The 2017 Australian PGA Champion Harold Varner III has returned to RACV Royal Pines Resort to defend a professional title for the first time in his young career.
Varner, 27, proved a popular winner with the Australian public last year, the affable American endeared himself to golf fans Down Under with laidback approach to the tournament and genuine joy following his breakthrough title on the Gold Coast.
The enthusiasm hasn’t wavered from the Ohio native who said he’s excited to be back for the third consecutive year, this time as the holder of the Kirkwood Cup.
“I’m super excited, I've been out of the country (U.S) for three weeks, so I played Dunlop Phoenix in Japan and I played Hong Kong last week,” said Varner, who will conclude his golf season for 2017 after the Australian PGA Championship.
“I’m starting to play well again and hopefully we can rekindle some of the flame from last year.”
The familiar surroundings has set Varner at ease ahead of his title defence and he has noticed improvements to the Graham Marsh designed layout.
“I was thinking about the first time I came here and how I didn't know anyone, didn't know where to hit it, and now I feel like I have an idea what to do. And how different the course has matured the last three years because the first time I played it, I think that was the first time they opened the course since the redesign.
“Just seeing how it's easier, but I think I just played really well, so just excited for the challenge and just ready to compete.”
Varner admittedly said his form following the 2016 Australian PGA Championship has been less than stellar and today revealed he was dealing with personal issues off the course that had a bigger impact on his game then he thought it would.
“Literally right after the tournament I flew back on Monday and my girlfriend lost her brother on Thursday or Friday. I didn't think much of it, I just thought, yeah, you know, it's sad but things will get better. Just didn't get better like as fast as you'd think,” Varner added.
“It happens and I didn't do a good job of controlling it. I probably shouldn't have played a little bit, just take some time off, but I didn't.
“But it happens, you know? Everyone in this life is going to go through something like that and how you handle it is what makes the difference.”
Now looking ahead to this week’s tournament, Varner said he’s enjoying some solid golf and has a goal of ending his year on a high note after securing his PGA TOUR card for 2018.
He said the support of his family and loved ones, particularly after a difficult period in their lives, has given him a boost as the end of the season approaches.
“This is my last tournament of the year, I want to play well because I want to get some momentum going into next year,” added Varner.
“Last year after this tournament I obviously didn't play much golf. This year I'm going to stay in Australia for another week, and then I'm going to go to California.
“I think I just want to do well all the time, period. I think after I got my card, she (Varner’s girlfriend) looked at me and she said, ‘well, it's going to be all right no matter if you had your card or not.’” Varner added.
“And that's what it's about to me because at the end of the day, golf is not always going to be there. I'll play it, but she'll always be there and that's the most important to me. That's how I grew up, that's how my parents are. They're going to love me if I finish dead last in this tournament. If I win it, it doesn't matter.
“So people like that, those are the people I want around me.”
Varner said the tough weeks following his euphoric win in 2016 has taught him some valuable life lessons and is now set for this week’s title defence.
“I learned a lot, I grew up, and I just want to have a chance to win this week and I'm just really excited. It feels good to be back, though.”
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