As the rain continued, Brian Harman marched towards the red wine pitcher, dismembering Royal Liverpool and securing a six-stroke win at the 151st Open Championship.
The American, whose nerveless final round of 70s led him to a -13 win score, impressively blocked out the noise on a soggy afternoon in Hoylake. After vowing to sleep five strokes ahead of him for ten hours overnight, the relentless pounding of the rain not only calmed his nerves, but erased them altogether.
Psychology can often play a bigger role than the brilliance of the world’s best with a racquet in hand. Harman has hinted as much, admitting that he feels scared; After showing such impressive potential in high school and college, the claustrophobic nature and pressures of professional golf have dampened his hold on the biggest stage yet.
The bowhunting fanatic, who has publicly revealed how much he enjoys moose hunting in Colorado, skillfully deflected all of his rivals’ counterattacks and blocked them with a reliable short game. The basis of this stunning win was a remarkable 58 of 59 putts holed from 10 feet or less (98.3 percent) over the four days. The putting experts in this sport naturally have the rare combination of skill and mental resilience.
“I always believed I could do something like this,” Harman said. “When it takes that long it’s just hard not to blow my mind like maybe I’m not going to win again. I am 36 years old. The game is getting younger. All these young people are coming, doing their best, and they’re all ready to win. When is my turn again?
“It was difficult to deal with. I think someone mentioned that I’ve had more top 10 finishes than anyone since 2017, so there’s a lot that happens when you finish and you’re like, “Damn, man, I had that;” it just didn’t happen, for whatever reason.
“I had a lot of success as a junior golfer. I won the US junior, and then as an amateur I was for a time the highest ranked amateur in the world and the youngest American selected for the Walker Cup. I was successful. As if I had the family tree. Then when I got into college, it stuttered a bit. I just couldn’t keep up with the development.”
The Hoylake flood certainly dampened the fire from Harman’s challengers who saw Jon Rahm, Tom Kim, Sepp Straka and Jason Day a four-way tie for second place at -7. And it was Rahm who came out on top after a hot round of 63 and was most likely to test the Georgian’s nerves to seal the deal for a first major championship.
There was even a glimmer of hope for the pursuers. But the 36-year-old answered every time. He was forced to slice through dense rough on the green on three shots before landing a nerve-wracking seven-foot throw. Then Harman showed his unwavering composure after a faulty drive sailed into the bushes in fifth place. No drama though, a simple penalty, gulping down medicine after a bogey six and then the disheartened reaction of the field with an instant birdie on the par 3 sixth to cement the inevitable.
Many of the ardent British fans pinned their hopes on the bearded Rahm. The Spaniard had his cap turned forward to prevent raindrops from spattering his ball and rolled a birdie in the fifth set to get within three shots of Harman, but the conditions offered every potential for another round of firecrackers. His fiery nature and frustration eventually fueled an explosive reaction to a bogey on the 14th, ending his bid forcefully.
For the rest, it was quickly becoming one of those days when Harman dashed hope with every smacking step. And the story of that miserable day at Hoylake was in almost every look on Rory McIlroy’s face from the first ball the four-time Major winner hit.
The agony of McIlroy’s drought, which will stretch into a tenth year, has been fought with every shrug and frown. Three consecutive birdies in the front nine, closing within four birdies, made for a more predictable disappointment; too little, too late and forced to settle for a draw in sixth place.
Tommy Fleetwood failed to resuscitate himself after leading Thursday’s tournament. The elegant Englishman lost in 17th like so many before, hit a double bogey and fell cruelly down the rankings in a tie for 10th. Fleetwood, whose friendly manner provided unrelenting cheers throughout the lap even though his challenge fizzled, showed character on the lonely road to 18th. Knowing the elusive Major is still out of reach, he approached a young fan and offered him his ball as a souvenir. “Tommy Lad’s time will surely come.”
The attention of many is now turning to the Ryder Cup in Rome in September. While Harman gave the Americans their third of four major Majors, this championship offered hope for Europe. Austria’s Sepp Straka, a two-year consecutive PGA Tour winner, offers an interesting prospect as a potential debutant for European captain Luke Donald, while Rahm, McIlroy, Fleetwood and Viktor Hovland all finished in the top 13, forming a strong quartet to at least resist an impressive American team.
But even though Harman has risen to No. 10 in the world rankings and is certainly destined to be on Zach Johnson’s team, he wants to savor this moment after waiting 14 years to reach the pinnacle of golf.
“I’m going to kick the can [Ryder Cup] a bit down the road,” Harman added. “I’ll have fun with that. Next thing for me is our FedEx Playoffs, which I’m looking forward to.”