Champions of the Year All Around

Champions of the Year All Around

Spectacular at times and steady when he needed to be, Brian Harman won a memorable 151st British Open

by Michael Bamberger

HOYLAKE, England—And the Champion Golfer of the Year

Well, before we get there, how about the Champion Fan of the Year?

We’ll select one, but only as a representative for the 261,180 people who passed through security at Royal Liverpool over three practice rounds and four competitive rounds, at this 151st and, in the end, soggy British Open.

And the Champion Fan of the Year is … 

Young Dan Stanton, 15, a junior member of Royal Liverpool, which he joined on his own, and the proud owner of a career-best 83. By way of Sunday’s drenching rain, Dan was soaked to the bone, despite his waterproofs, and thoroughly enjoying life and his second Open experience. He was on the course in 2014 as a wee lad, doesn’t remember it well, but he knew, of course, that Rory McIlroy had won, and he knew, you could say of course, that he would want to come back. By the way, kids 15 and younger get into the Open for free.

“I’m cold, I’m soaked, but I’m here, I got to talk to Tommy Fleetwood,” Dan said. “I asked him about his fleece. I quite liked it. He smiled at me.”

And the Champion Tie for 10th Golfer of the Year is …

Tommy Fleetwood his own self. Regular readers of this piece of cyberspace might know that your correspondent is the president and nonexecutive chairman of the Big Three Fan Club, dedicated to promoting the excellent golfing values demonstrated by Mr. Fleetwood, his Ryder Cup teammate, Francesco Molinari and Jordan Spieth of the Dallas, Texas, Jordan Spieths, a family of three and growing. Fleetwood grew up about 30 miles from here, in Southport, and his mother, once a hairdresser, died last year at age 60, from cancer. The one-year anniversary of her death was on Friday, the day of the second round.

“She took me everywhere, she was always the driver,” Fleetwood said after that round. “She would always take me to the range. To the golf course. To wherever I wanted to go. She was always a very supporting influence. She was a very tough woman, but she never said no to taking me anywhere. She was great to me.”

He was five shots off the lead and in second place then. He finished nine shots behind the winner. But as he walked up the 18th fairway, its fence line crammed with fans shielded by umbrellas, he took off his cap and let the rain and the adulation fall on him as he returned it with a smile, modest hand waves and resolute manner. Open golf takes a lot out of you and gives you a great deal, too. All week long, Fleetwood was filled with praise for the fans and for the course, which he snuck on as a kid, and how the R&A presented it.

tommy scaled

And the Champion Governing Body of the Year is …

The R&A. The folks there, year after year and some years better than others, just tend to get things right. This year they made the decision, after seeing a number of shots finish in the pancake-flat bunkers near the steep bunker walls, to give the bunkers a modest slope, so that more balls would end up in a more playable position. I didn’t agree with the decision—as the old guard has been saying forever, a bunker is a hazard!—but I think the R&A leaders showed they have enough self-confidence to admit when they get something wrong. In other words, I don’t think they were capitulating to player complaints. I think they were agreeing with them. My preference would be no rakes at all, throughout golf. Just smooth with a swift football (soccer) kick, as golfers and caddies at Pine Valley have been doing for well over a century.

And the Champion Caddie of the Year is …

Really, it’s hard to pick one, because they all trudged on through lousy conditions on Sunday, but for this exercise we will settle on just one, the winner’s caddie, Scott Tway, brother of 1986 PGA champion Bob Tway, who has been a PGA Tour caddie for more than 30 years, working for his brother and Scott Verplank for many of those years.

“We really only went through four towels,” Tway said of his Sunday work. The fourth round was over, the rain kept falling and the caddie was talking to reporters. “Kept one in the umbrella and I kept one with me. Everything was so wet, you almost can’t keep everything dry. We probably had 15 gloves hanging from the umbrella. You get the grip as dry as you can before the shot and then you go.”

And the Champion Golfer of the Year is …

Brian Harman, a 36-year-old lefthander from Georgia who grew up on all things Southern. In other words, he was a long way from home, in every way. His play was spectacular at times and steady when he needed it to be. His rounds, on this tricky, short and special par-71 course, were 67, 65, 69 and 70. That’s 13 under par and he won by six over Sepp Straka, Jason Day, Jon Rahm and Tom Kim. Harman is incapable of overpowering a course, but for years he has played one well-considered shot after another, and he has beautiful rhythm and an artful swing with every club in the bag. He really is a throwback.

Like other surprise winners of golf’s oldest championship from the Lower 48, he is not a charismatic personality, but, like Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton, he’s not trying to be anybody other than himself. He’s a grinder. He has worked hard. In his Saturday-night press conference, Harman made one comment that’s Dylan Dethier seized on, and I’m glad he did, because there’s so much in it:

“Someone once told me you should do the things that make you lose track of time. 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.”

There’s less and less of that in modern life, the ability to lose yourself in the moment. Golf gives you the opportunity to do that, at every level. It would be impossible to become good at golf, at a hundred different levels, if you didn’t have that ability. What an insightful comment.

Yes, Harman likes to drive a tractor on his 1,000-acre farm. Yes, he likes to hunt with a bow and arrow, butcher his kills, have his friends and family eat the meat fresh off the bone. He’s a Southerner. He has a culture that maybe you know and maybe you don’t. He’s not bragging about it and he’s certainly not apologizing for it. I’ve talked to him here and there over the last decade or so. He’s always been accommodating, candid and insightful.

He’s a fidgety guy. We’ve all seen the waggle. Even as he sat in a chair during his winner’s press conference, the back of it, at times, shook back and forth. Maybe his mind and his body are a little too twitchy for this game, week in and week out, year in and year out. But it was more than good enough over his four days here. He got in a cocoon. The rain will help you do that. Stay dry. Finish the backswing. Make clean contact. When you’re going good, golf seems simple. Harman made it look simple, and it must have been.

He’ll be on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, come September. I first saw him at the 2009 Walker Cup at Merion and his short game was cocky and so good, and his manner was pugnacious. His manner has mellowed. (In professional golf, you do it every week, at stroke play.) His short game, maybe, is as good as it was back then. He finally took his talent to the next level.


This was it. This was the whole thing, the trophy presentation, in the rain, Brian Harman standing in it, now capless, raindrops falling on his head, saying what needed to be said and nothing more, to the fans, to the R&A, to everyone else.

“And with a score of 271, the gold medal and the Champion Golfer of the Year is Brian Harman,” said Martin Slumbers, who runs the R&A. 

The winner lowered the mic by a foot and said,  “I’ve got to thank my wife, my family back home. I sure miss them. I can’t wait to get back to them tomorrow. First I’m going to have me a couple pints out of this here trophy, I believe.

“This golf course was a real test. It was set up so great, even with the weather. 

“To the superintendent and everyone that helped put it together, thank you so much. The greens were perfect. The golf course was excellent. Thank you.

“Lastly, I want to thank the R&A for putting together such an incredible championship. I couldn’t be happier to be its champion. 

“To all the fans, to all the nice words and all the people back home who were rooting me on, I appreciate it so much.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

Perfect, really. The guy won. He held the jug. He thanked the folks. He headed home.

He hit it in one fairway bunker over 72 holes, just as Tiger Woods did when he won here in 2006. But Brian Harman is otherwise nothing like Tiger Woods, Also, nothing like Rory McIlroy, who won here in 2014. Also, nothing like Robert De Vicenzo, who won here in 1967.

Therein lies the beauty of the game. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected]

4 thoughts on “Champions of the Year All Around”

  1. Once again you nailed it Bamby. Along with the cool crowd of Golf Twitter, I sure made fun of Brian Harman’s lack of charisma and endless waggling, but I think his throwback game and no-nonsense personality kind of won me over. Hell, I even find it kind of great that he hunts for his own meat.

  2. Brian Harman echos the play of Lou Graham in 1975 at Medinah. Do not fight the course, Graham warned.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *