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Brian Harman surprises with dominant win at The Open Championship

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Brian Harman surprises with dominant win at The Open Championship

Harman keeps chasers at arm’s length in waterlogged final round

    Written by Cameron Morfit @CMorfitPGATOUR

    HOYLAKE, England – Brian Harman hangs out with tall people.

    This is the first thing that stands out – and the first contradiction – for the runaway winner of the 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, where he took a five-shot lead into the rain-soaked final round and shot a 1-under 70 Sunday to beat a foursome including Tom Kim, Sepp Straka, Jason Day and Jon Rahm by six strokes.

    Harman’s best friend on the PGA TOUR is 6-foot-5-inch Patton Kizzire. His caddie, Scott Tway, is 6-foot-4. As he received the claret jug in the rain, he stood next to 6-foot-8 Christo Lamprecht.

    “Yeah, fantastic, right?” he said, laughing at his happy predicament and cracking up the assembled media.

    Harman is 5-foot-7 and looks even shorter among the company he keeps, but he plays big-boy golf, most notably his 346-yard tee shot and 5-iron to 15 feet for eagle Friday, when he put a stranglehold on this tournament. That gave him a five-shot lead at the tournament’s halfway point, an advantage that was never truly in danger over the final two days.

    “Yeah, I'm over the moon,” he said. “It was a tough last three days, really was. Being able to get some sleep was big last night. Sleeping on a lead like that is really difficult, so glad of the way I hung in there the last couple days.

    “Got off to a bad start both days and turned it around,” he added, “so really happy with that.”

    Harman, who admitted he’d never had much success playing in the rain, bogeyed the second hole and flirted with the on-course out of bounds at the third. Was he slipping? Not even close.

    From juicy rough he got up and down for par at the third, holing out from 7 1/2 feet. He bogeyed the par-5 fifth but birdied the sixth and seventh to restore his five-shot lead.

    Brian Harman secures win at The Open

    To the general public, he’s a surprising winner – a congenial fellow who just happened to get hot at the right time. Those who know him best say he’s neither of those things.

    “I played him in an epic duel in South Carolina, the Bobby Chapman,” said Brendon Todd, one of Harman’s old teammates at Georgia. “We played 18 holes in the rain just like this. He was only 15 at the time, I was probably 17. He was the most talented, angry kid I’d seen at that point.

    “I just remember walking off the course thinking if that guy could just calm down a little bit, he’s going to be out-of-this-world good,” Todd continued. “And sure enough, he was. He was a stud.”

    Harman was a two-time AJGA Player of the Year, won the 2003 U.S. Junior, made a TOUR cut at age 17 and was the youngest player to ever represent the United States in the Walker Cup.

    J.T. Poston, who, like Harman, lives and practices in Sea Island, said Harman was so good as a junior that people debated whether he should just skip college altogether.

    “He was that sharp,” Poston said.

    Harman doesn’t deny it.

    “I had success,” he said. “Like, I had the pedigree. Then I got to college and it just kind of sputtered a little bit. I just didn't keep up with the – I didn't keep up with the progression.

    “My pro career has been really good at times and not good at times,” he continued. “Last year felt like I kind of found something a little bit…”

    The Open was his third TOUR triumph and first since the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship. Harman’s first win came in the 2014 John Deere Classic, which earned him a last-minute invite to his first Open Championship, at Royal Liverpool of all places. That year he teed off late Friday, finished after 10 p.m., made the cut and fell in love with links golf.

    Scribes here struggled to square that with Harman the outdoorsman and bow-hunter. He spoke Sunday about being excited to drive a tractor he recently bought, which had journalists asking a rare question for an Open: how to spell Kubota. Earlier in the week he was asked if the local cows and the sheep were safe, and what he thought of his tabloid nicknames, the Butcher of Hoylake and Brian the Butcher. (A friend screen-grabbed these to show him.)

    Harman, ever the good sport, laughed at these, but some have posited that his brand of self-reliance is the best way to source a steak.

    “I know where my meat comes from,” he said. “Back home at the hunting place I own, we plant food for the animals. We have prescribed fire for the animals. Everything we do is for the wildlife. Then when we harvest it, we respect it and take care of it and feed our families with it.”

    He’s as serious as it gets about this stuff. At other times he can come off as glib, as he did when he congratulated Scotland for having “the worst weather on the planet. They win.” (He had just tied for 12th at the Genesis Scottish Open.) But this, too, is misleading. He says these things with merriment, not menace, and those who know him best say he’s actually a teddy bear. Harman blew kisses to the crowd and tapped his heart after walking off the 18th green Sunday.

    “I was struggling a little bit last year,” Poston said. “And he was probably the last person I would have thought that would have kind of reached out and given some advice. We played together in Scottsdale, and we were practicing at home, and he said, ‘Hey, man, I know you’re struggling. Everybody goes through it. Keep your head up.’ He cares about the people closest to him.”

    Touched by the gesture, Poston won the John Deere Classic that summer.

    Harman, 36, also isn’t as provincial as the U.K. tabs would have you believe, his quip about Scottish weather notwithstanding. Asked about his resemblance to retired cricketer Ricky Ponting, he allowed that the comparison is apt (“I look like him; handsome fella”) and showed he’s even learned some of cricket’s rules. “I’m getting there,” he said. “I’ve got an open mind.”

    Harman, who becomes the third left-hander to win The Open after Bob Charles and Phil Mickelson, also does everything but swing a golf club righthanded. He is in this way the opposite of 2017 Open Championship winner Jordan Spieth, a lefty except for on the golf course.

    In Harman’s only other lead at a major, at the 2017 U.S. Open, he stumbled with a final-round 72 to tie for second place. You could’ve gotten 125-to-1 odds on him to win earlier this week. That’s partly because he was celebrated and knocked for his consistency. He has made the FedExCup Playoffs for a dozen straight years. “I’m proud of that,” he said. But he also had the most top-10 finishes (29) without a win on the PGA TOUR since the start of the 2017-18 season. Total victories: just two – 2017 Wells Fargo, 2014 John Deere Classic.

    “Only two wins is shocking to me,” Todd said of the former phenom.

    Harman, who came into the week 39th in Strokes Gained: Putting, added a big third by putting lights-out at Royal Liverpool. Through 54 holes he was 44-for-44 from inside 10 feet.

    He had made 55 straight by the time he finally missed from inside 10 feet to bogey the par-3 13th hole. Hardly panicked, he birdied 14 and 15 to go up by five again and all but end it. Ho, hum.

    Not surprisingly, he was first in SG: Putting (+11.57) for the week.

    With the victory, Harman moved to sixth in the FedExCup and 10th in the world ranking. Now he could be a threat in the FedExCup Playoffs and a boon to the U.S. Ryder Cup effort. Captain Zach Johnson, a friend and fellow Sea Island resident who admitted Harman reminds him of himself, said he would be “very comfortable” to have the lefthander on the team.

    “I think he’s made for this,” Johnson said.

    “He will be phenomenal,” added his old Georgia teammate Todd, “because his form’s great, and if he’s putting like this, he’s going to pound somebody.”

    Harman certainly did that at Royal Liverpool.

    Cameron Morfit is a Staff Writer for the PGA TOUR. He has covered rodeo, arm-wrestling, and snowmobile hill climb in addition to a lot of golf. Follow Cameron Morfit on Twitter.

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