HOYLAKE – All anyone seemed to care about Brian Harman was his skill with a bow, not with a putter. How he could harvest elk and skin a deer, not dissect a landscape dotted with pot bunkers at Royal Liverpool. Instead of birdies, Harman can spin tales about hunting turkey.
But there was no mistaking what mattered to him.
Next to him on a table Sunday evening at the British Open was the silver claret jug, the oldest trophy in golf, his name now engraved on the base.
“To win what I consider is the greatest prize in golf, it's as good as it gets,” Harman said.
His golf was even better, and any reflection on the week and golf's latest major champion cannot overlook that in favor of shooting pigs and turkeys.
For four days in sunshine and rain, short sleeves and rain suits, Harman hit into only three bunkers at Royal Liverpool, the key to scoring. He took only 106 putts, key to any golf course. Off the tee, he rarely missed his mark.
And between the ears, he was strong as ever.
Harman had his name atop the leaderboard for the last 51 holes that he played, from the second of his four straight birdies Friday morning on No. 3 all the way until he walked toward the 18th green at Royal Liverpool with a six-shot lead.
Only after he blasted out of the damp sand to 8 feet for one final par and a 1-under 70 did he allow himself to begin celebrating his first major — and only his third win — at age 36.
“I really didn't truly think about winning the tournament until hitting the last bunker shot there. I'm really proud of that,” Harman said.
“Just overwhelming joy,” he said. “Not relief, because you want to enjoy this. But sleeping on a five-shot lead is tough. It's really, really tough.”
Harman was up to the task. He slept on a five-shot lead for two straight days. On Saturday, when he made two bogeys in four holes and his lead over Jon Rahm was down to two, he smashed a 3-wood onto the green at the par-5 fifth for a birdie.
It was on that hole, on that day, that Harman said he heard a spectator say, “Harman, you don't have the stones for this.”
Nothing motivates him like being told he can't do something.
He felt the same way when there were boos — not many, but audible — on the first tee Sunday.
“I heard them,” Harman said with a smile. “If they wanted me to not play well, they should have been really nice to me.”
Otherwise, it was a clinic. When he hit into a gorse bush on the fifth hole Sunday and made his second bogey of the round — the five-shot lead was at three — he responded with a 6-iron to 15 feet for birdie on the par-3 sixth and a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 7.
When he had a rare miss from inside 8 feet on the 13th — his lead was down to four — he dropped a 40-foot birdie and an 8-foot birdie on the next two holes.
Padraig Harrington was among those who saw the final round play out the way it did.
“I think Brian Harman is a very dogged person. He’s the right person to hold a lead like that. Clearly he hasn’t won a major, but he’s a very tough, experienced character,” Harrington said before Harman began the final leg of this amazing trip.
“Nearly every day he goes out on the golf course like he's playing with a chip on his shoulder, like he's fighting something,” Harrington said. “He will have to play the 18 holes. And yes, a bit of rain and a bit of wind just adds a little bit to that. But he's a tough nut, I can tell you that.”
The surprise was that Harman didn't have a history of this kind of performance.
He had two wins in 12 years on the PGA Tour. He had gone 167 tournaments over six years since his last victory. Why this week? Why now? Harman couldn't say.
He found a new putting aid that helped him stop hooking his putts and delivered an astonishing performance. His 7-foot par putt on the 13th hole was the only putt from inside 10 feet that he missed all week.
Otherwise, it simply was his time.
“I’ve always had a self-belief that I could do something like this,” Harman said. “It’s just, when it takes so much time, it’s hard not to let your mind falter, like maybe I’m not winning again. I’m 36 years old. Game is getting younger. All these young guys coming out hit it a mile and they’re all ready to win. Like, when is it going to be my turn again?
“To come out and put a performance like that together ... I don’t know why this week, but I’m very thankful that it was this week.”
He was headed home to unite with his family, but not before drinking “a couple of pints out of this here trophy.” He just bought a tractor — he wouldn't say how much because he hasn't told his wife, yet — and he has 40 acres of land to mow.
Will he plan a special hunting trip? Will he go after some exotic game? What color is the tractor? The questions kept right on coming. Harman made it clear that hunting helps him escape. The hours, the work, the sacrifices are all about golf.
“I would say I love to hunt. We do it, but I couldn’t go hunting every day,” he said. “I could play golf every day.”
For four days at Royal Liverpool, no one played it better. He won't mount that claret jug on the wall. But he doesn't intend to let it out of his sight anytime soon.
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