A year ago Brian Harman had to win the British Open in front of a crowd that didn’t want to see him do it, the upshot of going against Englishman Tommy Fleetwood and Euro heartthrob Rory McIlroy, and the harsh reality that his name was not one expected to be among Hoylake’s rollcall of Woods and McIlroy and Hagen and Jones. The 37-year-old Savannah, Georgia, native endured the types of taunts and jeers usually reserved for Ryder Cups, those at Royal Liverpool doing their best over the weekend to intimidate him from his five-shot 36-hole advantage, only to see Harman refuse to yield. “You know, I’d be lying if I didn’t hear some things that weren’t super nice today towards me,” Harman said that weekend, adding later after he captured the claret jug, “If they wanted me to not play well they should have been really nice to me.”

Unwelcoming as that reception was, it was downright hospitable compared to what Harman faced from the British press.

“Oh yeah, I knew exactly what they were trying to do with it,” Harman says now, ahead of his Open defense next week at Royal Troon.

The “they” refers to the British tabloids and the “it” was one of Harman’s passions outside of golf that the media attempted to turn into a controversy, creating a storyline that—in the United Kingdom, at least—almost overshadowed his Open performance.

It started with innocuous exchange Friday afternoon in the media center between Harman and a journalist after Harman authored a second-round 65:

Q. You talked after the Masters how disappointed you were and you went home and you killed a pig and a turkey. I take it the sheep and the cows are safe around here at the moment, are they?

BRIAN HARMAN: Sheep don’t taste as good as the turkeys do I would imagine.

Q: Is that something to get the frustration out of your system?

BRIAN HARMAN: I’ve been a hunter my entire life. I enjoy the strategy of it.Yeah, we eat a lot of wild meat at my house, so I enjoy butchering, and I do a lot of hunting.

Now, the British tabloids are infamous for their aggressive and cut-throat approach to subjects, known at times for sensationalising the truth to move their product. Any doubter only need to look at how Rory McIlroy’s personal life has been treated over the past few months; no person, or topic, is off limits. It’s also worth remembering that (at the time) Harman’s career was too successful to qualify as a journeyman—he had won twice previously on the PGA Tour and earned nearly $30 million during his 11 straight seasons with a tour card—but likewise nowhere near stardom, occupying a realm where he was recognised by fans yet not known, or at least not fully. When a player from this echelon enters the spotlight, the smallest of details of their lives often become defining personality traits.

Amplifying this notion was that Harman’s tour-de-force display at Hoylake sucked most of the drama out of the Open proceedings, the lefty making putt after putt as his competition wilted in the rain and the weight of the tournament. So, because the actual golf lacked conflict, the British tabloids went searching for their friction in a seemingly-unlikely spot: Harman’s affinity for hunting.

Using Harman’s answers as a compass, the British press dived into his social media, pointing to numerous videos and pictures of Harman in action in the fields and forests or posing with animals he caught. Those posts, coupled with Harman’s Friday responses and past stories about hunting, led to a peculiar media onslaught.

The Daily Mail’s headline screamed, “HARMAN: I SHOOT TO THRILL.” The Telegraph’s gamer from Friday night featured four photos of Harman’s hunting escapades and just one from his day at Royal Liverpool, under the title “Brian ‘the butcher’ Harman cuts through the Open field at Hoylake.” The Scotsman followed suit with “Brian Harman butchers Hoylake to equal its 36-hole scoring record in Open,” and the AFP would not be outdone, exclaiming “’Butcher of Hoylake’ stays patient as he hunts British Open crown.


To be fair, hunting for sport is more taboo in Europe than the United States (and even in America, perspective of the pursuit varies wildly among regions and political parties). There was also the misnomer that Harman was using a rifle, and the U.K. has a complicated view of America’s firearm culture.

The upshot meant Harman—during the weekend that served as the pinnacle of his golf career—ended up answering just as many questions about hunting as he did his golf, and the resulting hullabaloo could have easily become a distraction and sidetracked Harman’s pursuit of his first major title.

However, the British tabloids were barking up the wrong tree (or stand, in hunting parlance).

“It’s kind of a hill I’ll die on,” Harman says. “It’s not something that I’m embarrassed about or that I try to hide. It’s a part of who I am and who my family is.”

On Saturday and Sunday, Harman was able to defuse a potential controversy by patiently explaining his hunting interests. Yes, he killed the animals he hunted, but for food, not merely sport. Multiple times he asserted he didn’t use firearms, only a bow and arrow. He had to put down a question about hunting rare animals, saying he wasn’t into that sort of thing. Harman joked about his competency, saying, “You wouldn’t want to be standing in front of me.” He also had to keep the British tabloids in check from running too wild with his hobby. “I would say I love to hunt. We do it, but I couldn’t go hunting every day,” Harman said at Royal Liverpool. “I could play golf every day. To win what I consider is the greatest prize in golf, it’s as good as it gets.”

It’s not hard to see the layers of Harman in his answers. His thoughtfulness and honesty were evident in every word, to say nothing of his command of the subject. He understood the slightest of slip-ups could be the light to the explosives the tabloids were laying at his feet.

The way I was getting more detailed questions than I ever get about it, I started making the connection like, ‘Oh, they’re not asking me ’cause they’re interested, they’re asking me ’cause they want me to get angry about it.’

—Brian Harman

“Back home at the hunting place that I own, we plant food for the animals. We have prescribed fire for the animals,” Harman said. “Everything we do is for the wildlife, and then when we harvest it, we respect it and take care of it and feed our families with it.”

It might have been a Scarlet Letter to them, but to Harman, hunting is something he wears with pride. That conviction—in himself, in what he was doing and what others were trying to exploit—gives a small window into how Harman was able keep controversy at bay en route to victory. Even the tabloids seemed to begrudgingly put their act aside, ultimately genuflecting to Harman’s resounding six-shot win on Sunday night.

Looking back at the hunting questions, Harman now acknowledges the spot the tabloids were attempting to put him in, knowing those questions weren’t done in good faith.

“The way I was getting more detailed questions than I ever get about it, I started making the connection like, ‘Oh, they’re not asking me ’cause they’re interested, they’re asking me ’cause they want me to get angry about it,’” Harman said last month when talking to Golf Digest.


Harman got the last laugh when be closed out his six-shot victory on Sunday at Royal Liverpool. Warren Little

“I would argue that I probably care more about the wildlife than the people that were asking those questions,” Harman continued. “You know, the way we hunt is super sustainable. We know where our meat comes from. We take good care of the animals.”

As for what awaits at Royal Troon, Harman believes he’ll get a more cordial greeting in Scotland, as the claret jug confers a type of respect and royalty that can only be earned. He doesn’t think he’ll hear anymore “Butcher of Hoylake” jabs in his direction, and put the nickname to rest when he returned home last summer.

“My wife threw a ‘Brian the Butcher’ party,” Harman says, laughing. “That was as far as I wanted to take it.”

• • •

Is it the British Open or the Open Championship?The name of the final men’s major of the golf season is a subject of continued discussion. The event’s official name, as explained in this op-ed by former R&A chairman Ian Pattinson, is the Open Championship. But since many United States golf fans continue to refer to it as the British Open, and search news around the event accordingly, Golf Digest continues to utilise both names in its coverage.