DUBLIN, Ohio — Most considered May 19 a nightmare for Harold Varner III.
The 28-year-old born in Akron played his way into the final group at the 101st PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. It was only his fifth major; previously he’d missed the cut in three and tied for 66th in the 2016 British Open.
Although he went into Sunday trailing Brooks Koepka by seven shots, Varner considered it a big step in his PGA Tour career that has seen him win $4.35 million since 2014. Then he double-bogeyed the third and fourth holes, shot an 81 and tied for 36th, 14 strokes behind winner Koepka.
Nearly two weeks removed, Varner said he took “a lot of positives” from that seemingly crushing day.
“The biggest takeaway is that I feel like I can win,” said Varner, still seeking his first tour victory, after Friday’s second round of the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club. “Just being there, there’s no higher place you can go than being in the final group of a major. Obviously, the outcome wasn’t as good as I’d like it to be. I just want to get back there.
“Man, there’s nothing like it. You can describe and tell someone, but you’ll never know until you get there. That was the weird part. It was so cool and fun, that’s what you work for.”
Dustin Johnson eventually cut Koepka’s lead to one with four holes to play before faltering, mounting the kind of charge Varner had hoped to achieve. But Varner said the pressure wasn’t more than he expected.
“It was weird, there was no pressure. There were so many people and you just go out there and just try to show off. I got a couple bad breaks, but it’s OK,” Varner said. “It was playing pretty hard regardless of the circumstances. It was super windy, the course was hard.
“I didn’t really think about [pressure]. I slept totally fine. I wish I would have slept not fine. Maybe I was too comfortable. A lot went on. I’m still digesting what happened and figuring it out day by day. It’s kind of in the past now.”
At the Memorial, Varner missed the cut for the fourth time in his past five events. He shot 9 over on the back nine and 4 under on the front, his 74-75-149 leaving him 5 over.
Asked to assess the state of his game, Varner said, “Which nine are you asking? I’m feeling good, I’m playing well. I’ve just got to keep playing until something good happens for four days.
“What’s weird is I’m not working on anything ... just playing golf, which sometimes can be good when you like overthink it. But you always want to have a direction, an idea where you need to go.”
Varner ranked 35th on tour in driving distance coming into the week, and just signed an endorsement deal with Callaway Golf. In 18 events this season, he’s made the cut 10 times with two top 10s and seven top 25s, earning $870,589. He’s 76th on the FedEx Cup points list.
Putting himself in contention on a more regular basis is encouraging for Varner, whose parents left Akron for Gastonia, N.C., when he was 6 years old.
“That shows I’m growing, I’m getting better,” Varner said. “I’m not too worried about it. It’s golf at the end of the day.”
As for the presumably painful experience of playing in the final group of a major, Varner said, “I wish that upon every friend of mine because they’re going to learn so much.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.