ARDMORE, Pa. – Every golf fan should go see the Walker Cup at least once.
If you’re lucky, there will be a player like Brian Harman there.
He can spit fire and belch smoke when his game’s not right, but even then his passion stirs you.
U.S. captain Buddy Marucci Jr. likes the fearless nature of this Georgia Bulldog so much he sent him out first Saturday in the morning foursomes and again in the afternoon singles. Harman has pulled the same duty again Sunday. He is the kind of kid who is first in line at roller coasters and haunted houses.
“I like leading the pack,” Harman said. “Shoot me out of the cannon, and let’s go.”
Harman and teammate Morgan Hoffmann made sure an American flag was posted on the scoreboard after the first hole played in the 42nd Walker Cup. They won the opening hole with a par and never looked back. They never trailed in that first match, defeating Wallace Booth and Sam Hutsby, 2 and 1, to set the tone on a red, white and blue day at Merion Golf Club.
The Americans take a commanding 8-4 lead into Sunday.
The Walker Cup is unlike anything else in golf. It’s like stepping back to a simpler time. The nature of the matches reminds you of what it must have been like when Bobby Jones played. The galleries are not restrained walking the fairways here. They scamper ahead after tee shots, walking alongside players down the middle of fairways. On more than one occasion, Harman couldn't see his approach shot hit the green because fans were hustling in front of him after he struck the shot.
Merion adds to the nostalgic aura of this Walker Cup. It is a beautifully rough-hewn course, with wild, wispy grasses framing its lush fairways and greens. In some ways, it feels like the course time forgot.
“There are ghosts wandering all over the place out here,” Harman said.
Harman’s determined to add to the history here. He delivered 1½ points Saturday with a halved match in afternoon singles. Though he’s kicking himself for the way he finished singles, Harman remains undefeated in his Walker Cup career with a 3-0-2 record.
“You can’t beat this event,” Harman said. “It’s something you don’t experience anywhere else in amateur golf, even in the U.S. Amateur. It’s nothing like the U.S. Amateur. It’s nothing like college golf. It’s really special. I wish I could put it into words better. I need a poet.”
Harman represents what makes the Walker Cup special.
Though he squandered a big lead in afternoon singles, Harman is the quintessential Walker Cup closer.
In the larger sense of the word, he’s showing fellow collegians how to finish their collegiate careers.
With five holes to play in singles, Harman led GB&I’s Gavin Dear 3 up, but Harman missed a 3-footer at the 14th hole to open the door for Dear, who won the last two holes with pars to claim a half point.
“I’m still learning,” said Harman, the 2003 U.S. Junior Amateur champ who helped Georgia reach the semifinals of the NCAA Division I Championship last spring. “Maybe I’ll do a little better in the Ryder Cup one day.”
Give Harman credit for even being here. The temptation to turn professional was so strong after the NCAA Championship in May that he met with his parents in a soul-searching conversation about what mattered most to him. Ultimately, he decided he wouldn’t just remain an amateur this summer; he would get his college degree in finance.
“That meant a lot to us,” said Nancy Harman, Brian’s mother. “Education’s important to us.”
Nancy’s a chemist in Savannah, a graduate of Armstrong Atlantic State University. Eric, Brian’s father, is a dentist and graduate of the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.
Brian is enrolled in three classes, all that’s left to earn his degree. He brought books with him to Merion.
“When I called Brian here Tuesday night, he was doing homework,” Nancy said.
Brian could have been playing mini-tours this summer, or Monday qualifiers for PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour events, because he sees himself playing professionally.
“I think his plan is to turn pro at 12:01 a.m. after the Walker Cup ends,” Eric said.
Harman has already written letters to PGA Tour Fall Series events in Las Vegas and Mississippi in bids to gain sponsor exemptions. He’s registered for the PGA Tour Q-School, where he has requested to play the first stage event Oct. 21-24 at Florence Country Club in Florence, S.C.
But that’s all on his back burner. He decided to remain an amateur this summer to get one more shot at the Walker Cup. He helped the Americans win it at the Chicago Golf Club in 2005 but didn’t make the team in ’07. There were no assurances he would be selected for the team this year.
“It was well worth the risk,” Harman said.
Merion offers the chance for a perfect ending to Harman’s amateur career. He’s a Georgia boy. He won the Georgia State Amateur, a trophy he got to keep for a year. Bobby Jones was the first winner of that trophy.
“Bobby Jones’ name was on the trophy,” Nancy said. “It’s a special name for us.”
That makes Merion Golf Club a special place. This is where Jones teed it up in his first U.S. Amateur. It’s where he won his last, completing that era’s version of the Grand Slam at Merion in 1930.
“I would hope the legacy I leave is of a guy who hung around and played for his country, because he wanted to do it, and he was proud to represent the United States,” Harman said. “I hope it will set an example for some of the guys coming up, who are maybe thinking about turning pro. I could have easily turned pro and nobody would have asked questions. For young guys coming up, they need to try to do this. This is absolutely worth waiting for. It’s well worth the risk.”
- Note: Final-round coverage of the Walker Cup will be aired live Sunday on Golf Channel at 3:30 p.m. ET.