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Friday, June 21, 2024

Brian Harman, a 36-Year-Old Ryder Cup Debutant, Establishes His Place

Brian Harman seems to have a mature perspective on his prior experiences. That’s why he’s so knowledgeable about the autograph collector.

In the year 2000, he competed in a tournament in the town of 2000. The particulars are irrelevant because the pattern was consistent throughout. Following his round, he would report his score in the tent and then return to the clubhouse. There would always be a group of fans hanging over a rope, doing who knows what. Their expressions were strained as they begged him, or any of the other PGA Tour players, to come over and sign. Naturally, Harman will make the ethical choice. A capless Sharpie in hand, he’d amble over and be of service. Perhaps he would agree with you and nod. As they say, “You’re welcome.” Perhaps the corners of his mouth might even pull back into a fake smile.

Harman has reached the degree of self-actualization that few ever reach, and he is able to utter the challenging part out loud. He is still trying to take it all in. After 14 years on the PGA Tour and 343 tournament starts, he finally won the Open Championship in 2023, at the age of 36.

That quickly, it had occurred. This year, Harman did not make the Masters’ final cut. Unfortunately, he didn’t make the PGA Championship’s cut. At the U.S. Open, he finished in a tie for 43rd place. Yet another year added to a CV that nobody has bothered to read for years. He was the same guy he’d always been: a reliable PGA Tour golfer who made millions of dollars but was otherwise unknown. He entered Royal Liverpool as a respectable, though mostly unnoticed, No. 26 in the world. The 2017 Wells Fargo Championship was his last tournament victory.

Harman is getting set to make his maiden Ryder Cup appearance in Rome. It’s an odd, unexpected turn in a career that was otherwise winding down. Harman might have easily spent his latter years quietly tending his 1,000-acre farm in rural Georgia and being relatively unknown. Instead, he’s the oldest of the twelve-man American squad and one of only four veterans to make his debut this year. His first PGA Tour victory came in 2014 at the John Deere Classic, when he bested United States captain-to-be Zach Johnson in the process.

It seems like a lifetime ago when Harman was an All-American at Georgia and the No. 1-ranked amateur golfer in the world. He was a key member of the victorious teams in the 2005 and 2009 Walker Cups as well as the Palmer Cup squad in 2007. His teammates on those teams were Anthony Kim, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, and others. Still, at different points in his younger career, Harman was the unquestionable next big thing. Like a brisk breeze from the opposite direction, he blew across the driving range. Everyone gave it a quick look.

For most of his twenties, Harman sought after that sensation. The assurance of belonging and the knowledge that others are chasing after him. His youthful self’s shadow followed him everywhere he went while he enjoyed a moderately successful career on the PGA Tour. He was expected to do better than simply participate.

The game moved at its usual breakneck pace. Harman watched former opponents on the amateur circuit suddenly winning PGA Tour tournaments after becoming professional in 2009. Eventually, new guys came along who were younger, stronger, and taller, and they began winning. No one could keep up, and nothing could be stopped. With sandbags in hand, he battled the rising tides. Those who knew him described him as “gritty” and “a bulldog.” All metaphors for a tiny man who fights valiantly but ultimately loses.

Two months ago, when Harman won the Open, he finally realised the burden he’d been carrying for so long. Despite the victory, I felt no sense of relaxation. It was good to let that stress out. The weight of his struggles, uncertainties, and pains, accumulated over the course of days, weeks, and years, lifted from his shoulders and swept down the English shore. Harman’s representative and close friend Jeremy Elliott claims that his client emerged from Hoylake with “profound self-awareness.”

That’s what gotten him to this point. By finishing in the top six in points for the U.S. squad, Harman helped his close tour mate Zach Johnson earn a spot on the team. This week he’ll be sharing a team room with a group of young players whose meteoric rise he witnessed from afar and for whom he had to suppress jealousy long ago. He’s the oldest U.S. Ryder Cup rookie since Steve Stricker, at age 41, in 2008. Years ago, when Justin Thomas first appeared on the tour and promptly won tournaments and a major, Harman wasn’t exactly keen to forge a friendship with him. He says, “The truth is, I would have killed to have a career like JT’s.” However, this year’s Ryder Cup has helped me get some perspective. Harman and Thomas have become close in recent months and now text one other frequently. Harman “for taking so long” to get back to Thomas, he said in a message he sent recently. Harman knows Max Homa and Collin Morikawa, two people who couldn’t be more different from one another. Homa listened to Harman’s tale of catching an alligator last week with utter disbelief.

Dan O'Brien
Dan O'Brien
I am a journalist for The National Era with an emphasis in sports.
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