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Open Championship Recap: 18 Parting Thoughts on Brian Harman's Drama-less Victory at Royal Liverpool

Stuart Franklin/R&A. Getty Images.

 

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And, just like that, our major championship season is over. This Open won't be featured on Golf Channel's classic rounds any time soon, but it's a major all the same, and Brian Harman earned it. Here are 18 Parting Thoughts on the action at Hoylake. There is so, so much to discuss. 

1. The phrase “drive for show, putt for dough” has largely been disproven by modern statistics. We’ve become smarter as to what makes the best players in the world, the best players in the world. Strokes gained data tells a clear story: the best ball strikers, over the course of a season, are the best players by and large. Here’s the top 10 in strokes gained tee-to-green from this season thus far:

Scottie Scheffler
Rory McIlroy
Jon Rahm
Collin Morikawa
Patrick Cantlay
Tony Finau
Tyrrell Hatton
Tommy Fleetwood
Viktor Hovland
Rickie Fowler

Again, a who’s who of the best. Here’s the top 10 in strokes gained putting:

Maverick McNealy
Taylor Montgomery
Denny McCarthy
Min Woo Lee
Sam Ryder
Tyrrell Hatton
Xander Schauffele
Harry Hall
Sam Burns
Andrew Putnam

Quite the difference. BUT…and it’s a huge but…for one week, a hot putter’s often the difference. That was the case this week. Brian Harman didn’t win this tournament with his ball striking. He won it with that spaceship of a flagstick. He picked up over 4 shots putting in each of his first two rounds. He gained over 11 shots for the tournament, best in the field. He went 13/14 from 5-10 feet, always the money range. 

So yes, it’s inaccurate to suggest that ball striking is merely for show. But it’s also not fair to say that “putt for dough” is some quaint axiom of a bygone era. You have to hit it well enough to win a major, but you absolutely can win one with the putter. 

2. The pre-tournament discourse about the new par-3 17th, “Little Eye,” was laughable in the moment. You had swing instructor Pete Cowen suggesting it might ruin some players' careers. No, really, he said that. Then there was Matt Fitzpatrick’s caddie, Billy Foster, calling it a “monstrosity.” Sometimes our sport really puts the golfers-are-soft storyline on a tee. It’s excessive for any hole; it’s particularly so for a whole that played as a wedge for most of the week. Yes, there were stiff penalties for hitting a poor shot. But there were also rewards for hitting a good one. There wasn’t anything hokey or tricky about the hole but merely a small landing area, a turtle-shell like green with deep bunkers surrounding it. But these are the best golfers in the world! They should have a small target with a wedge in their hands!

The R&A didn’t put the pins in any silly spots really, either. The hole played to a 2.93 scoring average on Saturday, sixth-easiest on the course. On Friday, it was 3.23. Thursday, 3.12. On the subject of short, tricky par 3s I tend to agree with what Brooks Koepka said in his pre-tournament press conference: that most of the best par 3s in the world are 165 yards or less, and there was no issue at all with 17 if you simply hit the ball to the middle of the green. Little Eye presented a gut-check late in the round, as did the internal out-of-bounds on 18. Those testy shots, coupled with the two par 5s in the last four holes, produced a highly compelling finishing stretch where eagles and birdies and bogeys and double bogeys were all distinct possibilities. That’s a good thing. 

3. Scottie Scheffler suggested in his Tuesday press conferences that his putting struggles were essentially a media creation. 

"I think that most of what has to happen is something has to be created into a story," he said, "and for a while it didn't really seem like there was much of a story behind the way I play golf. I think I was viewed as probably a touch boring and didn't really show much emotion and whatever else you could think of.

"But I think I had back-to-back tournaments that I could have won where I putted poorly, and all of a sudden it became this thing where like I'll watch highlights of my round, and even the announcers, any time you step over the putt it's like, well, this is the part of the game he struggles with. And it's like, if you say it every time and you guys see me miss a 12-footer it's like, oh, there it is. He's struggling again."

The thing is, we have stats to back this up, and they tell a clear story. Scheffler’s ball striking has been historically great this year. It’s the driving force behind his incredible run of consistency—18 top-12s in a row and seven top-5s in a row—that came to an end this week. But the putting has, any way you slice it, been his Achilles heel. Scheffler entered the week ranked first on tour in strokes gained off the tee and strokes gained approach, and 139th in strokes gained putting. This week, same story: after three rounds, he ranked fourth in strokes gained off the tee, ninth in strokes gained approach and dead-last in strokes gained putting, losing more than 6 shots to the field on Hoylake’s greens. I don’t pretend to know the technical reasons why Scheffler’s struggled so mightily to convert so many of his approaches. It’s also distinctly possible that it’s not a technical issue; putting consists of three components: the stroke (starting it on line), the read and speed control. Of those three aspects, starting the ball on line is bar far the easiest to master. Most 6-handicaps can make a bunch of dead-straight putts consecutively on a perfectly flat putting mat. It’s more likely a speed or a read issue, especially since Scheffler maintains that he’s hitting a lot of good putts. But let’s not pretend this isn’t a very real thing. 

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4. Speaking of Scheffler…it’s a shame he didn’t win a major this year given how great he was in the non-majors. There’s no such concept as “fair” in this game, but this feels particularly cruel, particularly given the big four’s increasingly outsized influence in our game. A main beneficiary of the War of the Tours has been the major championships, which (for now) now stand alone as the only events that feature all of the world’s top players. These days, great finishes in big PGA TOUR events tend to fade from our collective memory with each passing month. Rory McIlroy’s 2021-22 season was remarkably good and consistent…but he didn’t win a major, and so how much does it really matter? Is that fair? Surely not, especially because players try just as hard in designated events as they do in majors. Still, Scheffler’s ruthlessly consistent year didn’t include the one thing it has to include to be considered an all-time great season. We don’t make the rules, we just acknowledge them. 

5. Another extremely disappointing major season for Patrick Cantlay, the No. 4 player in the world. Cantlay finished T14 or better in the five majors leading up to Hoylake but all of those finishes were of the Wikipedia variety—by that, we mean finishes that look way better on Wikipedia in five years. Cantlay has been a top-10 level player for a half decade and still has never been within 5 shots of the lead entering the final round of a major. That’s…pretty poor. The problem recently has been poor Thursday starts, but he opened with a one-under 70 this week only to then go backwards. A T33 finish will do nothing to quell the narrative that, for whatever reason, he simply has not been able to even threaten at a single major championship. 

6. On the other side of the why-can’t-he-in-majors narrative we have Max Homa. He did it! He finally did it! Homa picked up his first top 10 in a major championship this week by the hair of his chinny-chin-chin, but no matter. That’s a significant monkey off his back and some are calling his finish equivalent to a major. With that out of the way, you’d like to think he’ll play more freely in majors moving forward. At 33, he has plenty of time to challenge for one of these. This was the first step. 

7. NBC was all over the Harman-Fleetwood Walker Cup angle. They both played in the 2009 Walker Cup at Merion, and so when they played in the final pairing on Saturday, pictures from that event surfaced. Harman looked like a younger version of himself. Fleetwood looked like an entirely different person. 

It’s amazing what time, some skincare, a new haircut, facial hair and $30 million dollars can do for a man’s appearance. Just ask Cristiano Ronaldo. They’ll be studying this come-up for generations. 

8. Stewart Cink gave us a classic “I’m not going to say it, but I’m saying it” line after an opening-round 68. His flight from Atlanta to England on Sunday was canceled, a frustration that’s been all too common for travelers in recent days. 

“The best we could do was fly 24 hours later from Atlanta,” Cink told reporters. “We had some travel difficulties, and because of what is right there on my shirt, I’m not going to tell you what happened.” 

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He didn’t have to gesture. Printed in capital letters on the left breast of his quarter-zip: DELTA. 

9. One of The Opens main charms is its quirkiness. It’s the oldest major. They use different terminology. The official communications begin with British kind-isms like “we wish to inform you.” The fans give sheepish applause when a pissed-off golfer plays sideways out of a pot bunker. And, sometimes, an animal disrupts play. But not just any animal. 

It happened on Saturday morning, when a rare species of toad stopped play on the 13th hole. This guy was smaller than a golf ball but no matter—there was only one person on the property capable of dealing with such a creature: Royal Liverpool’s Lins manager James Bledge. Only at the Open. 

10. Incredibly, Rory McIlroy’s major drought will reach its 10th(!) year after another barren year. It hasn’t been for lack of chances. With his T6, McIlroy now has 20 top-10 major finishes since his last triumph at Kiawah in 2014. As he’s said umpteen times, there’s no one that wants him to win another major more than he does. And the law of averages would suggest one of these days he’ll stumble into a victory. Still, you have to think he’s waking up Monday morning frustrated as hell that another year has come and went. 

Knowing the Golf Gods, and their cruel sense of humor when it comes to McIlroy, he’ll go on a tear to finish the year and win his fourth FedEx Cup title…and still, the narrative will be one thing and one thing only. That he hasn’t won a major in 10 years. Such is the plight of a generational talent trudging through a most puzzling drought. 

11. Justin Thomas is putting U.S. Ryder Cup captain in a tricky position. No sane person can argue that Thomas’ play on tour this year warrants a captains’ pick, which he’ll need to make the team. That much is for sure after he missed the cut for the third time in four majors this year. JT shot 82 on Thursday, his second round of 80+ in a major this year after his Friday 81 at LACC. He shot a combined 41-over-par in just 10 major rounds this year. He is, by all accounts, playing the worst golf he has in the past half-decade. 

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Then again, he’s Justin Thomas. His 6-2-1 mark in his two Ryder Cup appearances is the best record of any American who’s played at least two. He was one of the lone bright spots when the U.S. were shellacked in Paris in 2018, and he and Jordan Spieth teamed up with success at Whistling Straits. He’s a fiery character, arguably the heart-and-soul of the crew of players between 29-31 that form so much of the American core. But he’s just not playing well, and this shines a light on what’s been a criticism of the U.S. Ryder Cup ecosystem: that it’s a bit of a boys club. That you’re either in the “in-group” or you’re out. It sure seems like Johnson isn’t thinking about leaving Thomas off the team, even if there are undoubtedly 12 Americans playing better golf at the moment. 

"He's a stalwart in that event,” Johnson said Friday. “In those kinds of moments like that, he's one of the best there is.”

And later: Let's hope whatever sort of non-peak he's in, it's short. I know he's got a great team. I love his coaches. I love how he works. He's a worker. Guys with talent like that, who aren't afraid to put their work in the dirt, if you will, not to be cliche, typically find it. It's just a matter of when, not if. He's too darned good."

It also should be noted that playing in Ryder Cups, particularly on the road, is an entirely different proposition from playing stroke-play events on Tour. The Cup is a cauldron of emotions unlike anything else in the sport, and Thomas has proven he can handle it. There’s a history of captains picking guys based on reputation/their history; Sergio Garcia famously got a few picks when maybe his play didn’t merit it, and he delivered more often than not. On the flip side, U.S. captain Jim Furyk went with the hot hands with his picks in 2018 and they played awful. Stroke-play success doesn’t necessarily correlate with Ryder Cup success. 

Still, assuming Thomas doesn’t show some serious form in the next few weeks—he added the 3M to his schedule and, as he now sits 75th, has work to do if he’s to get into the FedEx Cup playoffs and keep his streak of seven consecutive Tour Championships alive—and still gets a pick, guys who didn’t get picked are going to be pissed. They’ll have a point. It’s hard to argue it’s a truly meritocratic process if Thomas gets in. I know this is not a popular thing to say on the internet, but I understand both sides. For what it’s worth, given Johnson’s comments and his status in the in-group, I absolutely think he’ll pick Thomas even if he misses the cut at the 3M and misses the playoffs. 

12. All that said, let’s make some post-majors-season predictions for each Ryder Cup team. No explanations, no bubble picture, just 12 names on each side:

USA

—Scheffler
—Clark
—Koepka
—Schauffele
—Cantlay
—Homa
—Spieth
—Fowler
—Harman
—Thomas
—Morikawa
—Finau

EUROPE

—Rahm
—McIlroy
—Hovland
—Fleetwood
—Fitzpatrick
—Hatton
—Lowry
—Rose
—Straka
—MacIntyre
—Aberg
—Meronk

13. One more Ryder Cup thing (sorry, ’tis the season). All the sudden, the matchup looks a lot more intriguing than you might’ve thought a year ago. McIlroy, Rahm, Fleetwood, Hovland and Straka were on the first page of the leaderboard for most of the week. The top two Americans this week, Harman and Cameron Young, aren’t shoe-ins to make the team. Apart from Scheffler (and Clark and Fowler, to an extent), none of the Americans are in peak form right now. Guys you thought were shoe-ins after Whistling, like Finau and Thomas, are struggling. Collin Morikawa’s taken a step back the last few years. Meanwhile, the five guys we mentioned earlier, plus Tyrrell Hatton and Matt Fitzpatrick, all enter playing pretty solidly. There’ also been the emergence of Ludvig Aberg on the PGA TOUR, just the type of exciting young talent the Europeans needed to backfill the void left by the 40+ year olds who went to LIV—the Ian Poulters, Lee Westwoods, Paul Caseys and Sergio Garcias of the world. 

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Given all that, and the fact the Americans haven’t won on foreign soil in  Europe at +185 feels like the value play. 

14. The Merseyside crowds didn’t take too kindly to Brian Harman. It’s understandable; he’s not the type to exactly light up a room, and he played the natural villain—first to McIlroy, then Fleetwood, then Jon Rahm. Another potential reason why: he’s unapologetically a huge hunter, and they’re not big fans of that over there. Credit to No Laying Up’s Kevin Van Valkenburg for bringing this article, from the Guardian’s Ewen Murray, to our collective attention: 

“In one of the more bizarre major press conference departures of recent times, the 36-year-old explained his penchant for killing animals. He missed the cut at the Masters and immediately slaughtered a pig and a turkey. ‘I’ve been a hunter my entire life,” he boasted. “I enjoy the strategy of it. We eat a lot of wild meat at my house so I enjoy butchering and I do a lot of hunting.’ Champions traditionally drink from the Claret Jug. One is left to ponder what on earth Harman may do with the famous trophy.”

Sheesh! Perhaps that explains the extremely tepid responses his birdies received all weekend…Harman certainly noticed. 

“You know, I’d be lying if I didn’t hear some things that weren’t super nice today towards me,” he said. “I hear them, but at the same time, I don’t try to let that influence the decision I’m about to make.” 

Asked what, exactly, he heard? “Unrepeatable.”

Remember this next time our friends from across the pond insist on the superiority of UK crowds.

15. I watched this major championship from home for the first time in a while, so I decided to treat myself a little bit. I bought a foot massager, and it improved my viewing experience tremendously. I can’t recommend this highly enough. If you’re on the fence about a foot massager, do it. Just do it. I promise you won’t regret it. I think this might be my new normal now. I don’t know if there are any adversarial effects of having your feet live in a massager, but I do intend to find out.  

16. Matthew Jordan had himself a dream week. The longtime Royal Liverpool member—he’s a three-time club champion—received the honor of hitting the first tee shot of the Open on the course he grew up playing. Jordan opened with 69 and hung up there all weekend, eventually finishing the top 15 in just his second major championship start. (He missed the cut at last year’s Open in his first). 

We heard a lot about memberships to UK clubs this week. Tommy Fleetwood’s dad one nearby. So did his caddie, Ian Finnis. When we Americans hear that we think of the hyper-elite and exclusive country clubs we have here in the states, but it’s a different golf culture over there. Firstly, they’re not nearly as expensive as the top clubs in the U.S. And apart from a very few elite ones like Muirfield ,the private ones in the UK, the ones with members, let the general public on when the members aren’t playing. You can call ahead and get a tee time more often than not. Some courses have a designated day where they’re open to everyone. That feels like the better system—have paying members who get priority, but there’s no reason private clubs here in the states couldn’t open to the public every once in a while. 

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17. The Fitzpatricks were a fun storyline to follow all week. Matt, of course, ia a top-10 player in the world and a major champion. His younger brother, Alex, stayed in college a lot longer than Matt did. Four years, to be exact, and was an All-American at Wake Forest. He turned professional and has played mostly on the Challenge Tour, with some DP World Tour events mixed in and one PGA TOUR start at the Zurich Classic, where his brother tagged him in for team duty. At that event in New Orleans, older brother was asked about his relationship with younger brother. He said they’re polar opposites. 

“I’m organized, he’s unorganized. He’s happy, I’m miserable.” 

Alex played his way into this Open the old fashioned way, by earning a spot at a final qualifying location. His first Open round was a three-over 74 but he bounced back with a 70 to make the cut with a shot to spare. On Saturday, he shot the second-best round of the day, a six-under 65 bested only by Jon Rahm’s record-setting 63. That gave him a two shot lead on his brother, who shot 68 on Saturday, and a great chance to beat Matt in a professional tournament for the first time. Both shot over par on Sunday but Alex came out on top at T17 vs. Matt's T41. A massive week for the younger brother and a big confidence builder. 

18. I can’t believe the men’s major season is over, and I think I preferred the old major championship schedule. I obviously understand why the changes were made; going against football Sundays is a suicide mission, and the PGA Championship definitely has more juice in May than it did as a sort of afterthought in August. 

But…man, it just goes by so quickly, doesn’t it? It doesn’t feel right for the golf season to, at least to the general public, essentially end when there’s three months left of warm summer weather. There’s still plenty to look forward to on the golf calendar—the FedEx Cup playoffs are a decent show, the Ryder Cup is awesome, and there’s the NV5 Invitational Presented by Old National Bank next week on the Korn Ferry Tour—but I’m selfishly salty that we’ve got 8.5 months until Augusta. 

Looking back, the first two majors of the year were won by huge names in Rahm and Koepka. Then we got Wyndham Clark and Brian Harman, our latest reminders that golf is impossible to predict, and that there are so many players capable of winning on any given week. It’s been very fun needing out with you guys this summer. Thanks for reading, genuinely. 

-Dan