The knock on Brian Harman was that he thinks too much. He even admitted it himself. It happened when he took a one-stroke lead in the final round of the 2017 US Open, when he was no match for Brooks Koepka that Sunday.
So when Harman, who hasn’t won a tournament for six years, launched his drive on the par-5 fifth hole in a gorse bush, forcing him to take a penalty, suddenly his Sunday drive to victory at the 151st British Open was in doubt. A bogey, his second of the day, meant the five-shot lead he had taken in the round was reduced to three. With the rain pouring down, Harman’s mind presumably swirling, and with the mighty Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm – the No. 2 and 3 ranked players in the world – on the move, well, Harman looked in trouble.
Will he join the ranks of those who had major championships in their back pocket to smother? Would he become another Jean van de Velde?
Harman answered the bogey at five with birdies at numbers 6 and 7 and just like that, the Sunday walk was back.
A crowd of players behind him tried to press the gas, but without Harman backing down, every charge proved futile. By the time Harman reached No. 13, the engraving of the Claret Jug had already begun.
Ninety minutes later, the Savannah, Georgia native hoisted the pitcher as champion golfer of the year – a six-stroke winner over Rahm, Tom Kim, Sepp Straka and Jason Day.
“The world of sport has changed radically”
Each major tournament is actually made up of two separate tournaments: the PR battle from Monday to Wednesday, followed by golf from Thursday to Sunday. In the pre-LIV era, the first three days of a major week focused on either 1) that week’s course story, 2) that week’s new course features, 3) the latest golf-consuming pseudo-scandal (hoodie! Uniform-length clubs!), or 4) Tiger Woods.
But LIV has dominated every pre-tournament news cycle since the start of 2022: who’s in, who’s out and what everyone thinks about golf’s existential upheaval. This year’s Open Championship marked the second major since news of the stunning PGA Tour-Saudi Public Investment Fund deal broke in early June, meaning the questions were less “What just happened to golf?” and more “How Does Golf Go From Here?”
Martin Slumbers, CEO of the R&A, the English equivalent of the USGA, gave an overview of the new direction of golf, conceding that further Saudi investment in golf is not just a possibility but a foregone conclusion. “The world of sport has changed dramatically over the past 12 months, and it is not possible for R&A or golf to simply ignore what is societal change on a global scale,” Slumbers said. “We will look in all the parameters we look at all the options we have.”
Slumbers also noted that he expected protest action at this year’s tournament, expectations which were confirmed on Friday. Security – and player Billy Horschel – quickly surrounded the protesters and field crews used leaf blowers to clean up the confetti on the 17th.
Harman runs away
As for the tournament itself, it started with 6-foot-8 amateur Christo Lamprecht and local hero Tommy Fleetwood taking the lead in the opening round. With a traffic jam right behind them, the tournament was up for grabs.
After Friday, there was much less doubt. Harman hit the tee Friday morning and. He notched four straight birdies from the second through fifth hole early on Friday, then nailed the 18th to take a monstrous five-shot lead over Fleetwood. On a day when most of the rest of the field spun their wheels, on a course whose cut claimed notables like Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas, Harman reigned at the halfway mark.
When asked what Harman faces with such a huge lead halfway through the Open, McIlroy offered some advice: “Don’t rush, don’t think about what could happen or what should happen or what you’re going to drink from the Claret Jug. Just stay in the present and stay in the moment,” he said. “Brian is a pretty laid back, unflappable guy, so I think he’ll be fine.”
The tournament had its fair share of weirdness, from o players hearing televised commentary on the shots they were about to hit.
But last weekend, this Open had narrowed down to Harman… and everyone else.
Rahm decided to throw some fire into the tournament on Saturday. When Harman bogeyed two of his first four holes, the lead shrunk to just two. But Harman found something in himself, birding four times the rest of the round to go -12 and yet another five shot lead over Cameron Young.
With a second straight night of sleep in mind, Harman had even more time to reckon with the life-changing possibilities of a major victory. “You’d be crazy not to imagine, and I’ve thought about winning major tournaments all my life,” he said on Saturday night. “It’s the reason why I work as hard as I do and why I train as much as I do and why I sacrifice as much as I do.”
The mental challenge of staying ahead
After a sunny and windy opening of the tournament, Sunday brought the bad weather the Opens are famous for. Spitting rain soaked the course and brought out umbrellas. McIlroy, as is his tradition, started his Sunday charge from deep in the field, birding three straight to reach -6 and move to the top page of the standings.
Harman, meanwhile, flinched early, bogging the second hole after nearly sending his approach out of bounds. Then came the bogey at five o’clock.
A birdie from Rahm in the fifth moved him within three of Harman, with plenty of golf to play.
But Harman hadn’t come to this without a bit of courage. He drained a 13-foot birdie putt at six, then a 23-footer at seven for a second straight birdie.
During the week, Harman recorded six bogeys. He followed four of them with birdies, including that 40-footer at No. 14 to cap one of the most dominating performances in the history of golf’s oldest major.