There's an undue burden on Harold Varner III's shoulders. It's been there since he picked up a club but grown heavier since the murder of George Floyd. It's been made heavier due to Tiger Woods' absence this weekend in Fort Worth, leaving Varner as one of the only black players in the field. If it's bothering him, it hasn't shown. The 29-year-old has been able to carry the load -- in both important and on-course ways -- at a time when the spotlight has been turned up.
He was among the first to speak up after the unjust killing, issuing a statement and standing at the forefront of the PGA Tour's response, and poised to drive it a positive direction. All indications are that he's willing to be an agent of change.
The 124th-ranked player in the world put together a spellbinding bogey-free opening round, racking up seven birdies and a 63 to share the lead with Justin Rose. A triple bogey on No. 1 today knocked him back to reality, but only briefly. Varner responded by making three birdies before giving away a shot at the turn, then putting together a closing stretch of five in six holes, including four in a row.
With half his work behind him, he sits at 11-under, and will more than likely have possession of the lead headed into the weekend. Of course, scoring at the Charles Schwab Challenge has been quite friendly, so there's no guarantee of anything.
But what's shaping up is a fantastic story. This moment in history has drawn out powerful voices with powerful messages. To see Varner succeed on the heels of putting his in the sand would be inspiring. A rare moment of uplift and positive karma. And not in the elementary, pandering way. In the success breeds opportunity and visibility kind of way.
Golf has the attention largely to itself right now. Varner, though he's shown flashes, is not a household name, with no wins and just three Top-10s in his bag. Neither is his message. That can all change if he's in contention come Sunday, which is looking more and more like a possibility.
A leader has emerged.