FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – Erik van Rooyen and Harold Varner III were paired on Saturday at the PGA Championship. Both affable, aspiring golfers hit it a long way and entered the weekend hoping to make a run toward the top of the leaderboard.
Varner shot a 67 to move into a tie for second, seven shots behind Brooks Koepka. Van Rooyen, the former Gopher golfer, shot an even-par 70 and is tied for 12th.
Varner will play in the final pairing with Koepka. Van Rooyen will be paired with Jordan Spieth, who played with Koepka on Saturday and shot a 72.
Varner wore golf shoes that looked like basketball high-tops, causing some in the gallery to yell, “It’s gotta be the shoes.” Asked what it was like to play alongside van Rooyen, Varner said, “I didn’t know that was his last name. He’s really good. We actually played in college against each other — I didn’t know that, but he did. We had a good time out there and he’s really good, man.’’
Varner and van Rooyen were typical of those chasing Koepka. They’re somewhat unknown, and they acknowledge there’s little chance of anyone catching him this week.
“It’s going to be pretty tough,” van Rooyen said. “The way he’s playing, I don’t see him coming back to the field, but anything can happen. My job is to make birdies and see what happens.”
Van Rooyen birdied the first hole but hit it into the trees on No. 5, then hit a branch while trying to play back to the fairway. For everyone other than Koepka, Bethpage Black is a stern test.
Varner and van Rooyen both said Koepka’s excellence is a lesson, and an incentive.
“It’s not discouraging,” van Rooyen said. “It’s encouraging. You can see that someone is doing it. Yeah, Brooks has won three majors, but if I get the ball on the green and make some putts I can do the same thing.
“Everybody raises their focus and it sharpens things up a bit. Look, he’s a great player. I didn’t play in the Tiger [Woods] era. I watched Tiger on TV and I saw guys get the shakes when he was around. But you’ve got to focus on what you’re doing. And that’s what Brooks is doing. He’s not giving two hoots about what other people are doing and that’s the reason he’s playing so well.’’
Said Varner: “It’s going to make the other guys push themselves. Some guys won’t, but it’s pretty much what Tiger did for golf in general. It’s the reason why people work out. It’s the reason why people are so good. It’s the reason why Brooks is doing what he’s doing now.”