By Saturday night and on Sunday morning much attention was focused on Brian Harman, hardly a surprise given his hitherto low profile and his play so far. That his favourite recreation is hunting has caused something of a brouhaha among golf pundits and fans. Hunting animals with weapons may seem disreputable these days, but if done in a conservative fashion it’s perfectly fine. Your diarist enjoys the occasional hunt in Japan. Take it from me, there’s nothing more refreshing than stabbing a boar to death before breakfast. Builds character and fosters leadership.

So, Harman the outdoorsman – like US Open champion Wyndham Clark, a dedicated fly fisherman – faced two foes: the rest of the field, and himself. A native Georgian, I suspect he’s Scotch-Irish, as the Americans call the people who inhabit the Appalachian Mountains, originally emigrants from Scotland and Northern Ireland. One thing distinguishes these people – they enjoy fighting. It was the Scotch-Irish who settled Texas and the West, subduing first the Mexican army and then the native American tribes. It’s said if they heard gunfire they’d run towards it. Other Scotch-Irish golf champions over the years include Snead, Hogan, Watson, and Dustin Johnson. If you care to learn more, find a book called Born Fighting by James Webb.

On the final day of an Open everyone’s thoughts turn to the main issue: who will win? Who will be Champion Golfer of the Year by tonight? Beyond the scores, beyond the bewildering shots played, what are we looking for in a winner? The champion who combines physical, sporting perfection with palpable virtue; that’s my view. Yet virtue comes in many forms, often tailored to the views and values of the individual onlooker. Some admire bullish courage. Others admire quiet humility in victory. Still others save their praise for victory combined with a regal attitude: I won, I’m the king. I rule.

The Open is magnificent, much better than Wimbledon with its stadiums and celebrities in the crowd. A Cheshire-Liverpool gallery is definitely boisterous, but also somehow decorous. In the pubs in Liverpool last night people were glued to the TV screens watching The Open, sipping a lager and wildly cheering the good shots. This is not a city possessed of delicate manners. Its authenticity is obvious, very much in-your-face.

Another thing was obvious at Hoylake – the scale of The Open has hit its limits. Looking out over the course you see the crests of the dunes filled with spectators, along with the huge galleries each side of the fairways. The question is, can The Open handle a larger audience? The answer is no. If a player from India or China wins, how will the R&A manage the exponential increase in attention, fans and the allocation of tickets? It’d be a sad day if the average golfer in Britain couldn’t afford or couldn’t get a ticket to watch. British galleries, along with an internationally diverse field of players, is the magical combination that makes this event so special. Let’s hope The Open doesn’t fall prey to its own success. As Titus Livius said of his own empire: “Rome has grown since its humble beginnings that it is now overwhelmed by its own greatness.”

Clearly, the best players on God’s earth still regard The Open as the pinnacle of golf. This conviction itself is a treasured asset, and any tendency towards over-commercialisation must be resisted. Money is a powerful yet dangerous drug, and – to use a hackneyed phrase – “growing the game” is not simply a financial equation. People play golf because it’s good for them and hence good for their families and their communities. We’ve just witnessed the self-destruction of the PGA Tour at the hands of a bunch of crass, unpleasant corporate lawyers, bankers and duplicitous business types. Ernie Els summed it up this week for all concerned, his words dripping with contempt. These ghastly people make Juan Antonio Samaranch look like a saint, a stark and sickening contrast to the beauty and sincerity of the players fighting it out over Hoylake’s links.

As the rain soaked the course, the galleries and the players, Rory McIlroy threw off the cloak of frustration to record three straight birdies from the third onwards and was out in 32, clearly determined to wrest the trophy from the leader. Across the links a stillness settled as the wind died off, the tranquil air often punctured by a distant roar as one or other of the gladiators pitched close or sunk a long putt. Then at the 10th McIlroy stumbled, forgetting Sun Tzu’s advice: “He who wishes to fight must first count the cost.”

As the day wore on, the rain almost constant, Harman played remarkably steady golf. He didn’t look the least concerned, doubtless because his pursuers were all mired in frustration at six or seven-under. Jon Rahm looked like a charging bull bewildered by an invisible matador. McIlroy clearly ought to hurl his putter into the Irish Sea when the championship is over. Some players such as Sepp Straka and Tom Kim found excellent form out there in the mist and the rain, not quite hard on Harman’s heels but lurking dangerously in case of a meltdown. Yet Harman, as if putting an arrow into the chest of a stag, made birdies at the 14th and 15th. He could’ve quoted Hogan at Carnoustie in 1953: “This tournament’s over.”

Australia should rejoice that Jason Day, though we see him seldom, has clearly rediscovered his form. He was relentless in pursuit all day despite two heart-sapping bogeys going out. Please God, deliver him another major tournament victory one day.

The Champion Golfer of the Year in 2023 produced a performance not as miraculous as Cam Smith’s last year but equally strong in the circumstances of today. His peers will applaud him with genuine admiration. Once again, a man from Georgia won at Hoylake.

In praise of Harman’s stoutness of heart today, perhaps Kipling said it best:

“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew,

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you,

Except the will which says to them, ‘Hold on!’”

• • •

More from Andrew Thomson at Hoylake:

Diary from day three

Diary from day two

Diary from day one

Diary from final practice