Harold Varner III is in an excellent position for a big payday this weekend. He sits at 5-under par and second place entering the final dayat the 2019 PGA Championship. While seven strokes behind tee partner Brooks Koepka, he could be earning just under $1.12 million with a sole runner-up finish.
Varner is also in the position as one of the very few African American golfers currently playing on the PGA Tour. Along with Tiger Woods, who is bi-racial, winning the Masters in April, minority golfers are becoming more visible in major events.
The 28-year old Varner was born in Akron (Ohio) to Harold, Jr. and Patricia Carter. He was raised Gastonia, a lower-middle class manufacturing town in the western portion on North Carolina.
He demonstrated his working class roots in 2018, as he posted a picture on Twitter of him mowing his mom’s lawn even after he won nearly a quarter of a million dollars at the Greenbrier.
With this context in mind, it makes sense that he frequently redirects questions about the racial significance of his success.
“I get asked about color all the time, but I want to help and reach out to not just black fans but all fans,” Varner said to The Undefeated’s Jerry Bembry in June 2018. “I do understand that I’m in an awesome position to help black kids, but I want to help all kids. I want to be able to relate and to help all people in society that we live in, especially at a time where this is so much dividing us.”
He told the Orlando Sentinel in 2017 during the Arnold Palmer Invitational that he gained inspiration from Woods, but not due to skin color.
“Tiger inspired me because he was the best player, not because he was black,” Varner says. “He just beat the [bleep] out of people when I was growing up.”
How Many African Americans Play on the PGA Tour?
The number is still remarkably low, though there’s more than just Woods and Varner at the PGA Championship. Cameron Champ, who is of black and white descent, made the cut. The 23-year old won the 2019 Sanderson Farms Classic with a score of 21-under par.
Outside of this weekend, 46-year old Timothy O’Neal of Savannah (Ga.) participated in the 2019 Genesis Open. He failed to make the cut, but has seen time on the PGA Tour before. He qualified for the 2015 U.S. Open, but didn’t make it to the weekend after a 7-over par performance.
There are others knocking on the door, such as Wyatt Worthington and Willie Mack. The former made the 2016 U.S. Open as a club pro, the first time an African American had done it that way in 25 years (per Golf Digest).
The latter currently competes on the Web.com and PGA Latinoamerica Tours, having earned his way into contention after a 12-under par 60 at a Web.Com qualifier in 2018, according to Rickey Hampton of For the African American Athlete.
Woods offered a potential explanation for the dearth of black golfers on the PGA Tour.
“I honestly believe that we don’t have any African-Americans out here playing on the Tour or even a lot on the mini tours because of the advent of the golf cart,” Woods said then. “That took away a lot of the caddie programs. They would go out and loop, carry for 36 [holes], hit a few balls here and there. At least they got introduced. They got to watch it, simulate it, got to be around it.
“That’s all gone. So we don’t have the pool of players anymore and so as you get up to the peak, as competition pyramids up to the top, it [the number] obviously declines.”
For now, Woods, Varner and Champ make up three golfers consistently competing in PGA events. With others such as O’Neal, Worthington or Mack making an event here or there, the number tops out at six.
With hundreds of golfers on the Tour in 2019, that is still a massive disparity.