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Ed Hardin: Harold Varner's right at home, smiling when so few of us can

Ed Hardin: Harold Varner's right at home, smiling when so few of us can

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Harold Varner watches his shot on the 16th hole during a Wyndham Championship practice round.

Harold Varner III is the happiest man in golf. Heck, he might be the happiest man in sports.

And now that he’s back home and driving his own car to the Wyndham Championship each day, he’s content and without concern. Well, except for when they stick that thing up his nose, whatever that is.

Varner, who grew up in Gastonia, is back to messing with his friends on Tour and trying to stay calm this week while he plays in front of nobody.

“It always feels good to come back,” Varner said. “Being at home, trying not to try too hard. It’s easy to do when you want to play so well in front of, well, no one right now.”

He’s comfortable in almost any setting, and he’s not afraid to tell his story, which is not what most people expect. When the protests raged across the country and Black athletes found themselves being urged to go out and take a stand, Varner did just that. But it wasn’t like anything we heard from his fellow athletes in other sports.

There was no anger, no demands. There was instead joy and hope. It was Harold being Harold.

“I find it weird that as a Black athlete you had to say something,” he said this morning. "The best way you can explain it is to tell someone your journey, your story, and then elaborate on your opinion afterward.

“I believe there’s a lot of good. I’ve always believed that before all this George Floyd stuff happened. I kind of just put my foot down and I guess just doing what’s right. You know, believe in the good and just keep doing that.”

Varner told his story on Instagram, in a long and impassioned take on something that has divided the country. He wanted to tell his story to calm the situation, not to incite.

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A post shared by Harold Varner III (@hv3_golf) on

“To whoever wants to listen, I have so much that I want to say,” his June 1 post began.

What followed was a long and nuanced take on the subject, a well-thought-out response that made clear he sees the good in people, of any race, and tries to see through the “trap of one-dimensional thinking.”

“Look, I grew up in Gastonia, N.C..” he wrote. “I had nothing. No nice clothes, no lights, hell, sometimes no buck-fifty to eat lunch in high school. I bought my first pair of jeans when I was in college. And you know what? The people who pushed me to succeed were old white and black men at my local muni. They were the ones helping me with clothes, bills and food. The white guys aren’t racist, and the black guys aren’t either. I would call myself lucky, but that’d be undermining everything I believe. I’m not insensitive to reality, I’m realistic about the innate good I see in people.

“I know how hard it is to build something. I know it, man. Seeing justice for George Floyd turn into destruction and theft of businesses owned by African Americans, Caucasians, Hispanics, and all other ethnicities is disgusting. I will always be behind all African Americans who are subjected to racism. I will also be behind other ethnicities in the same way. But I will never support an aggressive reaction against those that have poured everything into this restaurant or that shop.”

His message was powerful and poignant. But at its core, it was a message of hope.

“I see good people,” he said.

Varner sees things from a simple point of view but a complex world view. He’s a professional golfer who is glad he has a job.

“I could be in a place where I had a normal job and I got laid off,” he said this morning. “I get to do what I love, so I always keep it in perspective. Why not have fun? We have all these great opportunities. It’s hard not to walk around with my head down or not smiling. We’re super-fortunate. If you have a job right now, you’re in a better position than a lot of people in this world.

“So why would I not smile? I’m back home. I get to talk to you. You think I’m important. I get to tell people about my story, so it’s easy. I always try to do that in general, but right now it’s easier to find things to relate with. Like hey, I have a job, just the simple things in life.

“The most fun part of the day is waking up, because a lot of people don’t get to do that. Then I get to do what I love. It’s a bonus. It’s like icing on the cake all day. Other than that needle up your nose, whatever that thing is.”

Varner is home again, hoping to play well in his home state, hoping to play on Sunday in his traditional East Carolina purple. And make no mistake about it, he’s as angry as anyone over Floyd’s death, but he also wants to smile and spread joy in a time when so many are spreading evil.

We’re all in this together, he’s saying.

“We aren’t as fractured as it seems.”

Contact Ed Hardin at 336-373-7069, and follow @Ed_Hardin on Twitter.

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