There were so many at Royal Liverpool hoping Brian Harman would crumble. He had shot the best round of the Open Championship on Friday, beating the day’s scoring average by a whopping eight-and-a-half shots, and then was thrust into a Saturday pairing with Tommy Fleetwood, north-west England’s favourite son, who grew up 30 minutes up the road.
Harman would only say that he heard some comments from the gallery that were “unrepeatable”. Sunday wasn’t much better for Harman either and his repeated waggles annoyed those watching both in person and on television.
Ultimately, none of that phased the 36-year-old who had only won twice on the PGA Tour and had only collected two top-10 finishes in majors. Neither did the proper Open weather, which on Sunday produced drenching rain the entire round.
There were minor hiccups over the 72 holes for Harman, but never a major speedbump or roadblock. He shot 67-65-69-70 for a 13-under par 271 total to win the claret jug by six shots and become the Champion Golfer of the Year.
“I really didn’t truly think about winning the tournament until I hit my last bunker shot there,” Harman said. “I’m really proud of that.”
“Just overwhelming joy,” he said. “Not relief, because you want to enjoy this, but sleeping on a five-shot lead is tough. It’s really, really tough.”
This week was all about Harman. Or, at least, it was from Friday onwards. No one else produced much of a threat over the last 36 holes. Not that Harman allowed for it.
The 26th-ranked player in the world, began the final round with a five-shot lead over playing partner Cameron Young. It was an understandably nervy start for the man who had not been in this position in his long tour career. He bogeyed the second and fifth holes, the later reducing the lead to only three shots over Masters champion Jon Rahm. But just as Harman had done for most of the week, he rebounded, this time with consecutive birdies on the sixth and seventh holes to move back ahead comfortable for the remainder of the day.
There was another bogey at 13, but again he bounced back with birdies on 14 and 15 to enjoy the rainy walk over the last three holes. The birdie on 14, in particular, was the dagger to the rest of the field still holding onto hope, as Harman drained one from 40 feet.
“They can’t take it from me,” he said. “I’m over the moon. I’ve worked really hard my whole life and I’m going to enjoy this one.”
Sepp Straka (69), Tom Kim (67), Jason Day (69) and Rahm (70) all tied for second place. Rahm made the biggest jump on Saturday with an eight-under 63 but didn’t have enough firepower on Sunday. He ends the year with the Masters victory, a 50th-place tie at the PGA Championship, a tie for 10th at the US Open and a share for second place at Royal Liverpool.
“He won by six,” Rahm said of Harman’s impressive performance. “It’s not like he won by two or three. He won by six, so there’s nothing really any of us could have done.”
Rory McIlroy came in as the favourite, having won both last week at the Scottish Open and nine years ago when the 2014 Open was at Royal Liverpool. The world No.2 played well enough over the weekend but it was a mediocre 71-70 start that kept him from contention. He ended at six-under and tied for sixth place. His major drought, however, will continue at least for another nine months, when the Masters rolls around next April. When McIlroy looks back on this major season, the second-place finish at the US Open by a shot to Wyndham Clark will be the one that stings the most.
“Over the past two years, would I have loved to have picked one of those off that I finished up there? Absolutely,” McIlroy said. “But every time I tee it up, or most times I tee it up, I’m right there. I can’t sit here and be too frustrated.”
Walking up the 18th hole, those who had jeered Harman during the week were left with only cheers. He made only six bogeys during four days, drove it on a rope and putted better than everyone. It was a week that every professional golfer hopes to have – one where you’re in control of all facets of your game during a four-day span on the game’s biggest stage where everything seems as easy as ever.
And for that, the gallery could only appreciate the performance. After all, Brian Harman is the Champion Golfer of the Year.