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Harold Varner Determined

GASTONIA, NORTH CAROLINA | Harold Varner III smiles at the question he has been asked too many times. “I get it all the time,” Varner says, having finished a breakfast sandwich on a chilly December morning. Varner is African-American and he’s a professional golfer, preparing for the final stage of the Tour Qualifying Tournament that starts Thursday at PGA West. He’s not a category unto himself but it’s close. He and Tim O’Neal will be the only African-Americans among the 155 players chasing their Tour privileges. Tiger Woods is the only player with African-American heritage on the PGA Tour. Two generations ago, Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder, Calvin Peete, Jim Dent and other black players were part of the fabric of the PGA Tour. Today, the Tour is as white as the pants so many players wear. The imagined effect of Woods’ success hasn’t changed the color spectrum of professional golf in this country. “The best thing I can do for the African-American society is to play my best golf,” says Varner, a 23-year-old East Carolina graduate. “I say I’m a talented golfer who happens to be black. My dad always told me not to see color. I want to be the best golfer. I don’t want to be the best black golfer.” For Varner, this is not about skin color but about extending the arc of a lowering golf career that doesn’t mirror many others. Varner didn’t grow up playing AJGA events. He grew up playing at Gastonia Municipal Golf Course, where for $100 a year he could play all the golf he wanted Monday through Friday. His father, who has worked at the same auto dealership for more than 30 years, would drop his son off in the morning and pick him up in the evening.


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