Harold Varner III. Saudi International 2023 – Paul Severn

While many golf professionals stick to the official statements about “growing the game” these days to duck controversy, Saudi International defending champion Harold Varner III was something of a breath of fresh air speaking at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club this week.

The American, who famously holed out from more than 100 feet on the 18th hole 12 months ago to claim the crown and deny Bubba Watson a sniff of a playoff chance, keep his feet firmly on the ground and spoke openly about his prospect for the season following his move from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf last season.

After an extended break at home in Florida, Varner is ready to get back in action for 2023, starting on the Asian Tour in Saudi Arabia.

“I am super excited to get going,” he said. “This work is the first four-day tournament I’ve played since the British — am I allowed to call it that? My caddie gets mad when I call it the British. It’s called The Open Championship. I apologise to anyone who’s offended,” already getting the gathered media laughing.

“I just want to compete. I know I’m a little rusty. So i just want get in the fire. It’s the best feeling in the world.

“I played two or three tournaments  at the end of the year and missed the cut, so I guess I wasn’t playing great according to the scores. But I’m fairly cocky. I think I’m playing well.”

Inevitably THAT putt here in Jeddah from last year came up.

“I don’t think I’ve walked on this side of this golf course without anyone telling me about it,” Varner laughed. “I don’t think I’ve forgotten about it either. I have great memories. I like this place. It’s in unbelievable shape.

“I just want to play well. I don’t care where we play. We can play in the desert out there if we had to. You want to win. You want to compete. And that’s why you play.

“I think any time you defend a tournament it’s pretty awesome. It’s well documented I’ve never played well in the States or won, so I like my chances.

“Everyone talks about the putt. But my best shot that day was the drive on 17, in my opinion, because it gave me a chance on 18 to not have to make eagle.”

Varner became a dad for the first time late in 2021 and he is still getting used to life as a parent.

“It’s been great. He [Liam, aka HV4] is awesome,” Varner said. “I’ve been home a lot, which is very weird. He’s been sleeping with us, and that’s been awesome. My wife hates it, but it’s freakin’ great. So if we want to have another kid, we’ll have to put him back in the crib, and that’s been very difficult because he does not like the crib.

“He’s pretty crazy. I don’t ever question where he gets it from. I am just kind of relieved my wife handles most of the stuff. So it makes my life a lot easier.”

Then, again, more humour.

“He got kicked out of the jungle gym yesterday for running over two kids. I don’t know what he’s thinking.”

As far as LIV Golf is concerned, Varner is as honest as ever.

“I want to answer this with something, but I’m going to leave that in my head,” he admitted. “But moving to LIV has actually made things more clear. It’s something I wanted to do. I made the decision. I enjoy it. I really enjoy it. I enjoy the money that comes with it. I enjoy the time.

“But what ended up happening is people you thought were your friends, colleagues, they still reach out to you, they still talk to you.

“I’ve been super fortunate. I’m very transparent. I didn’t like how some of the stuff came out where you started talking about people’s family. I just don’t like that. I also don’t like the bitterness and the pettiness of both LIV and the PGA Tour. So there’s things like that I just try to stay away. I don’t think that’s good for golf.

“People enjoy investing in golf because it’s clean, respect and a gentleman’s game, and that’s going right down the toilet right now.

“The changes have maybe made me a bigger [expletive], but I have some unbelievable people around me that keep me grounded because I get set on something and I want to do it.”