Humans always seem drawn to the shiniest new things whether it’s smartphones, sports cars or robot vacuum cleaners. Our attraction to the freshest faces in golf is no different.
Recent late-qualifying Masters rookies Will Zalatoris and Robert MacIntyre – both 24 years old and loaded with promise – made a big splash with their performances at Augusta National. Zalatoris seemingly arose from nowhere and with no status to finish runner-up by a skinny stroke. MacIntyre, who guaranteed his Augusta return with a T12, has been a steadily rising Scottish lefty who first turned global heads with a T6 in his major debut in the 2019 Open Championship.
They were two of the last three players to earn berths in the Masters at the final top-50 deadline. The third player, however, didn’t draw as much attention despite his dramatic bum rush of the gates at Magnolia Lane from relative oblivion a few weeks earlier and his own daily presence on the leaderboards and T12 finish.
Brian Harman isn’t shiny and new. He’s 34 years old and has been on the golf radar for nearly two decades since crafting a decorated junior résumé that included winning the U.S. Junior Amateur 11 years before Zalatoris did the same. He was the youngest player ever picked for the Walker Cup team as a junior golfer and played in twice as many (2005 and ’09) as Zalatoris and MacIntyre.
Harman’s career path follows the typical ebbs and flows that the game often generates. Amateur and collegiate glory followed by mini-tour efforts and an eventual PGA Tour breakthrough with a pair of victories (2014 John Deere and 2017 Wells Fargo) on his CV.
He rose as high as No. 20 in the world in January-February 2018 after a hot start in Hawaii. But Harman had fallen as low 138th at the end of last summer and was ranked No. 95 in the world heading into the Players Championship in March.
That’s where the fun started again. Harman contended at Sawgrass from beginning to end, never out of the top five at the end of any round. His third-place finish jumped him to 58th and got him into the WGC-Match Play. In Austin, Texas, he advanced from his group and rallied to beat fellow former Georgia Bulldog Bubba Watson in the first knockout round to reach the quarterfinals. That was just enough to move him to world No. 49 and eke out his third career invite to the Masters.
Once again, Harman shot a pair of 69s and was in second place after each of the first two Masters rounds.
“You know, three weeks ago, I didn’t expect to be playing in the Masters,” he said. “So after a couple good days to be in contention is just icing on the cake for me. It’s great.”
“Start of the year, I knew I was playing well and wasn’t having any good finishes. I’m glad I’m up there in some bigger tournaments because I feel like this is how my game has been trending.” – Brian Harman
Lost in his strong form on those recent big stages is that Harman has been playing some consistently good golf since the tour returned from its COVID shutdown last spring. He’s made 10 consecutive cuts and 21 of 22 going back to last July – the only missed weekend ironically in the RSM Classic where he resides in Sea Island, Georgia. Eight of those finishes have been top-20s, including the last four straight.
“I’ve been playing some really good golf, and a lot of that has to do with what I’ve been working on,” he said. “I’ve been working hard on my short game and my putter is starting to come around again. Start of the year, I knew I was playing well and wasn’t having any good finishes. I’m glad I’m up there in some bigger tournaments because I feel like this is how my game has been trending.
“I haven’t been putting that great this year and I’ve been making a ton of cuts; just kind of finishing middle of the pack and not really making any noise. I have to putt well. I’ve been doing a lot better, and my short game has gotten a lot better.”
The 5-foot-7 Harman has never been one of the game’s long hitters. He averages 288 yards on all of his drives this season, outside the top 100 on tour. That has never deterred him.
“I think there’s still plenty of room in the game for a guy like me,” he said. “I don’t make any bones about not being able to carry it 300, but I don’t think you have to.”
Harman has always had to compensate in other areas of his game – “my game is fairways and green and making putts,” he said – which makes his admitted “neglect” of his short game curious. His short-game was always exceptional and helped dominate the junior ranks and win his very first tournament as a collegian at Georgia.
“What happens is you tend to work on your weaknesses … at some point at the expense of your strengths,” said Chris Haack, Harman’s coach at Georgia.
Harman credits his current resurgence to finally refocusing on that aspect of the game he relies on the most.
“It’s something I always neglected – I just kind of took it for granted,” he said recently of his short game. “It’s something that I can’t afford to be average. It’s got to be really good for me to contend. … I’ve been working really hard on it … and I’ve started to see it sort of pay off a little bit, but I’ll keep after it and see how good I can get it.”
What that requires is not hitting another ebb tide in his performance. At 34, he doesn’t have the same luxury of time that guys such as Zalatoris and MacIntyre are blessed with as they rise through the ranks.
“For me, I’ve got to keep going. I’ve got to keep playing good,” Harman said in Florida when his hot streak was just starting. “Seems like every time I start playing really well out here, it’s like I take a mental break: ‘Oh, I’m playing good.’ I’m going to try to push through that and keep working hard and just elevate my game to where I think it should be.”
“He’s always had the mindset he plays to win. You could tell by the way he was talking and wincing about describing some putts at Augusta. I think he realizes how close he was and he said he learned a lot this year about Augusta that he didn’t know.” – Chris Haack
Harman isn’t satisfied with merely being prominent on leaderboards but not winning. He’ll be hungry when he shows up at the PGA Championship at Kiawah, where he’ll go to get a preview taste next weekend. The Ocean Course will be one of the longest in major championship history, but contending with the winds, tidal marshes and challenges of a southeast Atlantic seaside course is something Harman has been doing all his life growing up in nearby Savannah, Georgia, and now living in Sea Island.
“It’s got a lot of characteristics of what he plays on at home,” said Haack of Kiawah. “I would imagine he’ll feel comfortable in those elements.”
Contending at the Players and Masters was nice, but not nearly enough for a player who grew up so accustomed to winning all the time. Harman left Augusta not thrilled to have booked an automatic return next April but shaking his head at mistakes around the greens that cost him a chance to win a green jacket on the weekend.
“The last two days have been really disappointing,” he said of his weekend pair of 74s. “Yeah, I mean, I’m happy with the week, I suppose. It’s always hard when you’re up there and you don’t do as well as you want to on the weekend. Man, I don’t know. I don’t know. I tried my best, I know that.”
Said Haack: “He’s always had the mindset he plays to win. You could tell by the way he was talking and wincing about describing some putts at Augusta. I think he realizes how close he was and he said he learned a lot this year about Augusta that he didn’t know.”
Intensity has always been a trait of Harman – a player who admittedly savors the art of a cathartic club throw. His small stature belies the aggression with which he often plays.
“A guy I looked up to and playing a bunch with was Anthony Kim,” said Harman, recalling the record 11-birdie round Kim once had at Augusta. “I used to always love the way that he played the game. He’s bold and took on … took chances. I’m not as good as he was, but I’d like to think that I try to harness some of that energy sometimes.”
Harman credits his caddie, Scott Tway, with helping settle him down when things get too taut.
“I tend to run kind of hot and kind of cold, and he’s sort of leveled me out,” Harman said. “So that’s really good, and he’s been here a long time and seen it a bunch of different ways, and I just think we do good work together. He’s seen me at my worst and I’ve seen him at his worst. At this point, we’re like an old married couple.”
When he really needs to unwind, Harman turns to bow hunting for everything from wild turkey and hogs to elk and deer. That’s what he did the day after the Masters, bagging a turkey before showing up at Harbour Town refreshed enough to post another solid T13.
“I like to get out and spend time in the woods, especially this time of year,” he said. “Turkey hunting is one of my favorite things to do … and I love to fish and hunt.
“Got into bow hunting pretty heavy the last several years. And I feel like making a bow shot on an elk or a deer or something, I feel like I use my golf to train my nerves for that.
“I had a buddy that made a bad shot on an elk a year or so ago and he’s like, ‘Man, how do you …’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve been training my nerves since I was 11.’ I don’t know if I get quite as shaky shooting an elk as I do trying to make a 10-footer.”
Harman might not be golf’s shiniest new star, but he’s aiming to stay in the hunt and make everyone notice.
“You can just tell his whole demeanor and attitude about his golf game has gotten better,” said Haack, who visited with Harman this week at Sea Island before the SEC Championships. “He was beating himself up a little bit and not playing with the confidence he did when he was younger. I think he’s realizing he can compete with any of those guys.”
Top: Brian Harman prepares to play his shot from the fifth tee during the final round Sunday at Harbour Town, where he finished T13. Photo: Sam Greenwood, Getty Images
© 2021 Global Golf Post LLC
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Tell us how we can improve this post?