After claiming the Joe Kirkwood Cup at RACV Royal Pines in 2016 the next 12 months looked set to be a banner year for American Harold Varner III.
What eventuated, however, tested the likeable and upbeat star's mettle and turned into a grind on the course as he experienced off course issues unlike any he had ever faced. With his game eventually turning around in the final stages of the PGA Tour season to keep his card by the skin of his teeth. Before a solid run in the FedEx Cup playoffs gave the year a better taste, even despite him saying he “just haven't driven it really well the last six months.”
The week after Varner’s Australian PGA win on the Gold Coast last year his happy go lucky persona Australians fell in love with changed after the death of his girlfriend’s brother. An event the then 26-year-old admits he wasn’t sure how to handle and one that matured him.
“I didn't think much of it, I just thought, yeah, you know, it's sad but things will get better,” Varner said. “Just didn't get better like as fast as you'd think.
“I thought I really loved her before, but I think loving someone when they're at their worst is when you truly do. I learned that, but usually it doesn't happen to you like until you're older. It doesn't really happen at 26.”
Eventually Varner and his girlfriend began to deal with the tragic passing and as a result the defending champion’s game started to improve as he rededicated himself to his craft. Meaning he returns to Royal Pines, a course he has recorded a win and a playoff loss at in the past two years, in form and ready to challenge for the title once again.
“Things got better off the course, so like when I go practice, I'm not worried about anything except how I can get better, and I'm at that state right now and don't get caught up in so much of the result. It's easy to do, to get caught up in the result when your backs against a wall,” Varner said.
“The course sets up pretty well for me obviously. I've played well here, so I just need to keep doing what I've been doing and that's compete. I just want to have a chance to win with nine holes to go.”
The fact that Varner has found his game and arrives in Queensland fresh off some decent play in Japan and Hong Kong is an ominous sign for the rest of the field looking to deny him the first back-to-back wins in the tournament since Robert Allenby achieved the feat in 2000/01.
The World No.148 has mastered the Graham Marsh-designed layout and his showman-like attitude will mean he is sure to enjoy the attention of the crowds as part of one of the tournament’s marquee groups alongside Greg Norman Medal favourite Marc Leishman and the inform Matt Jones. Teeing off at 11:10am on Thursday.
“Every time I've come I've driven it so well and you get so many more opportunities, and if I get more opportunities, I like my chances a lot,” Varner said of once again taking on Royal Pines.
One thing is for sure Varner is happy be back in Australia to resume his love affair with Royal Pines and is likely to keep coming back to our shores. So long as none of the local wildlife get too close.
“Obviously, I was asked, Are you going back down? I was like, Yeah, why would I not? I've had a blast every time I've come down, and obviously, it helps to play well but I still want to come here,” Varner said. “I think it's a great country and I like to travel, I like to see the world.
“Snakes, oh, my gosh. And then sharks. Just can't, then the fricking alligator or the crocodiles. No, still freaked out about that.”