Well that was the worst major of the year by far. From an excitement perspective anyway. There was actually a lot to enjoy about the Open overall but Sunday afternoon was a damp squib, and not just because of the torrential rain that swept over the North West of England all day and deep into the night. For there to be any excitement we needed a Brian Harman collapse, or at least a wobble. Failing that, maybe one of the chasing pack would catch fire and go on a run? We got none of that, it was a procession for Harman, much to the disappointment of a lot of British golf fans.
Is Harman a worthy Champion? Hell yes he is. Is he the Champion most of us wanted? Hell no! I’m not condoning the booing that he got on the first tee, or some of the things that were reportedly said to him by fans over the weekend. I hate that. It’s golf, that shouldn’t happen. But why were so many people at Royal Liverpool rooting against Harman? What’s the deal?
First and foremost, the main thing fans were rooting for was an exciting final day, and we were not going to get that while Harman had a five shot lead. There are only a handful of golfers on the planet who an Open crowd would be happy to see with a five shot lead on Sunday, and Harman isn’t one of them. It’s nothing personal, golf fans just wanted an exciting finish.
That’s why Harman’s good shots early on were barely even acknowledged by the fans. Generally it was silence, punctuated by a handful of people clapping (probably his family). Compare that to how it was later on when everybody had accepted that it was over and that he’d just destroyed the field, and it was night and day.
By the end people acknowledged what he was doing, but at the start of the day they just wanted a contest. The conditions meant that nobody was going to go really low and make a run at him (67 was the lowest round of the day) so it needed Harman to come back to the field. That’s why his bogeys were greeted with more excitement than his birdies. The longer the day went the more Harman’s play was recognised by the galleries and tens of thousands stayed to see him crowned Champion.
There were other reasons to root against him too of course, but contrary to some views I saw on golf twitter, nationality wasn’t one of them. We’ve had so many American winners of this event and they’ve been embraced by the British golf fans, so Harman’s nationality wasn’t a factor in whatever heckling he got. Him not being seen as a glamorous enough name was certainly part of it, although that wasn’t why I was rooting against him. I’ll get to that.
Harman isn’t Todd Hamilton or Ben Curtis. A good comparison is probably Danny Willett winning the Masters. A lot of people felt he was not a befitting winner of such a prestigious event, and some will feel that way about Harman too. Not me. Like Willett was when he won at Augusta, Harman is a fine player. He isn’t some flash in the pan who came from nowhere, he’s currently ranked 10th in the world and was in the top 30 prior to the Open.
He’s a worthy and fitting winner who fully deserves to have the Claret Jug and the title of “Champion Golfer of the Year”. I hate that he won it though, which is weird because at the beginning of the week I liked Harman. I’ve bet on him loads and although I don’t think he’s ever won me anything, he’s often given me a good run for my money. So I had no beef with little Brian. I liked him.
So what changed, and why was I so absolutely desperate to see anyone but him win? Two things. The animal hunting and the waggles. I’ll deal with the waggles first as it’s a far less complex issue to explain. It’s annoying. I don’t need to be watching anybody waggle the club 12 or 13 times before pulling the trigger. Many of us have annoying pre-shot habits. I bend my knees over and over and I really wish I didn’t, but I can’t stop it. The only people I’m annoying with that though are myself and anyone unfortunate enough to be playing with me.
Harman had the entire golfing world watching his excessive waggling. If that’s what he needs to do to be comfortable, fine, I get it. As long as he isn’t holding up the group behind he can do what he likes, as that’s his right. Just as it’s my right to be massively put off and annoyed by it. The TV coverage at one point inserted a ‘waggle counter’ on the screen before his shots. I think 13 was the highest he got to, but I’m not sure.
Is it a big deal? No, but I’ve rooted against golfers for far less than this. I root against Patrick Cantlay because I don’t like his face, and I root against Xander Shauffele just because he’s mates with Cantlay. As I say it doesn’t take much, so the waggles alone would have been enough to make me want Harman to blow it. Mostly though it was the animal hunting.
This is an interesting subject as it has caused something of a divide between US and British golf fans and media. Hunting is a normal thing in America but in Britain, by and large we hate it. Over here hunting animals is generally a pursuit of the upper classes and the overwhelming majority of normal people over here are pretty offended by it. Fox hunting is an especially abhorrent activity and I’d happily see anyone who takes part in that hung, drawn and quartered.
It’s just a big cultural difference. Americans seemed surprised at how we view it, but I was surprised that they were surprised. Over there guns and crossbows are readily available, over here they aren’t. Brits simply don’t have the option of going into their nearest Asda and picking up a sniper rifle and a stupid outfit to then go into the woods like Elmer Fudd hunting “wabbits”. Yes, we have toffs in stupid red clobber riding horses around the countryside, but pretty much everybody else in the country hates them. It isn’t normal or acceptable.
I’m not going to go into this in too much detail as I’m here to write about golf, but for any Americans reading this I’ll try to add some context. I’ve seen a lot of Americans (including Harman himself) argue that it’s fine for Harman to do what he does because he eats everything he kills. I’d agree that this is not as deplorable as trophy hunting for lions and giraffes etc but when you’re posing for photos like this you are definitely blurring the lines and most British people will look at this and think “dickhead”.
Nevertheless, there are shades of grey here. Harman argues that meat you buy in the supermarkets comes from animals who have had far worse lives than the ones he hunts in the wild. True enough, but given that those animals in the supermarket are already dead and available to buy, why go out and needlessly kill another one that’s simply minding its own business out in the wild?
Harman, like virtually everyone else in advanced society who goes out and kills animals in the wild, does so because he likes it. It’s that simple. There’s no other reason for it. You don’t go to all that trouble unless this is how you get your kicks. Just be honest about it. Don’t try and justify it with whataboutery. Yes, animals we buy in supermarkets have had shit lives and in most cases have lived in dreadful conditions. Does that make watching an elk on a webcam for weeks on end before going out and shooting it ok though?
Harman was spouting some nonsense about giving it an honourable death, but ask poor old Bullwinkle if he’d rather die in pain at the hands of pint sized Brian or if he’d prefer to live out the rest of his days just chilling in the forest and I think we know what his preference would be. He doesn’t even need a crossbow, he could stand in front of it and waggle his 6 iron over and over until the poor creature keels over from boredom.
Hunters argue that anybody who eats meat is a hypocrite and has no right to judge them. Personally I don’t eat meat but that makes no difference here anyway. I’ll defend my meat eating friends and family and everybody else partial to a Big Mac or sausage butty by saying that there’s a massive difference between going into Tesco and picking up some roast beef off the shelf and going into a farmer’s field, slitting a cow’s throat and posing for a selfie with it. It’s not the same thing. Not the same sport. It’s not even the same ball park.
Some of us play golf as an escape, but Harman does that for a living so when he wants to get away from things for some relaxation and ‘me time’ he goes out with a crossbow and kills Bambi’s mum because he loves it. Not my words, his.
“We love to deer hunt and duck hunt, so that’s a picture of the deer I killed. He’s an eight-pointer, he’s a nice one. This was him. I hit him pretty good. So that’s a picture of him beforehand, this is a week before. See that’s him right there. I set the camera up, so I knew he was in there but I didn’t know when he was going to show up. Those are the last two that I’ve killed. I love it, man.
So I’m really passionate about that kinda stuff, I like it from the start to finish. I like the preparation, I like the hunting, I like the killing, I like the butchering, I like it all.”
I mean Christ, he goes out and shoots ducks, whereas most Brits need trauma counselling if we accidentally run one over in the car. But Brian likes the killing. Likes the butchering. That’s why a lot of us were rooting against him and will now continue to do so.
But really, for most at Hoylake the anti Harman sentiment was because they were rooting for “Tommy Lad” (or Rory) and for much of the tournament Harman was the man standing in Tommy’s way. At least that’s how it looked. In reality, the man standing in Tommy’s way is the same man who is always in his way. Tommy himself.
I’ll get to my guy in a bit, but I’ll stay with Harman for now. Huge credit to him as what he did was so impressive. His golf was phenomenal and it was matched by his mental toughness. We’ve seen plenty of golfers down the years fold under pressure, but any time it looked like he was wobbling he just bounced back with a birdie. It was as impressive as it was infuriating. I’d love to have been able to root for him but there’s the reasons mentioned above, plus I’m a Fleetwood guy, so despite the admiration I have for a little fella who is hitting 5 iron into greens when others are hitting wedge, I wanted him to choke.
But alas, he didn’t and he never once looked like he would, so you’ve just got to give him all the credit in the world. Great golf, nerves of steel and unbelievable putting. I think I read that he made 59 out of 60 putts from inside 10 feet, which I genuinely struggle to even comprehend. How is that possible? It’s absolutely incredible. 59 out of 60 inside five foot would have been impressive enough, but inside 10 feet? Genuinely staggering. I imagine that’s some kind of record but who knows, maybe it’s been done before. On a links course in these conditions though? And under this kind of pressure? I doubt it.
When you combine that with the amount of 25-30 footers he seemed to make as well, how can you beat someone who is doing that? The answer is that you can’t. For all the good play tee to green, Harman’s putter won this tournament for him. Others arguably played better golf (Cameron Young was incredible all week until he got on the green) but none putted like Harman did.
Imagine if McIlroy or Fleetwood could putt like that? It felt like Tommy didn’t make any putts at all following his excellent 66 on Thursday. It’s so frustrating to watch, so imagine how it must feel to be him? He looked so sad and dejected when he came off 18 on Sunday. His game tee to green is great and he seems to be in contention every time he tees it up, but he just can’t get over the line. I want to say it’s only a matter of time before he gets a major but I’m struggling to believe it just because of the putting. Tommy reminds me of Lee Westwood. He didn’t win one because the putter was never on the same level as the rest of his game. Is that going to be Tommy as well? I hope not, as he’s a great fella who everybody seems to love.
For all the disappointment Sunday brought him though (the triple on 17 being the low point), I think Saturday was the day when Tommy played himself out of this tournament. He was in the final group with Harman and although Harman didn’t really do anything that special, Tommy just stood still. You can’t do that. While Rahm was out there shooting 63 to fly up the leaderboard, Fleetwood couldn’t get anything going and not only failed to put a dent in Peewee Harman’s lead, he fell even further back after shooting level par on a day when there were good scores to be had.
I don’t know whether playing in front of a home crowd helps or hinders in these situations. It inspired Shane Lowry a few years ago, but it can work the other way too. I imagine it’s a bigger help when you’re flying and confident as you can ride the wave, but when things get sticky it must be really tough as there’s the added burden of not wanting to disappoint the fans who are rooting for you. It’s probably easier being in Harman’s shoes, where you can use the crowd as motivation in a “I’ll show these bastards” kind of way.
Some fans didn’t cover themselves in glory though. The heckling of Harman was one thing, some weird Leeds fan was calling Rickie Fowler a coward because he elected not to be part of a deal to buy the club, but worst of all was the shouting of random food items after shots. Rridiculous, annoying and not in the slightest bit funny.
I don’t know if it was meant to be ironic, taking the piss out US golf fans for their “Mashed potato” shouts, or if people genuinely thought they were being edgy and cool by shouting “beans on toast” “chips and gravy” or “jacket potato” after shots. I know if I’d have been one of the players having to listen to that it would have pissed me right off.
That being said, when Fleetwood teed off and a shout of “where’s the Arteta money, Bill?” rang out, now that was funny. Most golf fans won’t have a clue what that was about as it’s very much a niché local football reference that will have been appreciated by both Reds and Blues alike. Fleetwood and his caddie ‘Finno’ will have definitely got it. They may have even found it funny, who knows. Generally though the shouting after shots was something we can very much do without.
— BangAverageGolf (@GolfBang) July 22, 2023
So anyway, Tommy’s wait for a major goes on, as does Rory’s. Ten years now. Jeez. He’s played great this year and other than the missed cut at the Masters, he’s been right there in the other three. He’s been top ten in seven of the last eight majors. Astonish levels of consistency. I do think he’ll get at least one more but the longer this goes the harder it will get.
He made three early birdies in a row on both Saturday and Sunday and then predictably just got bogged down afterwards and couldn’t make a putt. We’ve seen this so many times that when he starts to go on a run now it’s hard to get too excited as you know pretty soon he’s going to be running through treacle.
I’ve heard some asking whether Rory has the hunger anymore but I’d suggest it’s surely the opposite. He wants it too much if anything. You can see how much it hurts him when he knows another one has slipped away. Use it as fuel for the Ryder Cup, Rory lad.
We also had a couple of American golfers trying to curry favour with the locals by showing their allegiance to the Mighty Reds. Keegan Bradley tweeted “You’ll Never Walk Alone! Let’s go Liverpool” while Tony Finau went one step further by strolling in on Thursday like this.
Never watched a game in his life I bet. Cheap stunts like this really don’t fool anybody, do they? It’s cringeworthy, we can all see through it. That being said, I’d be lying if I said I’m not a little bit more of a Big Ton’ fan than I was before. So yeah, I guess it does work on gullible saps like me.
Other things of note from this week. The bunker situation left me somewhat conflicted. Thursday was so much fun seeing players getting absolutely boned by the bunkers, so it was disappointing that the R&A decided to make them ‘fairer’ ahead of the next three rounds. They knew all week how the bunkers were playing and many players had commented on it after their practice rounds. This was how they wanted to set up so why deviate from it just because players were complaining? Have the courage of your convictions.
I have no opinion either way on how they should have been set up ahead of the tournament, but having decided to make them as penal as possible I don’t understand why you’d back away from that. Aside from that, the course set up was great and if you take Harman out of it this it would have been an incredible tournament with a fantastic leaderboard on Sunday. Harman was just too good though and the spectacle fell flat because of it. Not his fault, if anything we should be blaming those big names who couldn’t make a putt while Harman was holing everything in sight and making it look easy.
As for the course itself, 17 was entertaining all week and 18 was great too, at least for the first couple of days. I thought it played quite boring on Sunday because the conditions meant it wasn’t gettable in two, which removed the risk / reward factor we’d seen previously and starved us of any real drama. Justin Thomas and Tyrrell Hatton both made nine on that hole earlier in the week, which is great. Not for them, obviously, but definitely for the viewing public who love seeing the pros reduced to the same kind of misery we deal with every round.
Speaking of JT, it gives me no pleasure seeing him struggle the way he has been. I may be in a minority here, but it’s just sad seeing him shooting 82 in majors, and it’s happened twice this year. As much as I loathe him during Ryder Cup week, the rest of the time he’s sound and I’ve got a lot of time for him. There’s much discussion in the US currently as to whether he should make the team for Rome. To me it’s a no brainer, you take him regardless of how he’s playing.
His record in team events is fantastic, he’s one of the emotional leaders of the group and he’s got a tried and trusted pairing with his boy Spieth. So not picking him would be stupid. The Ryder Cup isn’t a 72 hole stroke play event so I wouldn’t be influenced by his recent woes. Taking a nine just means that he loses one hole, unless Spieth wins it for them of course. The format suits him perfectly. If the US don’t pick JT then that’s great news for Europe.
Both teams are starting to take shape now and it looks like Sepp Straka has secured his spot on Team Europe. Prior to this week I wasn’t on board with that as he was giving me serious “Bernd Wiesberger” vibes but that was down to my own ignorance. I knew he’d won a couple of PGA Tour events but I hadn’t seen much of him until this week and I unfairly lumped him in with Wiesberger, who flopped at the last Ryder Cup. Now I’m completely sold on big Sepp though. The shot tracers on his drives were amazing. Dead straight every time, and unlike most of the other Europeans he actually seems to hole putts too. He’s no Wiesberger, he’s legit.
Nice to see Jason Day relevant again after all of his struggles, and I loved seeing Tom Kim making a bit of a charge on Sunday to get into a tie for second. Big fan of his, although he really over egged that “sprained ankle” thing didn’t he? His whole ‘wounded soldier’ schtick was quite funny but I don’t think anyone was really buying it. Bet it gets massive play on the next Netflix doc though.
Not a good week for the LIV contingent. Henrik Stenson was their top performer, finishing T13. I had high hopes for Cam Smith but other than an absolutely filthy eagle on 18 when he was in danger of missing the cut, he didn’t really do much. Brooks and Bryson struggled, but you have to feel for Brooks given the short straw he drew, having to play with slow coach Cantlay for the first three days. I saw Brooks on Sunday and thought he looked like he was carrying a bit of extra timber around the waistline. Probably due to the number of snacks he’s eaten purely out of boredom while waiting around for Cantlay to hit.
He played with Sheffler on Sunday, a man who has also had his issues with slow play. After three days with Cantlay though Brooks must have felt like he was playing with John Daly on Sunday. Shout out to ‘Long John’ and his Hooters trousers by the way. What a guy.
I remain fascinated by Bryson and it’s a shame he was so far out of contention that we didn’t get to see much of him. Of all the players who defected to LIV he’s the one I miss most. I’m not here to defend his character or ride for him in any way, but he’s the most interesting golfer out there as there’s always something mad or funny going on with him, and he’s been badly missed. Can we say that about any of the others? I miss Cam too, as he was always my boy, but I think golf has coped just fine without the rest of them. Actually no, I miss Phil too, the mad bastard.
Finally, how cool was it seeing Matthew Jordan doing so well on his home course? I called that a couple of weeks ago when I saw him playing alongside Sergio in Open qualifying at West Lancs. He was very impressive that day and with Hoylake being his home track I felt like he was a good bet to do well. I stuck a few quid on him to finish in the top 10 and he snuck in thanks to Fleetwood’s collapse on 17. Unfortunately what Tommy giveth he also taketh away, and his birdie on 18 cut significantly into my winnings as he jumped back into a tie for 10th, and the bookies don’t pay out in full when there’s a tie.
So that’s that then, another year of majors in the books. It’s pretty depressing that we have to wait eight months until the Masters comes around again but at least there’s the Ryder Cup in between to break things up. I’m fully bracing myself for Brian Harman to stick it to us all again by making every putt he looks at, while Rory, Tommy, Rahmbo and the rest are burning edges and looking to the heavens in frustration. I hate the Ryder Cup. I also love the Ryder Cup.