In golf, there is the process players always speak of and then there is processing what just happened to them once a tournament has reached its conclusion.
You won’t find a more positive player on the PGA Tour than Harold Varner III. He believes in his process, believes that his first career PGA Tour win is right through that next door he opens.
Varner believed that when he played in the final pairing of the final round of the PGA Championship in May at Bethpage Black after shooting rounds of 71, 67 and 67. And then he left Long Island staggered by the 81 he shot on that Sunday to tumble down the leaderboard into a tie for 36th.
On Sunday, back in the heart of the New York Metropolitan Area at Liberty National, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, Varner vaulted himself back into contention at the Northern Trust.
For a precious few minutes late in the afternoon, he was actually tied for the lead. Birdies on Nos. 12, 13 and 14 got Varner to 14-under par and atop the leaderboard.
And then his chances to win slipped away with missed birdie putts from inside of 6 feet on Nos. 16 and 17.
Patrick Reed won the Northern Trust at 16-under. Varner finished in a tie for third at 14-under. Two shots separated him from the winner. The two missed short putts were the difference.
Yet when Varner walked off the 18th green, he looked like he’d just won the golf tournament.
Now Varner was talking to The Post and was asked about the complicated dynamic of how to process what happened on Sunday — positive or negative?
Did he squander the chance to win his first PGA Tour event when he missed those two short putts?
Or does the fact that this was Varner’s best career finish in a PGA Tour event erase the fact he missed those two putts that, had he made them, might have led to victory or at least a playoff?
Based on his mood afterward, it’s clear that not winning the tournament was not crushing to Varner, a glass-half-full guy. What he did accomplish was a fast-track up the FedEx Cup points standings from 102nd at the start of the week to 29th entering this week’s BMW Championship, the second leg of the playoffs.
The top 70 in points advanced from Liberty National to Chicago and the top 30 advance from Chicago to the Tour Championship in Atlanta. So Varner has positioned himself to get to the Tour Championship, which would be a big deal. Thus, the positive vibe coming out of Sunday despite those two bunnies he missed on the 16th and 17th greens.
“You can beat yourself up or you can learn from it,’’ Varner said. “I’ve always been good at that. That’s life. I’m a big believer of speaking into existence. If I talk about it enough, it’ll happen.’’
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Varner, who turns 29 this week and is in his fourth season on the PGA Tour, has had some big-time learning moments this year.
What did he learn from Bethpage, where he had a chance to put some pressure on eventual winner Brooks Koepka but watched as his round imploded?
“I learned that I’m capable,’’ Varner said. “It’s so easy to get caught in, ‘This didn’t go my way,’ but that’s not how I operate. You just need a chance, and I had a chance. If you’re 100 percent on taking advantage of every chance, I’d be Tiger Woods, I guess.’’
Speaking of Woods, Varner played a nine-hole practice round with Woods, Koepka and Dustin Johnson on Tuesday. And by Sunday, his finish bettered all three of them.
“All three of them have been great to me,’’ Varner said. “I’m always picking Tiger’s brain. I just like talking smack to him, because I feel like I’m good enough to compete with him. You see the best in the world and you hit your shot and you say, ‘Man, I’m good enough.’ When you see it firsthand, it’s like, ‘Go compete and good things will happen.’
“Every week, no matter what the result turns out to be, you’ve got to believe that you’ve got a chance. Every week, I think, ‘This is the week.’ If you lose sight of that, the next thing you know you’re lost. So, you’ve just got to keep that confidence and demeanor that I’m good enough, and it’s going to happen soon.’’