Brian Harman is the champion golfer of the year. But who exactly is pleased for him? Certainly not the soaked crowd at Royal Liverpool on Sunday, who booed Harman on the first tee and didn’t give the American his dues until his even wetter walk down the 18th fairway.
Probably not the American television broadcasters, NBC, who set up a “Waggle Counter” to poke fun at the number of Harman’s practice swings, of which there were often a dozen or more. A sort of unofficial shot clock – a device more familiar in the NBA at the free-throw line – goading Harman to be quicker, more exciting and dynamic before an ad break. But no, the 36-year-old took his time, as is his right, and continued to stripe it down the middle.
From the outside, this has always been Harman’s problem, a battle for relevancy. A solid professional, easily good enough to be on Tour, but without a win of any kind in six years, or 167 starts, neither an underdog nor a superstar. When asked on Saturday what his biggest achievement was, Harman said: “This year will be the 12th straight year that I’ve made the FedEx Cup playoffs.” Goosebumps.
The thing is, Harman doesn’t really care what you think, or what the locals here shout, or how many waggles he takes on the tee box. He knows who he is, his strengths and weaknesses, and sleeps well at night. There is a lot to admire about that.
There are plenty of interesting things about Harman. He plays golf left-handed but is otherwise entirely right-handed. He loves hunting and learned how to skin a deer when he was eight years old. He very nearly became a baseball player and once recorded two holes in one on the same round.
Oh, and he’s really, really good at putting and looks a bit like Ricky Ponting, does that count?
Harman was an outstanding high-school golfer. A US Amateur Junior champion aged 16 in 2003, he then beat Rickie Fowler to clinch the 2009 NCAA Championship at college.
“There just wasn’t anybody that could beat me back then,” said Harman on Saturday of those early days. “And now there’s thousands.”
Here is a guy quietly away on Tour, the golfing equivalent of a child actor superstar that goes on to have a respectable, if unspectacular B-list Hollywood career. Nobody grows up dreaming to be Daniel Radcliffe but not everyone can be Ryan Gosling or Rory McIlroy. Maybe this is Harman’s break into the big time.
Just as in his third round, Harman’s Sunday started shakily. Two wayward approaches towards the 2nd and 3rd greens left tricky up and downs from the knee-high fescue. On the former, a nervy chip and putt, both well short of the hole, meant Harman had to settle for bogey. On the latter, lesson learned, his chip from the long grass at least scared the hole, before the American drained a testing 8ft putt.
On the 5th, Harman hit his drive straight into a bush, and was forced to take a drop. A bogey followed, with Harman finally missing a putt inside 10ft, astonishingly the first he has missed from inside that distance all tournament. Unflustered, despite the murmurs of excitement from the crowd, Harman responded with back-to-back birdies, climbing back to 12 under with his red-hot putter, the latter effort on the 7th from 24ft. Harman made just six bogeys all week, but immediately recovered to make birdie on four occasions. This was a gutsy victory and Harman admitted afterwards the lack of support motivated him. “If they didn’t want me to play well, they should have been nice to me”, he said.
These holes felt like where the Open were won and lost, where Harman could have missed a step on the Hoylake stairs and tumbled back towards the pack, but instead grabbed the bannister and steadied himself. He finished 13 under par, six shots clear of his nearest challengers, to claim the Claret Jug with ease.
One person that does care about Harman, and whose opinion Harman presumably values, is Zach Johnson, the USA’s Ryder Cup captain.
“He’s a really good friend of mine,” Johnson said on Sunday. “We live on the same rock, St Simons Island. I’ve known him for years. Great family, great wife, great kids. The Harmans are dear friends of mine. He is a very formidable competitor. What I’ve seen here has not surprised me in the least.”
This result has huge ramifications for the Ryder Cup. Sitting 20th in the US rankings going into the Open, Harman has now catapulted himself into the automatic picks – a position he is almost certain to keep until September.
Now, Harman can change the narrative, from no-mark Tour grinder to plucky underdog come good: the 5ft 7in short king who puts mouthy Europeans in their place. There is no better place to do that again than at the Ryder Cup. Heck, he might even have a few Americans cheering for him.