Last week saw Jimmy Walker extend an already solid FedEx Cup race lead with a nice win at Pebble Beach. After nearly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Walker pulled it together and wheezed in to the winners circle with a final round 74. The TOUR heads south to Riviera Country Club and the Northern Trust Open. Here are the stories you should know about as the action starts Thursday morning.
Harold Varner III is so much more than African-American
One of the cooler stories of the golf season is that of 23 year old Charlotte native Harold Varner III. Harold’s story is special, and it’s unlike that of almost any “name” player of the last decade or two. The obvious narrative of the Varner story is that he’s a young, black male in an old, white sport. But that would be missing the beauty of what Harold has accomplished. Were he just an African-American golfer, he would be breaking down doors, but Harold isn’t content with that, and he’s on the verge of breaking down the door and lighting the whole place ablaze. What makes Harold’s story so exceptional is his upbringing; Varner didn’t have the financial status or golf connections of young guys like Jordan Spieth or Harris English. In fact, the Eastern Carolina product didn’t compete in the major junior tournament circuit, opting instead to grow his game on the links of his local municipal course. Harold is playing at the Northern Trust Open this week on a sponsors exemption, but as a member of the Web.com tour, he is certainly somebody to keep an eye on. A viable, young, black star who “made it” from the local goat track is exactly what golf needs to usher in the next generation of player.
Boom Boom is back at Riviera
Fred Couples is one of my childhood heroes. As a (at the time) 7 year old in Seattle, a hometown golfer winning the Masters was kind of a big deal in my house. Freddie is in the field this week on a sponsors exemption, playing in what he says is his favorite tournament, adding “It’s just the perfect layout. It’s very fair. It’s going to be, what, 80 degrees here this week.”. The hall-of-fame inductee is a class act, a big hitter and owns a swing that every amateur should emulate. Fans at the Northern Trust Open should be savoring this, and every event that “Boom-Boom” graces us with his presence at. If Freddie can make a run at a title this week it may be the story of the year.
Boom goes the Dyn-O-Mite!
Jimmy Walker is the hottest player in golf. He’s won 3 times in 8 starts, and joined Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and David Duval as the only players to ever do so; that’s pretty elite company. However, Jimmy was perilously close to joining a much less glamorous club after nearly blowing a 6 stroke lead on Sunday. Jimmy Walker is on fire, but I’m not sure that Riviera fits his game quite like Cordevalle or Waialae. I’ll be watching to see if Jimmy can lay to waste any doubters (like myself) and overpower a course and a field that is as strong as any so far in the young season. He is joined Thursday and Friday by OWGR top 25’ers Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley.
The Northern Trust Open tees off Thursday and can be seen Thursday/Friday on Golf Channel at 5pm EST and Saturday/Sunday on CBS at 3pm EST.