FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — At around 2 p.m. on Sunday at Bethpage Black, Harold Varner III could be seen speed walking from the range to the first tee. It was clear he was jacked up, as he should have been. Varner was playing in the final pairing of the 101st PGA Championship alongside Brooks Koepka, a three-time major winner who led by seven through 54 holes. This was foreign territory for the 28-year-old North Carolina native, who had played in just four majors prior to this week, missing the cut in three and tying for 66th at the 2016 Open Championship.
The problem? Varner was a full half hour early for his tee time, while Koepka was still calmly grinding away on the range. Everyone warms up differently, but it was hard to not notice how much Varner was ready to roll.
Understandably, the moment proved to be too big, as Varner eventually carded a nightmarish 11-over 81 to fall into a tie for 36th. After a strong start with a birdie at the first, disastrous double bogeys at the third and fourth holes ended any slim chance he may have had.
“It’s hard, but still had a good time, man,” he said. “That’s kind of what you play for. That’s my first time there, and I can’t wait to get back there and see how I can improve. So it’s all right. I’m obviously a little pissed right now. You want to do well. I don’t know who else doesn’t. But I’m going to — I’m going to get a lot better from it.
“Gosh, it was a lot of fun, man. It was something I’ve never felt before. So it was pretty cool.”
While it sounds like Varner needs no consoling, he should still know that he’s not the first surprise contender to have a similar, harrowing experience in the final round of a major championship. Below are a sampling of the most nightmarish ones we can think of, where absolutely nothing went right for the player in question. We’re talking about rounds in the 80s, rounds spent in the fescue, rounds when the player disappears from the broadcast entirely. To be clear, Varner did not “choke” or “eject.” He didn’t blow a lead late in the round, or hit a poor shot with the tournament on the line. He just simply had a bad day, just like all these guys on our list had.
Ricky Barnes, 2009 U.S. Open
Almost 10 yeas ago to the month, right here at Bethpage Black, 2002 U.S Amateur winner Ricky Barnes was in good position to finally deliver as a professional at the 2009 U.S. Open. Prior to that week his best finish in a major as a pro was a T-59, and through 54 holes on the rain-soaked Long Island course, Barnes led by one shot over Lucas Glover. That lasted all of one hole — Barnes made bogey at the first late on Sunday night. Play was suspended by darkness after the duo finished the second hole, and they returned Monday morning and Barnes completely fell apart, making six bogeys on the day and shooting a 76 to lose by two.
Paul Dunne, 2015 Open Championship
Remarkably, in just his second major start, amateur Paul Dunne from Ireland held a share of the 54-hole lead at the 2015 Open Championship at the Old Course. No amateur had ever been in that position at the Open since 1927, an incredible achievement no matter what happened the following day. Dunne played in the final pairing with Louis Oosthuizen, and struggled mightily, carding a six-over 78 to fall into a tie for 30th.
Jason Gore, 2005 U.S. Open
Jason Gore made his first appearance in a major in the 1998 U.S. Open, missing the cut. He wouldn’t make another major start until the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, where he entered the final round just three shots off the lead of Retief Goosen. Gore proceeded to shoot a disastrous 14-over 84 to tie for 49th, which wound up being the second-best finish in a major of his career.
Brandt Snedeker, 2008 Masters
Brandt Snedeker had flashed plenty of potential both as an amateur and as a pro prior to the 2008 Masters, winning the U.S. Amateur Public Links in 2003 and claiming his first PGA Tour victory at the 2007 Wyndham Championship. But he was still a surprise contender at Augusta that year, putting himself in the final group alongside Trevor Immelman. Early in the final round, it looked as though it’d be his day, as Sneds eagled the par-5 second to pull with in one of the lead. He faltered from there, finishing with a five-over 77 to drop into a tie for third.
Smylie Kaufman, 2015 Masters
In just his third major start, Smylie Kaufman played his way into the final group at the Masters alongside his good buddy Jordan Spieth. He kept pace with Spieth early, matching him with a birdie at the second to stay one back. But that was one of the lone highlights of the day for Kaufman, who posted a nine-over 81 to free fall into a tie for 29th, which remains his best finish in a major, and his only made cut.
Aaron Baddeley, 2007 U.S. Open
Aaron Baddeley was already an established player on the PGA Tour in 2007, and one with plenty of major experience. He had made 10 starts in majors prior to Oakmont, though he only made a pair of cuts. That week, he grabbed the 54-hole lead with stellar rounds of 72, 70 and 70, putting him in the final group with a guy by the name of Tiger Woods. The pressure got to Baddeley, and he walked off with a 10-over 80, still good enough for a T-13 finish, his career best to this day.