer.
I feel very blessed to have this life, and I know none of it would have been possible without everything I learned from my family in our house in Gastonia.
I never really moved out of that house. Even when I got my own place, I would stay there for weeks on end between events and come back as often as I could. Heck, I was back there just last year when Tiger won his fifth Masters. This time, I didn’t miss it. I was right there on the couch with my dad.
That house will always be more to me than just a house.
And, one day, when I have my own family and we’re looking for a place to call our own, I’ll know exactly what to look for.
Something that’s more than just a place to live. Something my family can fill with its values and love — the things we cherish — and amplify them. Because at the end of the day, it’s not the four walls around you that are most important — it’s the people inside.
That, to me, is what really matters.