Harman refuses to be overlooked

By Rex HoggardMay 8, 2017, 12:35 am

WILMINGTON, N.C. – A few years ago a well-intentioned but misinformed scribe asked Brian Harman if he felt pressure to get his first PGA Tour victory considering how many of his friends from college had already gotten on the Big League board.

“Um, I won . . . I won the John Deere [Classic],” he frowned.

The scribe’s inability to do simple homework aside, the 5-foot-7 Georgia native is often overlooked for all the wrong reasons.

Harman’s victory at the 2014 John Deere Classic was wedged between Martin Kaymer’s blistering start to the season with victories at The Players and U.S. Open, and Rory McIlroy’s walk-off finish with triumphs at The Open and PGA Championship.

Tough company.

Nor is Harman flashy. He’s 122nd on Tour in driving distance, 74th in eagles made and 131st in greens in regulation, but then he’s never seen a birdie putt that he couldn’t charge into the hole.

But if most players try to ignore such distractions, Harman lets the cellophane-man persona drive him. From his days as an all-everything junior to his career at Tour Player U., um, the University of Georgia, it has always appeared as if he plays every shot with something to prove.

This week at the Wells Fargo Championship was certainly no different.

“I would be lying if I didn't say I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. I mean, this is the first time I've been interviewed all week,” Harman said.

Even on Sunday as the leaderboard turned into a revolving door of would-be winners, Harman plugged away largely under the radar. All told, five players held at least a share of the lead on a postcard afternoon at Eagle Point Golf Club.

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There was Patrick Reed, who struggled early and often with his ball-striking, and Jon Rahm, the world-beater-in-waiting who has just four finishes outside the top 15 in his Tour career (12 starts). Pat Perez made a cameo atop the board, as did Dustin Johnson, the world No. 1 who was making his first start since taking a tumble down a flight of stairs on the eve of the Masters and injured his lower back.

It was the latter that resonated with Harman as day turned to dusk along the North Carolina coast.

No one in the world had been able to do what Harman accomplished on Sunday since the second week of February, but with a bold closing hole and back-to-back birdies to finish his day he became the first player to beat Johnson since the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Even the powers that be at Eagle Point appeared to be caught flat-footed by Harman’s victory.

“Well, they had the [winner’s] jacket 40 long, so I think they already had it set up for Dustin,” he smiled. “He's a tough cookie, man. Whatever he shot, 3, 4 over in the second round, then the weekend he shoots, what, 4 under, 5 under? He's tough.”

After a relatively quiet opening nine on Sunday, Harman made his move with birdies at the 12th and 14th holes, where he took a share of the lead with Rahm, but at No. 15 he three-putted from 40 feet.

Since that victory at the ’14 John Deere, Harman had been close on numerous occasions. He’d finished in the top 25 eight times this season, including a tie for third at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January. But each time something hadn’t gone his way, and with each near miss the questions grew louder, the doubt became more pervasive.

“It's very hard to stay patient because you know what it feels like to win, you know what it takes,” Harman said. “You feel like you're capable of it but it just doesn't happen, and then it doesn't happen again and it doesn't happen again, and then that's where the doubt starts to creep in.”

It would have been easy, for example, to succumb to the pressure after his three-putt at the 15th hole, to limp in and take your top-10 finish before getting on the road to next week’s Players Championship.

But Harman forged ahead, hitting a daring drive at the 17th hole over the corner, and sent his wedge shot to 5 feet for birdie to move back into a share of the lead with Johnson and Perez. At the finishing hole, he flushed his drive 317 yards, his third-longest drive of the week, to set the stage for the kind of finish every player dreams about.

Harman wanted to hit 5-wood from 270 yards. His caddie, Scott Tway, talked him into hitting 3-wood, which flew the green. “If I had it to do over again I would have hit 5-wood,” he said.

His second shot sailed left and nestled up to the grandstands and his chip shot just rolled onto the green, leaving 28 feet for birdie and the outright lead with two groups remaining on the course.

It had been 83 starts since Harman won the John Deere, and as his birdie putt at the 72nd hole traversed the green and dropped into the hole, the emotions that build up after so much time erupted in predictable fashion.

“The first win was really big, it was big for everybody, but after getting one and playing a couple years this was validation,” Tway said.

In the awkward moments that followed that scribe’s uneducated question a few years ago, the silence was broken by another who asked: Do you feel pressure to get your second Tour victory?

Not anymore.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.