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Harman Blows Away the Field at Royal Liverpool

by | Jul 25, 2023

Brian Harman brought his A+ game to Royal Liverpool this week.  Harman have been viewed, before this week, as a PGA journeyman professional who was very capable at competing with the best in the world but was not among the best in the world.  He hadn’t won on the PGA Tour since 2017 but was playing very well in many recent events.  He started to make more putts and cited  technique changes in his putting and when asked to describe those changes, he treated the question as if he was being asked about some secret sauce.  “I’m not going to answer that one, he stated.”  He led the field in putting and also led the field in fairways hit.  These two statistics are why Harman won the event, which would usually occur in any tournament setting.  The question is why and why this week.

The R&A did a magnificent job in setting up Royal Liverpool for the championship.  It seems that a player of Harman’s caliber, who isn’t among the longer drivers on the PGA Tour,  is capable of winning the championship.  The event requires careful focus and strategy.  The long hitters, of which Harman is not, have to contend with the placement of fairway bunkers that will penalize the player by at least 1/2 shot if not more.  Fairway accuracy is critical as the rough produces some very unpredictable outcomes.  The fescue can yield a wicked flyer or a shot that cannot attack the pin and the greenside bunkers have to be avoided completely.  The lie in the fescue could yield a flyer or if wet, make it almost impossible to get the ball to the green. Harman didn’t see many of those bunkers in those four days while his pursuers had enough excursions to present him with a  5 shot lead going into the Final Round.

Tiger Woods throttled his game back to win at Royal Liverpool in 2006 on a course that was dry and fiery.  Woods only used his driver twice in the entire tournament using an assortment of shots to take advantage of a course that was running hot in the July sun.  Like Harman, Woods produced shots that didn’t give the competitors any openings to close the gap.  Woods victory and Harman’s are a bit different inasmuch as the course and the weather were very different as Wood was being conservative in his approach, Harman had to be aggressive facing a bastion of competitors who could outdrive him considerably.

This particular Open Championship had a little bit of everything from the weather with some wind in the second round, reasonably benign conditions in the third round and miserable rainy, windy conditions in the final round.  The Open is unique to the rest of the majors in this respect that the competitors usually face a myriad number of weather issues that produce good breaks, bad breaks and all the rest.  Changing weather conditions puts a lot of pressure on the top of the leaderboard when conditions change to unknown potential situations.  Concentration, tempo, focus, strategy all come into play.  I was impressed by Harman’s waggling, which I’m sure annoyed many in the gallery.  We watched the likes of Sergio Garcia waggle to a fault in prior significant tournaments and the question whether this might happen again.  It seemed in Garcia’s case that his waggling represented indecision and a lack of confidence in what he was doing and he was soundly criticized for it.  In Harman’s case, the waggling seemed exactly the opposite to Garcia representing confidence in the shot, approach and strategy to execute the shot.  For Harman, waggling improved the odds of execution and he waggled at least 8-12 times on his shots (except the putter).  The waggling seemed to reinforce what he was doing with the shot and I found it interesting that the TV commentators did not mention the move at all.

In the final round, Harman got off to a shaky start and bogeyed a few holes and at one point, his lead had shrunk to three shots.  His response was to stay focused and not let the bogeys effect his concentration.  His response was a birdie on 14 with a masterful long putt seemed to seal the deal.  Unlike Jean Van de Velde who held a five shot lead at the Open Championship at Carnoustie, no creepy thoughts or bad judgments ran into Harman’s mind as he stepped to the 18th tee.  He didn’t wimp out, he grabbed the driver, which he had mastered all week, and drove the ball into the fairway on the 72nd hole.  He would miss his approach shot into the greenside bunker and only had to get the ball out of that bunker and two or three putt to coast to victory.  Instead he nailed the putt to finish with a well earned par to grab that Claret Jug.

Make no mistake, the big guns were after Harman.  McIlroy played solid golf for four days waiting for the opportunity to take any advantage of Harman coming back to the field.  Jon Rahm roared back from almost missing the cut to shoot a record Open score of 63 in the third round to contend.  Straka, Kim, Jason Day, and Cameron Young were in pursuit but Harman kept putting the ball in the fairway and never gave the field any hope.  For Young, it was the second straight year of being in the final group and once again came up short, but the gods of golf are smiling at his game.  He is going to break through.  For McIlroy, its another top finish in a major championship  but he is not sinking enough putts in these majors to dominate and intimidate the field.  He is the best driver in the game today as he took on all of those fairway bunkers and waved to them as his ball sailed over them or around them.  Hometown favorite Tommy Fleetwood was in contention all week but he just hit too many errant shots to get it done.  A six on the par 3, 17th on Sunday was the nail in the coffin as Fleetwood finished 10th.  Fleetwood has been a stellar performer in the majors for quite a while and you have to wonder if the gods of golf are going to sentence him to the curse of Colin Montgomerie as one Europe’s best players to have never won a major.  Harman’s performance with the putter and the driver dominated the field and this is what McIlroy has to complete if he is to fulfill the promise of his significant skills.  Will he be able to achieve the dominance that Tiger Woods achieved during his run?

Royal Liverpool showed nicely as a tournament venue, which I had believed is a poor cousin to its neighbors, Royal Birkdale and Royal Lytham & St. Annes, just up the road.  The new 17th hole is a gem with its subtle Rodan like qualities although Rodan holes are usually longer (at least 170 yards) but the 17th is only 132 yards.  It might be viewed as a new cousin to  Royal Troon’s Postage Stamp No. 8 hole.  No. 17 yielded a bunch of birdies and a hole in one but also a bunch of “others” and bogeys as it fit nicely going into the tough final hole.  The 18th played as one of the toughest challenges on the course demanding three excellent shots to make a par.  This hole is not quite as daunting as the 18th at Carnoustie as you cannot miss either of these holes to the right.  There were a few references to the horror of Van de Velde as Harman started his waggle on the 18th hole driver in hand.  Unlike Carnoustie, Harman waggled a few extra times and then tattoed his drive right down the middle of the fairway.  The engraver of the Claret Jug could finish his work without delay.








1 Comment

  1. Tim Doron

    Joe very well written – good stuff. Jack bought one of your books and I intend to also. Keep it up. Hi to Jeet
    Tim Doron
    Whistling Straits partner


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