How LIV Golf is providing Harold Varner III with ‘green power’
Like Jim Brown before him, Varner’s earnings aren’t just for economic self-sufficiency but empowering Black people in sports
When Harold Varner III joined the controversial Saudi-funded LIV Golf last August after seven years on the PGA Tour, he vowed that he would use his newfound wealth to create opportunities in the game for youth. The 32-year-old Gastonia, North Carolina, native also said that the move to LIV Golf would create generational wealth for his family. Earlier this year in a Washington Post article, Varner slammed some of his fellow LIV players for their selfishness.
“They’re full of s—; they’re growing their pockets,” Varner told the Washington Post. “I tell them all the time, all of them: ‘You didn’t come here to f—— grow the f—— game.”
Boosted by his multi-million dollar signing bonus with LIV Golf and earnings from the tour, Varner has delivered on his promise to expand opportunities for youth in the game through his HV3 Foundation, which has partnered with the First Tee and Youth on Course to make the game more accessible and affordable to youth in the Charlotte area and Akron, Ohio, where he was born. In March, HV3 Foundation sponsored the CIAA Men’s Golf Championship. Hosted by the Jacksonville (N.C.) Country Club, the tournament fielded seven HBCU schools, including Fayetteville State, which won the team title.
On Sunday at Trump National Washington D.C., Varner won LIV Golf D.C. by a shot over Branden Grace. Varner’s first-prize check of $4 million was the most money he’s made in any single event during his career. Varner earned another $125,000 when his team, RangeGoats GC, finished third in the team competition.
“I feel like I get to help a lot of people now,” he said after the tournament. “That’s what kills me sometimes. It costs a lot of money to help a lot of people. … The greatest thing you can do is go do what’s right.”
Varner’s words sound a lot like Jim Brown, the Hall of Fame running back, who died on May 18 at the age of 87. For Brown, the Black athlete in American society had to do more than simply gain fame, money and glory for themselves. They had to give back and give often to those with lesser means, and represent what is possible for qualified African Americans when they are not stunted by structural racism.
“When you came to the Cleveland Browns, if you were Black, you had to come in a certain way,” Brown said. “That meant being responsible off the field and being serious about playing on the field. We had to be about something.”
Varner’s rise in the game of golf is a result of the bold spirit and defiant manhood of Black male athletes like Brown and Charlie Sifford, who in 1961 became the first African American to receive a PGA Tour card. In the 1960s, Brown helped found the Black Economic Union in Cleveland to support Black-owned businesses. “I’m very interested in Black power,” he said at the time. “But I’m even more interested in green power because green power will give you Black power.”
Through his charitable foundation, Varner is using green power to empower many Black youth through the game of golf. It’s a responsibility that he feels as a Black man who grew up under modest financial circumstances, while enmeshed in a game overflowing with wealth and privilege. Brown, who was good at every sport he tried including golf, would be proud of Varner’s determination to put his money to good use in a sport that has symbolized for many the stark economic disparities in American society.
Brown would also be proud of Varner’s right to marry and date the woman he loves, regardless of her race. At Trump National Washington D.C., Varner was trailed all week by his wife, Amanda, who is white and their 20-month old son, Liam. According to his biographer, Mike Freeman, one of the 10 rules that Brown was given when he entered Syracuse University in the early 1950s was that he does not date white women. Brown’s sex scene in 100 Rifles in 1969 with Raquel Welch made him a villain to many state governments still chafing from the repeal of their anti-miscegenation laws that had been barred by the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court decision a few years earlier.
There are countless ways of looking at a Black man. Varner doesn’t share Arthur Ashe’s commitment to a politics of respectability. He’s not physically intimidating and gruff like Brown or boisterous like Muhammad Ali or as outspoken as LeBron James. With a very liberal use of profanity and a carefree and earnest style, it’s difficult to get the sense that Varner is representing anybody but himself. He seems to protest both the idea of Blackness as a group identity and any denial that he is anything but Black and accountable to his people.
As Brown subscribed to it through his Black Economic Union, real change for Varner comes forth through economic self-sufficiency for both his family and the communities that he serves. Varner may never win a Masters and wear the green jacket, but he will surely amass green power that could in a generation or two supply some Black power in the game of golf.