Even Brian Harman himself may not have dared imagine he would win The 151st Open by such an emphatic margin.
Harman produced a performance for the ages at Royal Liverpool, storming into a five-shot lead through 36 holes before demonstrating admirable focus to retain his dominant position and finish six shots clear of his nearest rivals.
Only Tiger Woods and Louis Oosthuizen have won The Open by more strokes since 1913.
However, while the manner of Harman’s victory perhaps came as a surprise to many, nobody should be shocked that the left-hander was able to triumph in golf’s original Championship.
Hindsight is always 20/20 vision, but there were several signs that Harman was primed to deliver at Hoylake.
Embracing the challenge of links golf is a must for any would-be Champion Golfer.
After an impressive T26 finish on his Open debut at Hoylake in 2014, Harman suffered frustration as he missed the cut in his next four appearances at the Championship.
However, in 2021 and 2022 he provided hints of what he was capable of.
He sat second after round one of The 149th Open at Royal St George’s, having begun with a five-under 65.
Although he slipped out of contention on that occasion, Harman went on to produce a more sustained run of form at St Andrews the following year, after a disappointing opening 73 with scores of 68, 68 and 66 to finish tied-sixth. Only eventual Champion Cameron Smith recorded a better score over the final 54 holes.
“I love the golf over here,” said Harman. “I was really excited [whenever I came over]… and I couldn't figure out why I wasn't playing well.
“I missed those four cuts, I think I missed all of them by one. I played some okay golf, so it wasn't like I was over here hacking it to pieces, I just couldn't quite get comfortable, and I felt like maybe I rushed through it too much.
Then the last couple years I had some good finishes and just kind of felt like, all right, now at least I feel like I love the golf and I'm playing decently over here. I was excited to come back here this year.”
Harman’s improving results at The Open follow a similar trend to his position in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), which has been moving in the right direction for the past four years.
A disappointing 2019 saw Harman end the year at 123rd in the rankings. However, he was 91st by the end of 2020, 61st by the final week of 2021 and 24th when 2022 drew to a close.
Harman’s consistent form yielded eight top-10 finishes last year, including back-to-back runner-up placings in the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba and The RSM Classic.
He had also displayed plenty of strong form in the weeks leading up to The 151st Open, finishing second again at the Travelers Championship, tied-ninth in the Rocket Mortgage Classic and tied-12th at the Genesis Scottish Open in his three most recent starts prior to arriving at Hoylake.
Victory at Royal Liverpool saw him climb to a new career-high position of 10th in the OWGR. He then moved up another spot this week, swapping places with Matt Fitzpatrick.
Harman may not have contended frequently in majors prior to The 151st Open, but one experience surely came in very useful as he dealt with the pressure of holding the lead throughout the weekend.
The Georgia native held a one-shot lead through 54 holes in the 2017 US Open at Erin Hills and went on to give a good account of himself on Championship Sunday, closing with a level-par 72.
It was not enough to secure a maiden major victory as Brooks Koepka finished with a superb 67 to claim the title, but Harman could take considerable confidence from sharing second and producing a solid performance under huge pressure in the final round.
Crucially, he was also able to lean on the experience when he hit the front at Hoylake.
“I think when I held the 54-hole lead at the US Open, I probably just thought about it too much,” said Harman after his second-round 65 on Friday.
“I just didn’t focus on getting sleep and eating right, so that would be my focus this weekend.”
After securing the Claret Jug in style, Harman confirmed paying attention to sleep had paid off.
“It was a tough last three days, it really was,” he explained. “Being able to get some sleep was big last night.”