Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer July 23, 2023, 1:20 PM ET
CloseSenior college football writer Author of seven books on college football Graduate of the University of Georgia
HOYLAKE, England — After American Brian Harman hit his opening tee shot in the finals of the 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club on Sunday, someone in the stands shouted, “Hit in the bunker!”
When Harman, who came into the round with a 5-shot advantage, pushed his approach right on the second green, there were cheers from the gallery.
After Harman took a 5-stroke lead at 5-under 67 in the second innings on Friday, it looked like the whole of Great Britain wanted someone to win but him. He had turned an English Super Bowl into a first-half loss and never let go of his lead.
Harman, the world number 26, finished a shock run at rain-soaked Royal Liverpool by going 1-under 70 in Sunday’s final to win the Claret Jug by a total of 72 holes 271, six strokes better than South Korea’s Tom Kim, Austria’s Sepp Straka, Australia’s Jason Day and Spain’s Jon Rahm.
Harman, 36, is the first-time major champion since Spaniard Sergio Garcia, 37, won the Masters in 2017. He collected $3 million for Sunday’s victory.
Harman, a 125-to-1 underdog to win The Open, is not the favorite in Las Vegas or outside the ropes at Royal Liverpool. He probably wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
On Saturday, while playing with Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, Harman said he heard some “unrepeatable” things.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t hear some not-so-nice things today against me,” Harman said. “I hear about it, but at the same time, I don’t try to let it influence the decisions I will make.”
On Sunday, fans cheered loudly for Fleetwood, who grew up 30 miles away in Southport, England. They are trying to rally Rory McIlroy, who won the last Open Championship at Royal Liverpool in 2014 and is seeking to end a nine-year drought without a major title.
They cheered for American Cameron Young, the long hitter who started the final round closest to Harman by 5 shots back. They pulled Rahm, Straka, Day and Kim, who played with a badly sprained ankle, and anyone else who seemed capable of turning a three day blast into a thrilling ending.
They just don’t pull Harman, atleast till its too late to cheer others up. The moment came at the par-4 14th when Harman made a 40-foot putt for a birdie. He made an 8-footer for birdie in the par-5 15th to move to 13 under.
I think it’s great for Harman, said PGA Tour player Harris English, one of his University of Georgia teammates. “It kind of lit a fire in him. He knows he’s not the favourite. I think it gives him satisfaction to show everyone he is one of the best players in the world.”
There’s little doubt about that now that Harman joins Bob Charles (1963) and Phil Mickelson (2013) as the only left-handers to win the Claret Jug. This was his third PGA Tour win and first since he captured the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship, which came six years and 77 days ago. This was the fourth longest winless drought in PGA Tour history ending with a player’s first major championship win, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information research.
With this victory, Harman is expected to move up to 3 points in the Ryder Cup. The top six players in the standings after the BMW Championship on Aug. 20 will become automatic qualifiers for the Americas who play Europe at the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club outside Rome on Sept. 29-October. 1. Harman seems confident about making a team for the first time.
“He’s a mud maker, he’s a grinder,” US team captain Zach Johnson said Sunday. “For lack of a better cliché, he’s a bulldog. I think he’s made for this, you know? I’ve played a lot of golf with him and been around him on and off the ropes for quite a while now. What I’ve been witnessing the last three days, doesn’t surprise me at all. Not surprising. Not surprising.”
As one of the smallest players on the PGA Tour at 5 feet, 7 inches, and 150 pounds, Harman has been overlooked and belittled throughout his professional career. It’s the reason he’s been playing with bunker pot sized chips on his shoulder for so long.
“People underestimate him on the baseball field and on the football field, everywhere,” said Patton Kizzire, one of Harman’s closest friends on tour. “As a golfer you can make up for it. You don’t have to be the biggest. I think he enjoys being the underdog.”
After making just one bogey over the first 36 holes, Harman found the start difficult for the second straight round on Sunday. At the par-4 second, he threw his approach shot through the hole. He was chipping to 20 feet and needed two putts to make a bogey. He hit a 7 1/2 foot putt to save par after missing the green at No.
He found himself in trouble again at the par-5 fifth, after pushing his tee shot to the right. He had to drop and his third shot was far from the green. He missed up and down and made a bogey 6 to drop to 10 under. Suddenly, his lead over Rahm dropped to 3. Fleetwood and Straka were 4 strokes behind.
But then, as Harman did after two early bogeys in the third round, he settled down. He tee shot the par-3 sixth from 13 1/2 feet and sank a birdie. In the par-4 seventh, he shot a 23 ½-footer for another birdie to get back to 12 under. The lead was once again 5 strokes over Rahm and Straka.
After carding five straight pars, Harman bogeyed again in the par-3 13th, when he missed a 7-foot par putt, his first 10-foot error in the entire tournament.