Rooting against Brian Harman at the Open? Here’s 1 reason to reconsider
HOYLAKE, England — Look, I get it. You’re not rooting for Brian Harman.
You’re not alone there. Let’s be honest: you’re in the heavy majority.
The membership is with you. Not outwardly! Lord no. They’re far too classy a club for any rooting of that sort. But since 2014, when Royal Liverpool last hosted the Open Championship, the entire golfing population of the Wirral Peninsula have waited with bated breath to see who was next. Tiger Woods won here in 2006. Rory McIlroy won in 2014. The club had proven itself the domain of golfing kings, its 18 holes serving to identify the very best of the golf world. Which generational great would have his name etched beneath McIlroy’s? It’s unlikely Brian Harman came up in too many championship subcommittee meetings. So, yeah. The membership may not root against Harman but I imagine they’ll spend Sunday rooting for everyone else.
The fans are with you, too. On Saturday Harman played alongside Tommy Fleetwood, who grew up just 20 miles north of here and has a beloved caddie, Ian Finnis, who grew up even closer. You can imagine how that went. Mostly it was just a pro-Fleetwood crowd but occasionally it was an anti-Harman crowd; he reluctantly admitted that he’d heard a few comments that “weren’t super nice” and in fact were so not-super-nice that he called them “unrepeatable.” Fans came to see a show, too, not a blowout, which meant any misstep he made was greeted gleefully. So, yeah. They made it clear where their allegiances lay.
The English tabloids are with you, too. They’ve seized on Harman’s penchant for hunting, with multiple outlets including the Sun referring to him as “Brian the Butcher” or “The Butcher of Hoylake.” Harman admitted that one of his buddies texted him a photo of the headline. “That made me chuckle,” he said. And while he went out of his way to explain on Saturday that he’s thoughtful in his hunting pursuits (“we respect it and take care of it and feed our families with it”) thoughtful isn’t always likely to make it into their pages. So, yeah. The tabloids will do their part in disrupting Harman’s final-round coronation.
Heck, most of the media are probably with you, too. Media members tend to root for stories of interest or moments of historical significance, which would include the debut win for local legend Fleetwood or the deserving capstone for clear World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler or the end of the drought for Rory McIlroy or the next linksy triumph for Jordan Spieth or a repeat performance for Cameron Smith or another for Brooks Koepka or any result that adds a meaningful chapter to the golfing record. Harman cites the chief accomplishment of his pro career as making the FedEx Cup Playoffs a dozen years in a row; that sort of consistency is praiseworthy and enviable but it’s hardly the stuff of ballads. So, yeah. You’re in good company.
But the reality is that Brian Harman is leading the Open by five strokes and the way he’s playing, that might soon seem like 50. What does that mean? It means it’s time to embrace our next Open champ. And so I’m here to deliver one reason you should be excited for him to do exactly that.
The reason you should root for Brian Harman to win the Open Championship is that Brian Harman doesn’t care if you root for him or not.
In an era of brand-building and image curation, Brian Harman has amassed just 16,000 Instagram followers in those dozen years on Tour. He hasn’t tweeted since 2020. And while I’m a huge fan of the hashtag “#farminwithharman” he’s only dialed it up twice which means he’s not exactly focused on going viral there, either.
Instead what Harman has is something like a pure appreciation for competitive golf. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t care; it might mean the opposite. He said he’d be foolish not to envision, at some point Saturday night, the image of himself holding the Claret Jug come Sunday evening, and that’s because the 36-year-old’s first major would mean the payoff of at least three decades of dreaming.
“I’ve thought about winning majors for my whole entire life,” he said. “It’s the whole reason I work as hard as I do and why I practice as much as I do and why I sacrifice as much as I do.”
But he doesn’t just love winning. He loves golf, too. And he loves the process of getting better. On Saturday night I was curious of how he thinks about his place in the game, so I asked him if he felt he was underrated. He shrugged.
“I don’t care,” he said. “I enjoy what I do. I like the grind. I’ve always appreciated the hard work that golf takes, and for me that’s satisfying enough. I don’t need anyone to think one way or the other about me.”
When I followed up to ask his favorite part of the hard work, he delivered the line that’ll stick with me more than anything else I’ve heard all week — which is saying something given this is the land of cheeky turns-of-phrase.
“Someone once told me you should do the things that make you lose track of time,” he said. “And for me, a lot of times when I’m practicing hitting balls or putting when I’m at home, I lose track of time. That’s how I know that I really enjoy it.
“For me, it’s just an enjoyable profession that I have.”
I’d never considered Harman a romantic, but that made me wonder. So did the nostalgia with which he talked about his high school golf, an era when he admitted there just wasn’t anybody around who could beat him, which led him to play with a freedom he’s chased ever since.
“I don’t think I was a better golfer [then],” he said. “But my mental approach to it, I was much more confident and much more willing to take on shots. I’ve spent the majority of my professional career trying to rekindle some of that.”
It’s likely that Harman has been better than you think. He’s cracked the top 20 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He owns multiple wins on the PGA Tour. He finished behind only one golfer at the 2017 U.S. Open and only two players at the 2021 Players and only five at St. Andrews a year ago.
But it’s likely that he’s been down worse than you’d realize, too. At the U.S. Open he admitted just how relieved he was to play a solid opening round when he came in with five-under 65.
“It’s been a tough go the last few months,” he admitted. The demands of a full-time playing schedule wore extra when the results weren’t coming. He misses his kids. He misses his farm. He misses going hunting, another activity he loves so much he loses track of time.
“I think you just get tired. It’s hard to be on all the time and you’re constantly trying to grab motivation from places.”
It didn’t pay off that week — he faded outside the top 40 — but the following week he finished runner-up at the Travelers Championship, and the week after that he was T9 at the Rocket Mortgage, and two weeks after that he finished T12 at the Genesis Scottish Open. We should have seen it coming after all.
Harman may not win. Three rounds is not four. But he won’t suffer from lack of motivation on Sunday, when his decades of dreams get put to the test. The crowd won’t be with him; not when a final-round collapse would bring U.K. fan favorites Fleetwood and Alex Fitzpatrick and Rory McIlroy and even Hoylake member Matthew Jordan back into the mix. But Harman is a comeback story. He’s an underdog. And he’s a nostalgic country song, chasing the past even as he dreams of what’s to come.
I guess that’s three reasons, not just one.