On Tuesday morning, LIV Golf announced Harold Varner III among its latest wave of player signings.
He posted a message to Instagram. “I’ve always been real, so let me tell it to you straight,” he wrote. He explained, more or less, that the money was too good to turn down. “The opportunity to join LIV Golf is simply too good of a financial breakthrough for me to pass by.” He cited his family and his foundation as beneficiaries of his decision. (Varner, a longtime fan favorite on the PGA Tour, made more than $2 million this season and more than $10 million in his career, so it’s safe to assume he expects to make more than that playing for LIV.)
He also acknowledged that he knew a mixed reaction would follow. “Your opinion of me may have changed because of this announcement,” he added. “No lie, that’ll be a tough thing to deal with.”
On Wednesday morning, sitting beside friend, mentor and fellow LIV signee Bubba Watson, Varner addressed the media at LIV Golf’s Massachusetts event in Bolton, about an hour outside Boston. A reporter asked: How had the previous 24 hours been? He answered candidly.
“It sucked,” he said. “Who likes to be hated? It’s terrible. I hate being hated. I’d rather not even be known than be hated. So yeah, it was terrible.”
People warned Varner not to check social media. He did so anyway. He didn’t like what he found.
“I purposely read them all,” he said. “Everyone says, don’t get on social media. That’s stupid. I’m not ashamed of being Harold. I’m ashamed that we don’t spread love. We don’t spread, ‘hey, man, I get it. It’s not what I want you to do, I might be disappointed for you but I love you, and you go do your thing.’ I thought there would be more of that.
“Sometimes I just laugh and some of them I kept receipts,” he concluded with a laugh. “I want to know.”
The response to Varner’s departure highlights the complex calculus that goes into every golfer considering a jump to LIV. The breakaway tour is most obviously controversial because of the source of its funding, the Public Investment Fund of the Saudi Arabian government, whose human rights record has been a turnoff for players and fans alike. But that’s far from the only drawback to joining: Players like Varner face indefinite suspensions from the PGA Tour, uncertain futures with regard to major championships and uncertainty about the success of the fledgling league. They’ll potentially lose sponsors. Fans, too. They’re making a gamble that some of those things will be replaced, in the long run.
I suppose that’s what the money’s for.
It’s worth noting that Varner also got messages of support. A brief scan of his Instagram comments reveals that readers appreciated his honesty in acknowledging he left for the money and that he had grand plans to do good with that money. PGA Tour pros commented — Max Homa left a heart, Shane Lowry a teary emoji and Sahith Theegala a “you da man” — and athletes from other sports did, too, including NFL players Larry Fitzgerald, Pierre Garcon and Jonathan Stewart.
“More money to spend at Steak 48 in Charlotte. Lol. Lova ya bro,” Fitzgerald wrote.
On Wednesday, Varner insisted that he was at peace with the rest of what comes with LIV. He feels less attachment than some of his peers to golf’s history and traditions, he said, because he always saw the game in more practical terms.
“So, like, golf’s never been a way for me to get my name on a trophy. It was a way for me to get out,” he said. “I played golf so I could go to college. I would not have been able to go to college without playing golf. And then I turned pro because my brain wasn’t smart enough to work nine-to-five and still make the same amount of money.
“The only thing that sucks about golf sometimes is most of the people that are in golf will never understand [that]. My kid will never understand it; I’m going to make sure of that.”
Varner added that he enjoyed playing in all four majors this year — the first time in his career that he had done so — but he understands it might not happen again. Still, he did seem a bit taken aback when Watson explained that even someone like Cameron Smith, who is world No. 2 and joined LIV alongside Varner, will soon drop in the world rankings. Uncertainty reigns.
“But is he really going to fall off the map? He just won a major,” Varner said.
“He will at some point,” Watson replied.
“Damn,” Varner said. “If I win a major I’ll just be like…”
“Well,” Watson interjected. “You aren’t going to be playing any majors if they keep dropping you.”
“I know. But it will be all right,” Varner concluded. “We’ll live. A lot of kids’ lives will change.”