PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Harold Varner III played with Tiger Woods for the first time during a practice round ahead of the 2018 Players Championship.
Varner was surprised how much Woods opened up that day as he hit him with all sorts of questions, the majority of which were non-golf related.
That’s why Varner continued to seek Woods’ advice over the past year, and it’s why the two of them were laughing and joking around so much Wednesday afternoon during another practice round at TPC Sawgrass with Bryson DeChambeau.
“He’s still the same,” Varner said. “He’s still just a genuine guy and obviously I like being around him, cause I can learn a lot. He’s just good to be around. We have a good time and I hope he does too.”
Woods was loose in demeanor and tempo, clearly feeling good physically after skipping last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational due to a neck strain. He played the back nine with Justin Thomas and Trey Mullinax early Tuesday morning and went around the front with Varner and DeChambeau late Wednesday afternoon.
DeChambeau and Varner both look to Woods as a mentor and have spent plenty of time playing and hanging with him since the comeback started. Varner said the most valuable advice Woods gave him came while they were hanging out on a Sunday ahead of the Tour Championship, where Woods picked up career victory No. 80.
Varner had been asking a lot of questions about success, and he was telling Woods that he really wanted to win on the PGA Tour.
“The best thing he told me … he said, ‘Run your own journey. It’s your path. No one else’s. Run it,’” Varner recalled. “So then I quit worrying about everything else… He’s just like, ‘Run your course. If you work hard, you’ll win. It’s pretty simple.’ That’s why it’s easy to be around him, because he’s not judging you.”
Varner, who has one professional victory in the 2016 Australian PGA Championship, finished T-7 at the 2018 Players Championship after the practice round with Woods. He also ripped off an impressive start to the 2018-19 season after his talk with Woods in the fall. There was a T-6 at Mayakoba, a T-10 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and seven top-25s in nine starts.
He hit the ball well throughout the nine-hole practice round Wednesday and said he’s feeling really good ahead of his 9:14 a.m. tee time with Sam Ryder and Haotong Li. And he always appreciates the chance to get a round in with Woods, who once skipped over a 14-year-old Varner hoping to get an autograph at Quail Hollow during the Wachovia Championship.
“I feel like a champ,” Varner said. “I’m not intimidated to be around (Woods) and I think that helps, but also that I can ask him anything. That goes a long way.”
As for Woods, Varner says the 14-time major winner is in a great place these days as he gets ready to tee it up with Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed at 1:27 p.m. Thursday.
“I think he’s at peace with life,” Varner said. “He’s so relaxed right now and I think that’s a good place for him to be, man. He’s at a spot in his life that I just think is awesome. He’s got everything he wants in the world, but he’s got the stuff that he really admires. He talks about his kids all the time and I think that’s awesome.”