The Open’s final moments reminded us of something important we’d forgotten
HOYLAKE, England — Matthew Jordan knew there would never be another day like Sunday.
What’s crazy is he’d also felt that way on Thursday, the day he’d hit the opening tee shot of this year’s Open Championship. Jordan is from here, out on England’s Wirral Peninsula, and he plays his golf at Royal Liverpool, this year’s Open host. So when he qualified for the Open, the R&A awarded the local kid the ceremonial position of first peg in the ground.
But then the local kid played his way onto the leaderboard. And then he played well enough to stay there. A gutty 69 on Saturday left him just outside the top 10 entering the final round, which is how Sunday became incredibly important.
“Obviously this was a completely new experience, really, in terms of the pressure from the support and from the course and everything like that,” he said.
It wasn’t until a half-hour after his round concluded that Jordan finally reached the microphone to address the assembled press at the close of the most meaningful day of his golfing life. But he still wore the same wide, toothy grin that had spread across his face on the 18th green, where he’d poured in a birdie putt in the pouring rain for a round of one-under-par 70 that secured him a top-10 finish.
“It was just the perfect finish to what has been the most unbelievable week,” he said. “I just so wanted to knock it in for everyone who’s supported me, just to have them go mental one last time. They stuck with me — even in the rain like this.”
How does anything else in his career compare?
“Oh, this has been the best. This has hands down been the best,” he said. “Apart from winning it, I can’t imagine it being much better.”
ALEX FITZPATRICK qualified for the Open at West Lancashire, some 45 minutes north of Hoylake, the same site as Jordan. He, too, had entered the week as a nice story — how cool for Matt Fitzpatrick’s kid brother to be here and the two of them playing the same field! — and then had fought his way into contention with a seven-birdie Saturday 65. He birdied the first on Sunday but bogeyed the second and couldn’t make a push. Still, on easily the biggest stage of his life he managed a T17 finish. That was undeniably impressive. In the minutes after his finish he was already bracing himself for the letdown that will come from playing in any other tournament after this.
“No disrespect to the Challenge Tour, it’s the tour I play on,” he said, referring to his home circuit, a step below the DP World Tour. “But you play against the best players in the world and it’s a major championship — I think a lot of things would be a bit of a come-down from this.”
JASON DAY hadn’t logged a top-30 finish in a major championship since 2020 and he’d missed five cuts in nine starts since then. Now he’d finished T2. It was a monumental step forward in major contention; he hit it great, chipped it great, putted it great. It was a lucrative finish that promised FedEx Cup points and OWGR points and a nice boost of confidence, too. But as he stepped to the microphone he couldn’t help but get distracted. On the television screen next to him, he watched Brian Harman stare down a six-foot par putt at No. 18 to secure a six-shot win. Harman rolled it in the middle.
“What a feeling,” Day said wistfully.
TOM KIM had success arrive at his doorstop so quickly after his arrival on the world stage that it’d been difficult to manage the expectations that came knocking soon thereafter. In the weeks after his star was born at the Presidents Cup, he won the Shriners. And he logged two top-10s to start 2023. But then came a dry spell, 11 events with just one top 20, the sort of semi-slump that feels like an eternity when you’re 21. This week wasn’t all smooth, either: when he sprained his ankle on Thursday after slipping off the patio at his rental house, he considered pulling out. He toughed it out instead, shooting 67 on Sunday, tied for low round of the day, to finish T2.
“It’s very, very satisfying,” he said with an exhale. “It’s been tough at times this year.”
CAMERON YOUNG, like Matthew Jordan, birdied the 18th. But this isn’t his home course and this isn’t his dream event and, unlike Jordan, he finished runner-up at last year’s Open plus a half-dozen other PGA Tour events since the beginning of his young PGA Tour career and he’s desperately hungry to turn those seconds into firsts. In other words, there would be no moral victory.
“I think there’s some positives to take,” he offered in an effort at optimism. Then he got real. “My level of excitement with tied for eighth is absolutely zero.
“But I mean, yet again, I put myself in a position to win a major championship and had an unfortunate day. One of these times the unfortunate day will be the next Tuesday or something and not Sunday. Yeah.”
RORY MCILROY’s Sunday wasn’t the sort of heartbreaking near-miss we saw at last month’s U.S. Open nor last year’s Open Championship. That must have made it easier to maintain perspective post-round, to talk about how well he’s been playing in these events, to express optimism about the rest of the season instead of focusing on a major drought now nearing a decade.
“Over the last two years would I have loved to have picked one of those off that I finished up there? Absolutely,” he said. “But every time I tee it up or most times I tee it up, I’m right there.”
TOMMY FLEETWOOD was destined to win this tournament, particularly after he opened with 66 to lead the field. You likely heard the rest of the story — how he grew up 20 miles from here, how his caddie still lives even closer than that — because he was the story. Fleetwood played in the final group on Saturday but was outdueled by Harman. On Sunday his charge never quite materialized and his run at the podium fell short in painful fashion with a triple-bogey 6 at the penultimate hole. His birdie at 18 only made the finish that much more heartbreaking, knowing what could have been.
Those are the stories of this week’s Open Championship. Some of the stories, at least. Jordan showed the power of positivity, Fitzpatrick showed confidence, Day showed hunger, Kim showed satisfaction, Young showed frustration, McIlroy showed optimism and Fleetwood showed the tragedy of sport. That’s a full day. When you add the firm turf and the sideways rain and the hearty fans, that’s the type of full day that could only happen at the Open.
For more than a year now, the golf world’s attention has focused on the battle between the PGA Tour and LIV. Conversation has focused on purse sizes, on signing bonuses, on lawsuits, on new formats, on playing schedules, on teams, on defections on to what extent golfing drama can be manufactured. But that ignores the foundations of the game. That ignores the stuff people really care about. For all the commoditization of the professional game, for every soul-crushing reference to professional golf as a “product,” four stops per year still have the sort of meaning that can’t be focus-grouped, and significance follows from there.
There was an undercurrent of all that other stuff at Royal Liverpool, of course. These days there always is. Monday marked PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan’s first day back at work after an extended absence. It also marked the beginning of a new slate of rumors and musings about his future at the Tour and about the prospects, potential and profile of his proposed deal with the Saudi Public Investment Fund. Jon Rahm vouched for Monahan’s future, offering a counterpoint to other pros who admitted he’d lost their trust.
Monahan’s isn’t the only future that’s in jeopardy. While LIV-related questions are now largely confined to the early-week portions of these big-time events, Cameron Smith offered a rosy view for the league’s future, declaring that despite the uncertainty he was “optimistic that LIV will be around in the future” while endorsing Greg Norman to continue as commissioner. Brooks Koepka was asked to give a performance review for Norman but was decidedly less effusive, declaring that he’s “done fine” at the helm and then, pressed for further details, repeating himself.
“He’s done fine. Everybody else, it’s up to them. Everybody is allowed to interpret it different ways.”
That’s an appropriate line for this PGA Tour-LIV divide, or relationship, or partnership, or merger, wherever we settle. People interpreting things different ways. That’s life.
But the simplest, cruelest, most compelling test in golf remains quite black and white. That would be the binary of major championships: Did you win or did you not?
“Well, they’re the ones you want to win,” Day said, offering the simplest and best explanation of golf’s four biggest tournaments. He’s the owner of one. “At some point I’m going to get off one and get my second one.”
There are lessons beyond that binary, of course. The significance of the tournament leads to the significance of the stories. There’s more at stake than a winner and 150-odd losers. And there were lessons everywhere at the Open Championship. Lessons of hard work, of perseverance, of gratitude.
In one case the same player taught us all three.
BRIAN HARMAN has been at this a while. Before Sunday he had racked up 29 top 10s since 2017, the most of any PGA Tour player without a win in that stretch. And, some 30 minutes after he finished off an unthinkable six-stroke victory over the best golfers in the world, he told us how it felt to keep coming up short.
“You know, I’ve always had a self-belief that I could do something like this. It’s just when it takes so much time it’s hard not to let your mind falter, like maybe I’m not winning again,” he said. “I’m 36 years old. Game is getting younger. All these young guys coming out, hit it a mile, and they’re all ready to win. Like, when is it going to be my turn again?”
This didn’t seem a particularly obvious week for him to get across the line, at least not until Sunday morning, when he stepped onto the first tee with a five-shot lead. He faced boos. He was ready for them; he knows the drill.
“Everybody’s got their team they’re rooting for,” he said. But the boos spurred him on. If they’d wanted him to falter, he said, they should have been nicer to him.
Majors are career-changing tournament wins. They’re life-changing, too. But only if you let ’em.
“I’ll be in some better tee times. I’ll have to do a couple more interviews at golf tournaments,” Harman said, asked for the differences. “But I’ve got a great family. I’ve got hobbies that I really like. I have a very comfortable life that I enjoy. I wouldn’t want my life to change any.”
That’s the beauty of Harman as champion. He’s dreamt of this moment, of how it might feel to be a major champion, ever since he was a talented junior golfer. But he wanted to win because it would be cool to win, not because it might lead to something else. The only something else he’s interested in is the new tractor he ordered; it should be there when he returns.
Because golfers’ resumes are so closely aligned with their career major total, there’s extra pressure for top-performing pros to win one or two or several during their peak. But it’s tough to keep everyone happy! It’s natural to guess how many majors Scheffler and Rahm and McIlroy might win in a given year. That means it becomes easy to ignore the other talented pros, like Brian Harman, who could well win one, too.
So what’s the lesson here? The lesson is to keep your eye on the ball. We’ll spill plenty of internet ink in the coming months breaking down the latest in lawsuits and deals and personnel decisions. We’ll eagerly cover the playoffs and we’ll crown a FedEx Cup champion and a Race to Dubai champ, too. Don’t get me wrong; all this stuff matters. But the lesson is that everything non-major only matters because the majors really matter.
Majors are rare and they’re precious and there aren’t enough of them to go around. Any time you make one yours, you’d better cherish it. That’s the lesson. Jon Rahm’s 2023 was a success because he won the Masters. Brooks Koepka’s 2023 was a success because he won the PGA. Wyndham Clark’s 2023 was a success because he won the U.S. Open. Now Brian Harman’s 2023 is a success, too.
Matthew Jordan’s 2023 is a success, too, because he did something meaningful and significant. Let’s take that a step further, just to indulge ourselves: Our 2023 is a success for having watched.
Major season is over. The next eight months can’t come soon enough.
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