Golf is the ultimate mental game and even more so when the elements rear their head. Brian Harman mastered it all on the way to becoming the Champion Golfer of The Year for 2023.
The left-hander from Savannah, Georgia, hit the front at Royal Liverpool on Friday morning and just never let anyone else back in on the way to lifting the Claret Jug with a six-stroke victory.
A 65 in the second round put Harman into a five-shot lead at halfway, while equalling the Royal Liverpool record at an Open.
From there, he had to deal with early bogeys on Saturday and Sunday, major champions making their move, deteriorating weather, and above all, time.
The 36-year-old openly admitted this week that he has an active mind and struggles when he is given too much time to think about the magnitude of what is at stake.
Consider that six years ago, he led the US Open going into the final round, only to finish four shots back from winner Brooks Koepka.
Not only that, 2017 was also the last time he tasted victory, winning the Wells Fargo Championship. Harman was among the most consistent players on tour, with almost no flaws to his game. But silverware just kept eluding him.
So even after a perfect Friday, when the putter worked like a dream and everything within 30 feet seemed to drop, the idea that he would see it through without a wobble seemed fanciful.
He did wobble but only a little, and most importantly, rediscovered his rhythm at the opportune moment each time.
When two-time major winner Jon Rahm lowered the Royal Liverpool record to 63 on Saturday, Harman was just stepping onto the 1st tee.
Two bogeys in four holes later and his lead was just two strokes. That was the first big test, and he came through it in style with a birdie on 5, adding three more in a 69 that pushed that advantage back to five.
A tough Sunday start
On Championship Sunday, it was a similar story. A bogey on the 2nd was followed by another on 5, the easiest hole on the course this week.
Now it was not just Rahm, but Rory McIlroy, Champion Golfer on this very course in 2014, who was making a move with three straight birdies.
What's more, where Rahm had somehow found an opening in a huge cluster of gorse bushes on the 5th, Harman’s luck had apparently turned when he put the ball in the bush on the same hole without the fortunate lie – yet another mental test.
Instead, the Claret Jug was effectively secured over the next two holes. A fine approach on 6 gave him a 15-footer for birdie. The relief was palpable when that dropped, and when he sunk another from 25 feet on the 7th, it was clear that there was no crumble in sight.
When Harman bogeyed 13, an uncharacteristic, simple miss, there was just enough time for the nerves to kick back in. Once again, the response was immediate – a birdie from 40 feet on 14 putting to bed any fears of a sting in the tail. He backed that up with another birdie to push his lead back to five.
Kim leads charge
That lead ended at six and that ability to bounce back from adversity appeared to play on the chasing pack. Birdie opportunities slipped by and the lead just would not close.
Those who were playing good enough golf to put pressure on Harman were too far back. Tom Kim, somehow hobbling around despite suffering a grade one tear in his ankle after a slip on Thursday night, was the pick of them.
The South Korean birdied 4 and then eagled 5, adding three more birdies for a brilliant 67 to finish seven-under and tied for second. But starting the day three-under, before bogeys on 1 and 2, effectively put him out of contention without a Harman collapse.
Sepp Straka was another to bogey the 1st, responding well for a 69 to join Kim in second, pushing his Ryder Cup cause despite a bogey on the last.
The 2015 PGA champion Jason Day, a former world number one, was the third member of the quartet in T2, struggling to deal with the damp greens as birdie chances turned into pars, with the exception of a magnificent chip-in on 9.
Rahm got as close as anyone and will look back with regret on a 30-footer on 6 that just missed as the chance to cut the lead to two slipped away. More than that, the four putts inside four feet that were missed on the first two days will really sting. He birdied the last at least, to secure his best finish at The Open.
McIlroy’s three straight birdies from 3 to 5 had the crowd at fever pitch, but as ever this week, he was never able to build on that momentum. He finished with a 68 for six-under-par, the same score as Emiliano Grillo, whose performance was a fitting tribute to the late Roberto De Vicenzo, a fellow Argentinian and a winner here in 1967.
The English challenge for a first Champion Golfer in 31 years never quite materialised. Royal Liverpool member Matthew Jordan finished with a birdie to secure a magical top-10 finish, ending level with the other local hero, Tommy Fleetwood, whose wait for a major continues.