HOYLAKE, England – Brian Harman skipped football practice one day when he was 11 years old. His mother, Nancy, drove him from their home in Savannah, Georgia, to Sea Island, Georgia, where he took an hour-long lesson from Jack Lumpkin, a fixture on every list of top golf instructors. Growing up on a golf course, Harman had picked up the game on his own and showed raw potential, but he wanted to find out what one of the best teachers thought of his ability.
“He didn’t tell me to get lost,” Harman recalled. “He told me I was doing well and come back in a few months and he’d check me again. For me, that was like a rite of passage.”
Harman passed his biggest test on Sunday, enduring a typical English summer day of a steady rain and a rocky start to shoot 1-under 70 at Royal Liverpool and win the 151st British Open by six strokes over Tom Kim (67), Sepp Straka (69), Jason Day (69) and Jon Rahm (70).
At 5-feet-7, Harman is one of the shorter players on Tour, but it hasn’t stopped him from beating competitors that are bigger and stronger. All his life he’s been told he’s too small, but Harman’s never paid attention. Instead, it served as motivation to prove them wrong. Asked once how long he’s played with a chip on his shoulder, Harman, said, “I think since my dad dropped me off at football practice and told me to not be disappointed if I didn’t get to play at all. I played a lot.”
Gifted with an all-around game and a silky-smooth putting stroke, he’ll never be confused for one of the game’s long knockers, but his hard work and bulldog mentality helped him win two previous PGA Tour titles heading into this week. He proudly noted that this will be the 12th straight year that he’s qualified for the FedEx Cup Playoffs, something only eight other players can stake claim to and only five of them are on track to do so this season.
But Harman has been the leader of a dubious distinction: he has been a top-10 machine but hasn’t won since the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship, recording 29 top-10s since the start of the 2017-18 PGA Tour season, the most of any player without a win in that span. Asked on Friday after he built a five-stroke lead with a bogey-free 65 to explain why he hasn’t won more often, Harmon said he wish he knew.
Relentless from Brian Harman.
A 40 foot masterstroke from the long-time leader.
He is now on the verge. pic.twitter.com/NXEOg0kk0X
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 23, 2023
“I think about it a lot, obviously,” he said. “I’ve been right there, and it just hasn’t happened. I don’t know. I don’t know why it hasn’t happened, but I’m not going to quit.”
Harman tacked on a third-round 69, his first 54-hole lead at a major since the 2017 U.S. Open, where he faltered on the final day. Harman learned from that experience, where he felt like the day moved too quickly. It took several years but Harman, who played his first British Open at Royal Liverpool in 2014 and then missed the cut four consecutive times, figured out how his game could translate to the linksland.
On Sunday, with the sky a milky gray that made it difficult to see the Dee Estuary by the 11th holes let alone the north of Wales in the distance, Harman made an early bogey at the second and another at the fifth after he drove into a gorse bush. After Masters champ Jon Rahm made birdie at five ahead of him, Harman’s lead was trimmed to three. But then settled his nerves with back-to-back birdies at Nos. 6 and 7. His putter was his sword and his savior as he led the field in putting for the week. On one of the few occasions when he missed at No. 13 and made bogey, he buried a 37-foot birdie putt one hole later and an 8-foot birdie at 15 for good measure as his lead stretched back to five shots. He signed for a 72-hole total of 13-under 267.
“He’s a gritty player,” NBC’s Paul Azinger said. “The kind of guy if you handed him a pocket-knife and a book of matches and sent him off into the jungle, you’d find him a month later doing just fine.”
Harman, who hunts for elk and deer in his spare time, detailed how after missing the cut at the Masters in April he blew off steam over the weekend by hunting for turkeys and pigs. Harman’s prowess with a bow and arrow drew the following question from a reporter on Friday: I take it the sheep and the cows are safe around here at the moment, are they?
“Sheep don’t taste as good as the turkeys do, I would imagine,” he said.
Harman was tabbed the “Butcher of Hoylake,” by one British tabloid, a nickname, which he said he approved.
“That made me chuckle,” he said. “Someone texted me that yesterday. That’s funny.”
The hunter became the hunted, but nobody could get him in their crosshairs. He simply carved up the field and Royal Liverpool with his combination of accuracy off the tee and a red-hot putter.
“If everything else is good, then it can be pretty lethal,” Zach Johnson said.
Harman began working with instructor Justin Parsons in recent years but always kept Lumpkin, who died last year at 86, involved as a member of his team.
“Brian can’t replace Jack as a friend or mentor,” said Davis Love III, who won a major under Lumpkin’s watchful eye. “But Justin has really made a difference for him, an overall golf coach not just a swing coach.”
That initial lesson all those years ago with Harman was equally as meaningful for Lumpkin, who knew talent when he’d seen it and from Harman’s very first swing knew he’d seen something special.
“He had a look in his eyes that he wanted to be a great player,” Lumpkin told Golfweek a few years ago. “After that first lesson, I couldn’t wait to see him again. His mom used to bring him down twice a year in the early days and I used to wait to see his name in my lesson book because I just knew how good he was going to be.”