Bulldog Nation celebrates Brian Harman’s Open Championship

Brian Harman hits a tee shot in the 2009 NCAA Golf Championship as Oklahoma State's Rickie Fowler looks on in the background. (Photo by Steven Colquitt/UGA Athletics)

Credit: Steven Colquitt

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Brian Harman hits a tee shot in the 2009 NCAA Golf Championship as Oklahoma State's Rickie Fowler looks on in the background. (Photo by Steven Colquitt/UGA Athletics)

Credit: Steven Colquitt

Credit: Steven Colquitt

ATHENS -- Chris Haack was not able to stick around to watch the last few holes of Brian Harman’s British Open Championship on Sunday and it was killing him. He had to leave to go recruiting.

Then, again, if you’re the Georgia golf coach, it was a good day to go see golf prospects.

Not only did Harman win the world’s oldest golf championship at Royal Liverpool in England, but another one of Haack’s former Bulldogs – Sepp Straka – finished second. Straka won on the PGA Tour a couple of weeks ago to earn his way into the Open. Eleven Georgia Bulldogs now have won on professional golf’s highest level, nine of them multiple times.

But this was Harman’s day all the way. The lefty ran away with the 151st Open Championship. He shot 13-under-par 271 for a six-stroke win over Straka and three others. Nobody outside of the Savannah native’s immediate family was happier to see Harman host the Claret Jug than Haack.

Haack was on his way Sunday to Daniel Island, S.C., to attend the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. Talk about coming full circle: Haack watched every round of Harman’s win in the U.S. Juniors 18 years ago this weekend.

“I have a lot of good memories of him at that tournament, as well,” Haack said as he raced to the airport Sunday afternoon.

Nothing will top what Haack and many in the Bulldog Nation witnessed Sunday. While Harman’s Open championship will go down as one of the most dominant in history, it was the way that Harman comported himself the final two rounds that truly made Haack proud.

Harman carried a five-stroke lead into the competition both days. And on both days, Harman got off to poor starts.

But unlike the other times when Harman has found himself among the Top 10 in a major championship, he didn’t let those negative moments overwhelm. Instead, he steeled himself and steadied himself and fought his way right back to even-par for the day.

In the end, he proved unflappable, hitting into just two bunkers for the entire tournament and finishing No. 1 in the field in fairways hit and putting. He hit just 108 putts over the four rounds.

“The hardest part was not getting off to a good start the last two days,” Harman told Mike Tirico on NBC’s broadcast Sunday. “That was really, really tough and I had to dig really deep to re-center and play. It’s something I’ve struggled with my whole career.”

Harman hadn’t won a tournament in six years coming into this weekend. He had recorded 29 Top-10s in the meantime.

Of all this, Haack was well aware. So, he was watching Sunday’s final round with more than a little trepidation.

“The last two days he got off to kind of a rocky start, but then he totally righted the ship,” Haack said. “And, you know, that’s going to take him a long way, knowing he can do that. I’m hoping this is just going to mean more success to come for him.”

Haack watched Harman’s round as long as he could. He didn’t leave his Oconee County home for his flight at the Atlanta airport until Harman hit his tee shot on the 17th hole. Haack flipped on the PGA Tour channel on the satellite radio in his car for the 75-minute ride.

“I’m cutting it pretty close now,” Haack said. “I’m just trying to make sure I don’t get a speeding ticket.”

Haack said Harman will tell you his career at Georgia was not very successful because it did not include a national championship. Harman signed with the Bulldogs on the heels of them winning their second of two in 2005.

But Harman’s teams claimed two SEC Championships, he was a three-time All-SEC selection and earned All-America honors. He also played a major role in what Haack believes is one of the greatest individual and team performances in school history.

Georgia faced Oklahoma State and their star player Rickie Fowler in the 2009 NCAA championship. That was the first time the match-play format was employed.

Harman faced Fowler in the marquee match of the tournament and found himself one down with three holes to play. Harman had to putt out for a par on the 16th hole and Fowler committed an etiquette breach when he didn’t hang around to watch Harman’s putt and tend the flagstick.

“That irked him,” Haack recalled with a laugh. “He was so mad and he just jammed that flagstick in the hole. He was not happy that he had to putt and had to walk all the way across the green to get the flag and put it back in. We were down one at the time and he was like, ‘OK, let’s go do this.’ It fueled him, no doubt.”

Harman birdied the last two holes to clinch the match and the Bulldogs advanced. However, they’d lose to Arkansas in the next round later that afternoon.

“I actually call that my third national championship, because we were one of the best teams in the country and Oklahoma State was the team you had to beat that year,” Haack recalled. “But our emotions were running so high that we weren’t ready to play when we had to tee it up again like an hour after that.”

Harman carried that mercurial temperament into the pro ranks. He has flourished, keeping his PGA Tour card for the last 11 years and entering The Open Championship with a No. 23 world ranking. But he had only two career victories to show for it, the 2014 John Deere Classic and the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship. His record in majors was spotty.

Harman held the 54-hole lead in the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin. He finished in a tie for second, four strokes behind winner Brooks Koepka. He finished 12th at the 2021 Masters.

But Harman was locked in at Hoylake. With his wife Kelly and three children remaining stateside with her parents in Syracuse, Harman and his caddie Scott Tway stuck tight to a game plan to avoid hazards and use Harman’s short game inflict damage around the greens.

It worked to perfection.

“It wouldn’t surprise me for Brian to win a few more,” Haack said. “The same goes for all of our Tour players. I just don’t think people really appreciate how hard it is to win at the highest levels of golf. You see a handful of players win multiple times and might think it’s not that hard to do. But every week there’s only one guy that wins and it’s just hard to do.”

Harman, it seems, was born to do this. He trained under renowned teacher Jack Lumpkin in Sea Island, where the Harmans still reside.

To finally win a major, Harman felt like he had to get out of his own way. Interviewed after each of his rounds, he declined to share putting secrets and spoke only of getting enough sleep and the right things to eat.

“I feel like that’s what won me the golf tournament,” Harman said. “I really didn’t truly think about winning the tournament until I hit my last bunker shot. I’m really proud of that.”

So were a lot of other Bulldogs, Chris Haack chief among them.

Related

Credit: AP

Photos: UGA's Brian Harman wins British Open
UGA's Brian Harman won the British Open on Sunday. Fellow Bulldog Stepp Straka finished tied for second.

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