By Tony Castleberry
Feb 12, 2014
It’s a money game now.
As much as Harold Varner III enjoyed playing in the NCAA championship golf tournament in 2012, the former East Carolina star returns to Riviera Country Club this week wearing his professional hat and shoes, and he said he is ready to go to work.
Heading into Thursday’s opening round at the Northern Trust Open, Varner’s focus is on playing his best golf to not only make the cut and compete against some of the PGA Tour’s best players, but also to win as much money as he can.
“I’m prepared,” Varner said in a phone interview at 8:15 Pacific Palisades, Calif., time Wednesday morning. “I played at the (U.S.) Open (last year) and I think the field was a little better there and the course was a lot harder. It feels good to be here, don’t get me wrong, but the best of the best were playing at the Open.
“I’m over that. I want to be here and I’m excited so I can’t really get caught up in what someone else is doing.”
Varner, who became the first ECU player to win Conference USA Golfer of the Year honors in 2012, is in the field this week on a sponsor’s exemption created by Northern Trust. The annual exemption “provides an opportunity for a top golfer who represents the advancement of diversity in golf and wouldn’t otherwise be eligible to compete in the event,” according to a Jan. 20 story on pgatour.com.
The Gastonia native, who missed the cut at last year’s U.S. Open, said this was his third attempt to get a spot in the tournament, which features a purse of $6.7 million and a winner’s take of $1,206,000.
“Harold is a talented golfer whose enthusiasm for competition is infectious,” Northern Trust Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Frederick H. Waddell told pgatour.com. “We look forward to watching him play at Riviera.”
Varner, who has full status on the Web.com Tour this season, said his familiarity with Riviera will help, but admitted he is a bit rusty when it comes to tournament play. An e-golf event “maybe a month ago” was the last “real tournament” in which the former Pirate played.
Nevertheless, Varner said he feels good about his game and is looking forward to his second PGA start, even if the finish is what really counts.
“I want to have a chance to win,” said Varner, who is scheduled to tee off at 8:35 (PST) this morning. “I wasn’t very comfortable at the Open until, like, the last eight holes when I was completely out of (contention). I think I need to embrace that uncomfortableness and just figure it out.”
And what about a big payday on Sunday?
“Now you’re talking,” Varner said.