Golf notables with Charlotte ties share memories of their finest shots — and those they’ve witnessed.
by Michael J. Solender
Golfers are a curious breed.
Those at the top of their game have an uncanny ability to immediately shake off the occasional poor shot and move on with their round, the bad swing and result forever lost to the dustbins of the golfing gods. Yet their good shots — especially their great shots — live on forever in the mind’s eye, memorialized and celebrated time and again, remembered in minute detail down to the distance, wind direction, club used and situation.
As the PGA Tour is set to resume play this month, SouthPark magazine asked several Charlotte golfing notables to recall their finest moments on the links — and those they’ve been witness to.
Comments have been lightly edited.
DAVIS LOVE III
Love was born in Charlotte a day after his father, Davis Love Jr., competed in the final round at the 1964 Masters Tournament. His father, a former pro and nationally recognized golf instructor who was killed in a 1988 plane crash, introduced him to the game. Love has won 21 tournaments on the PGA Tour, including the 1997 PGA Championship. He has made 13 starts in the Wells Fargo Championship with five top-25 finishes.
Best shot ever: “The 16th hole at The Players Championship in 2003, when I hit my second shot out of the trees onto the green and made an eagle in the final round.” Love won The Players that year by six shots over Jay Haas and Padraig Harrington. On the 16th hole, Love’s drive went 301 yards into the left rough leaving him 198 yards to the pin through trees. Love hit his second shot to 11 feet, 1 inch where he made the putt for an eagle to secure his second win at The Players. (The first was in 1992.)
Best shot witnessed:“Fred Couples at Lake Nona Golf Club in 1993 during the World Cup made a 2 (albatross) on the par 5, 9th hole. We were teammates and playing two-man combined total. He made a 2 on a par 5, and I made a 4, so I knew we were going to win that one.”
Wagner lives in Charlotte and is a member at Quail Hollow Club. He has three PGA Tour wins in 334 career starts, with career Tour earnings topping $12 million.
Best shot ever: “I hit a 4-iron into 18 at the Houston Open and made the birdie putt to force a playoff against J.B. Holmes in 2015. Those were under pressure — the best 4-iron I’ve ever hit and the best putt I’ve ever hit.” Unfortunately, Wagner would go on to lose in the playoff at the Golf Club of Houston.
Best shot witnessed: “Itwas Steve Marino in the left bunker on the par 3, 15th hole during the second round at the 2008 Honda Classic at PGA National’s Champions Course. It’s a tight left pin, downwind. He’s on the down slope, and he hit this bunker shot. It landed as soft as I’ve ever seen … I would have been worried about blading it in the water.”
Simpson won the 2012 U.S. Open and the 2018 Players Championship. A member at Quail Hollow Club, he also enjoys playing Charlotte-area courses such as Longview and Charlotte Country Club.
Best shot ever: “My best shot was at the WGC Mexico at the 6th hole. I had to hit a slice with a 3 wood from about 260 yards, and I hit it to about 18 feet. Unfortunately, I did not make the putt.”
Best shot witnessed: “The best shot I’ve ever witnessed was struck by Tiger Woods [also] at WGC Mexico, in the right bunker on the 9th hole. He had to aim about 40 yards left, and he sliced it and hit it to about 8 feet. That was incredible.”
HAROLD VARNER III
PGA Tour player Varner grew up in Gastonia, just a 9-iron from Gaston Country Club where he worked through high school, tending clubs in the bag room, and into his sophomore year at East Carolina University. Varner has a home in Charlotte and enjoys playing locally at Gaston CC, Quail Hollow Club and Charlotte Country Club.
Best shot ever: “One of the best shots I ever hit was at Gaston Country Club. I had a double-eagle 2 on the par 5 13th while playing with some buddies for a small bet. I hit a 5 iron from 203 yards, a left to right shot that fell in. I had just pressed, so the $25 bet was doubled to $50. It was a lot of money at the time – and still is!”
Seven-year pro Max Homa won the 2019 Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club for his first ever PGA Tour victory.
Best shot ever: “I made a hole-in-one at the Walker Cup in 2013 at the National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y. It was a short hole, No. 6, about 105 yards. I hit a gap wedge, and I backed [the ball] up into the hole. It was very cool.”
Best shot witnessed: “I’ve seen a lot of good ones. Recently, Keith Mitchell hit a 3 wood off the tee at 17 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open to about 18 inches. We all thought he made a hole-in-one at a par 4.”
Sullivan was Davis Love III’s teammate at UNC Chapel Hill, where he was an All-ACC selection in 1986 as well as a NCAA Collegiate All–American. Sullivan won the prestigious North & South Amateur Championship in 1983, spent two years on the Canadian PGA Tour and played in several events on the PGA Tour. He is currently head golf professional at Kilmarlic Golf Club at the Outer Banks.
Best shot ever: “I remember one time at Harbour Town [Golf Links at Hilton Head] on the 18th hole, I hit it left of the green and into the thick stuff and marsh of Calibogue Sound. My caddie told me to go get the ball and take a drop. I said, ‘No way,’ grabbed a wedge, and went in there to hit it. I swung as hard as I could, popped it out and holed the darned thing. Everyone went crazy. That was probably my most exciting moment I can remember playing on the PGA Tour.”
Longtime Quail Hollow Club president and the person most singularly responsible for bringing professional golf to Charlotte, Harris has been around the highest level of the game longer than many of the young stars he calls friends.
Best shot ever: “Many years ago, I was playing with fellow member David Johnston in the Quailoree. Our last hole was then No. 4 (now No. 3), and we had a one-shot lead. My partner hit a bad slice, and I promptly skied my drive into a low area in front of the tee. Over 210 yards to the green, I hit a 1 iron to 3 feet (rolled a mile) of the pin to win. When I holed out, my caddie, Jimmy Strong, chased up the fairway and tackled me, clearly expecting a big tip!”
Best shot(s) witnessed: “Arnold Palmer on the third floor of the Turnberry Hotel. He hit a 1-iron shot the length of the floor and out the fire escape at 1 a.m. to win $100. Then, after some trash talking, there was a second shot for a $100 bet, which I promptly lost. The best shot at [the Wells Fargo Championship] was David Toms holing out for eight at the 18th hole to win our first tournament [in 2003].” SP