Wells Fargo champ Brian Harman says diminutive TOUR pros harder and harder to find
May 02, 2018
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Brian Harman is listed at 5 feet, 7 inches tall.
He would like to offer a clarification.
“On a good day,” he said with a laugh. “With the right set of shoes.”
True, the defending champion at this week’s Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club will never be an NBA lottery pick. Harman is more like former Slam Dunk Contest winner Spud Webb: small but potent. At 163rd on TOUR in driving distance (288.6 yards), the lefty from Georgia gets it done in other ways. He’s 12th in driving accuracy (69.91 percent), sixth in strokes gained: putting (.858), leads the TOUR with seven top-10s this season, and likes his game fine.
It’s just that Harman has become increasingly aware of being surrounded by giants.
“There are not a lot of guys that are under six feet tall,” he said at Quail Hollow, where he is coming off a T23 finish at the RBC Heritage. “I saw something the other day where the average height on the PGA TOUR had gone up like four inches or something like that. Guys are bigger.”
If it seems like players are bigger, that’s because they are. PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan, in response to the USGA and R&A’s annual distance report published in March, noted that since 2003, the average age of a TOUR member has gone down, the average height up.
Chesson Hadley, who is right behind Harman with six top-10 finishes this season, is 6 feet, 4 inches tall, as are Dustin Johnson and Tony Finau, who have five top-10s. Add Phil Mickelson and Marc Leishman, who also have five top-10s, and who are 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-2, respectively, and you’ve got a formidable looking starting five for intramural basketball.
Or the middle of a baseball lineup.
“Guys that would have been piddling around in minor-league baseball are out here hitting it 320 yards now,” Harman said.
Charles Howell III, who has been on TOUR for nearly 20 years, says the change has been hard to miss.
“It’s not just equipment; it’s a different athlete playing the game,” he said. At 5 feet, 11 inches tall and 178 pounds, Howell admits he’s no Harman, but adds, “I definitely play against the animals he’s talking about.”
Golf has always had a place for a wide range of body types. Ben Hogan was 5-foot-9. Jeff Sluman, winner of the 1988 PGA Championship, is 5-foot-7; Ian Woosnam, who won the 1991 Masters, just over 5-foot-4. Height has never told the whole story, and it still doesn’t. Wells Fargo Championship winners Rickie Fowler (2012) and Rory McIlroy (2015, 2010) are both 5-foot-10 but flexible, strong, and fast through the ball. The same could be said for FedExCup leader Justin Thomas, who is 5-foot-9.
Then again, Patton Kizzire (6-foot-5) is right behind Thomas in the standings. Jordan Spieth, the 2015 FedExCup champion, is 6-foot-1, and seven-time TOUR winner Matt Kuchar is 6-foot-4.
“Everyone’s getting taller,” said Jason Day, who is 6 feet tall. “And even if they’re not tall, they’re under six foot, they’re athletic.”
If Kizzire, Kuchar, Johnson, Finau and Hadley are among the tallest timber on TOUR, the most physically imposing specimens are reigning U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka (6 feet, 186 pounds), Jon Rahm (6-foot-2, 220), Leishman (6-foot-2, 200) and Luke List (6-foot-2, 190). And we haven’t even mentioned Ernie Els (6-foot-3, 210), the 19-time TOUR winner who will captain the International Presidents Cup team at Royal Melbourne in 2019.
What does it all mean? Size and strength can help a player withstand the TOUR grind: not just all the range balls but all the travel. Bigger bodies can age better. Mickelson (6-foot-3, 200), who leads all players with eight top-10 finishes at the Wells Fargo Championship, has stayed competitive well into his 40s. Kenny Perry (6-foot-2, 205), Steve Stricker (6 feet, 190) and Vijay Singh (6-foot-2, 208) did the same.
Day believes taller players’ “longer levers” are helpful for what every TOUR player needs: speed.
“Having a wider body, big shoulders, long arms, is ideal,” he said.
Kevin Duffy, Day’s trainer, nodded in agreement.
“And the wider this part is,” Duffy said, pointing to his clavicle, “the better.”
Dru Love, a sponsor’s exemption at the Wells Fargo, is one of the tallest players in the field at 6-foot-5. His former Alabama teammate Thomas nicknamed him Bigfoot, which stuck—Dru wears a size 14 shoe—but Dru says there’s a point of diminishing returns when it comes to size and golf.
“I think there’s a perfect height,” he said. “It’s not 5-7, it’s not 6-5; it’s somewhere in the middle. The two best players of all time were built pretty similarly: Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are both six feet tall and very strong. Jason Day is six feet tall.”
Is there really a magic number for height? Day says a big body is most effective combined with strength, suppleness, and a technically sound swing. Others aren’t ready to concede the point.
Emiliano Grillo, who is listed at 5-foot-9 but says he’s “5-8 on a good day,” said he’s “not a big believer in hitting it longer” and focuses instead on splitting fairways and making putts. Denny McCarthy, who said he’s “5-9 on a basketball roster” but is in fact 5-foot-8, said he’s okay with how far he hits the ball. He’s 117th in driving distance (293 yards), and has the competitive will you might expect from a guy who played four years of high school basketball (guard).
“I have a good head on my shoulders,” McCarthy said, “and that’s more than half the battle.”
Harman sounded a similar refrain. His game worked just fine in winning the Wells Fargo Championship at fill-in host Eagle Point Golf Club, which at 7,396 yards (par 72) was no pushover. And while Quail Hollow is one of the brawnier courses on TOUR at 7,554 yards (par-71), he still likes his chances.
“You know, they're not terribly dissimilar,” Harman said. “They both require you to drive it pretty well. Big, undulated greens. This course has kind of lent itself to the longer hitter, but creativity and good putting take you a long way here.”
But what about all those taller players? Doesn’t he want to be big? Nah. That was a Tom Hanks movie, and besides, Harman’s caddie, Scott “Big Country” Tway, has the size part covered.
As for big drives, when asked if he would trade accuracy for distance, Harman declined.
“I don't think so,” he said. “I like the way I do it.”
Brian Harman's gutsy performance earns him the win at Wells Fargo