SOUTHPORT, England – Considering the capricious British weather, you are moved to conclude that even par after the first round of play might not cause one to wax negatively about gaining possession of the Claret Jug Sunday. However, being five shots back of the leader means one would be in need of some red numbers moving forward.
Brian Harman, the Savannah native, who maintains residency in St. Simons Island, firstly, has his eye making the cut. That would enable him to pick up a nice check on the weekend and further his knowledge of British courses and links conditions. Even par in major championships is not to be taken lightly, but he is aware there is ground to be made up. His position on the leaderboard is certainly not anything to cause despondency. This is a major, and in this major, the weather can be an ally depending on the draw.
In the meantime Harman is enjoying himself just being here. He is making a tidy living on the PGA Tour which has been an ambition since he was a kid. He is doing more than merely surviving—he has won two PGA Tour events and has opportunities to play all over the world. Like in the fall, there are tournaments in Asia which has a downside in that playing golf in autumn makes it difficult for him to spend time in Athens. He is a devout Bulldog and is always asking about his favorite team. “We are going to be good this year, aren’t we?” he said to a Georgia friend after his even-par 70 first round at Birkdale Thursday.
With his recent success on the PGA Tour — winning the Wells Fargo championship earlier in the year—and holding the 54 hole lead at the U. S. Open at Erin Hills, Harman is often referred to as a cocky player. He is, after all, 5-7 and 150 pounds, which means that he is not ready to climb into a sumo wrestling ring. Then again, with his fire and his verve, you are aware he would not back away if someone challenged him to give it a go.
Today’s athletes are bigger than ever and that includes golf which showcases men like Dustin Johnson, 6-4, 190; Bubba Watson, 6-3, 175; Phil Mickelson, 6-3, 200 and Brooks Koepka, 6-0, 185. (Koepka is the man who beat him in the U. S. Open with a sizzling final round of 67.)
Harman’s good friend and St. Simons Island neighbor, Zack Johnson (5-11, 164), a two time major champion including a win at the Open, has inspired Harman and constantly offers encouragement to the passionate Georgia Bulldog with the bulldog spirit.
What’s the big deal anyway? A man can’t make himself any taller. Harman has spent his life, challenging those who have told him he couldn’t do certain things because he was too small. He has always gone about proving them wrong, believing that he can compete on the PGA Tour with the best though he does not have John Daly’s distance off the tee. After all, Ben Hogan was only an inch taller at 5-8 and weighed 148 pounds.
Brian admits to tiring of the question about his height, but grins his way through interviews like grinding out pars and birdies on the golf course—it is part of the game. For sure, he looks like a big man when he climbs into his pickup, a Yukon Sierra Denali with oversized tires.
Playing in the Open, for the third time, resonates emotionally even though he makes it hard on himself by competing in the John Deere Classic which falls the week prior. He arrives in the United Kingdom jet lagged and short on preparation time. “Doesn’t matter, my first
tour win was John Deere, and I will always be loyal to those people,” he said before heading to the practice tee.
When there is down time, you can find him with a shotgun, specializing in hunting deer and duck, fishing (trout, redfish and flounder) and playing with his one year old daughter Cooper Marie. When he comes in from fishing the intercostal waters off St. Simons, bringing home a nice mess of fish, there is more. He has a seasoned touch in the kitchen. He can grill a tasty flounder, flavoring it with white wine, apricot reduction sauce, a family recipe.
With the dismal weather forecast for the 2nd round, he is not flummoxed in the least. You play here you must resign yourself to the fickleness of the weather. The conditions are demanding. But he likes it. You come here to enjoy links golf which means the sun may greet you on the first tee to be followed by wind and rain the next.
With a 7:30 a.m. tee time Friday, he could finish the second round before the elements—heavy winds and rain are forecast for the afternoon—rearrange the leaderboard at Birkdale.