It was a dominant performance from Brian Harman, one that would have required a herculean effort to top. World No. 3 Jon Rahm detailed this following the final round saying “he won by six. It’s not like he won by two or three. He won by six, so there’s nothing really any of us could have done.” It speaks to the dominance of Harman’s performance when the third-ranked player in the world finishes tied for second and still reaches the conclusion he had no chance to win.
Here are some notes on a few players not named Harman and on the course that allowed one player to lift and separate from the pack.
Despite finishing T-8, Cameron Young delivered a scintillating performance at Hoylake. The budding star has had a poor year in comparison to 2022, but this week reminded the golf world of his tantalizing talent. Young led both Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and SG: Approach at Hoylake. The rest of the stats were bad but how many other players in the world have the talent to achieve that?
My list would be Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler. That’s lofty company, and shows the immense talent that the 26-year-old possesses. It’s great to see him back playing quality golf. This week really helps his case for making the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
We got to hear plenty about the newly remodeled 17th at Royal Liverpool in the run up to the tournament. The Harry Colt-designed hole was blown up and moved by Martin Ebert in preparation for the Open. It showed out for the first two rounds thanks to a stout wind. But a more docile weekend meant it failed to have the kind of pronounced impact on the tournament everyone involved had hoped for. Great short par 3s strike fear in professionals with or without the elements. The 17th failed to do that. The main issue: players were free to bail to the safe side of a pin without any challenge from the ensuing lag putt. It led to a lot of pars and birdies, without the threat of big numbers the architects were hoping for. The remodeled 17th’s greatest contribution: the changes allowed for the 18th to be lengthened, and the finishing hole shined all week. I would expect a remodel of “Little Eye” before the Open returns to Hoylake.
Another major, another top 10 for Rory McIlroy. In the last two years, he’s amassed seven top-10 finishes across eight major championships. This week, he didn’t have the championship within his grasp like at LACC in June, or St. Andrews in 2022. But he would have been a factor had Harman slipped. McIlroy is at the point in his career where winning major championships is the only thing that truly matters. It’s a hard position to be in because it boils success or failure down to a mere 16 rounds against the very best players in the world. Over the last two years, McIlroy has done everything but win. The consistency is mind-boggling, but so is the fact that he hasn’t gotten over the line. In the high-leverage moments, like the third round this week and the final rounds at St. Andrews and LACC, the putter appears to be holding him back. Modern golf is unfortunately a make or miss league, and his flatstick has faltered in the biggest moments. With all that said, consistency is the elusive trait every golfer is attempting to obtain and never in his career has McIlroy’s game been as consistent and well-rounded.
It was a distant T-2 for Jon Rahm, who struggled to get anything going after a record-breaking 63 on Saturday. While not challenging on Sunday was a disappointment, it was nice to see Rahm be a factor at a second major in 2023. After winning the Masters, the supremely talented Spaniard turned in non-competitive T-50 and T-10 at the PGA and the U.S. Open, respectively. This major year will go down as the second-best of his young career, behind the 2021 campaign where he notched finishes of T-5, T-8, 1st, and T-3.
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One of the subplots of the 2023 men’s major season was the resurgence of yesteryear’s stars. Both Jason Day and Rickie Fowler were factors late on Sunday in major championships, something that felt incredibly unlikely twelve months ago. Day has been sensational this year, ascending to 21st in the world rankings after toiling around No. 150 this time last year. On top of this flirtation with the Claret Jug, Day was an early round storyline at the Masters before a bout of vertigo knocked him out. Golf is better when stars have longevity, and it would be great for the 35-year-old to have a few more notable major championship runs.
All aboard the Straka hype train! The big Austrian who sports a Southern drawl was simply sensational over the weekend at Hoylake. Straka routinely showered the hole locations with irons from all ranges. Straka led the field in birdies made and should have assured himself a spot on the European Ryder Cup team thanks to his T-2 this week to go along with his T-7 at the PGA Championship.
While a chase never developed on Sunday, Hovland continued to build on his strong 2023 with a T-13 this week. We wondered how Hovland would respond from his poor showing in the final group at the Old Course last year, and he came right back for more. Hovland has now played in one of the final two groups for four of the last five majors. Hovland is knocking on the door often enough that it feels bound to open soon.
Throughout his professional career, Max Homa has shown a need to acclimate himself before finding new levels of success. Earning a Tour card in 2014, he proceeded to lose it twice before he became a mainstay. Since he solidified his status and started winning big tournaments and winning plenty of fans in recent years, majors have remained a struggle. This week saw him play his best ever golf in a major championship, notching a T-10. I expect this week to serve as another turning point for a player with the talent to be more than just a social media presence at golf’s biggest events.
The young, fun, up-and-coming player has had a disappointing year but used a 68-67 weekend to finish T-2. Kim is a short hitter by modern standards, and a big question for his future major championship chances is whether he’ll be able to keep up with the long hitters at setups that reward distance more than anything else. The precision test of Hoylake played into his hands and he managed a T-2 despite a grade-1 ligament tear in his right ankle. I want to write something about the big things to come for this 21-year-old but, I am just not sure how his game fits the three non-British majors. But he has all the tools for links golf, and it’s good to see him build some confidence here.
He ended up T-23. Absurdly, that’s Scottie’s worst finish since October, which is all you need to know about how good he’s been all year.
A test of control
I can’t remember a venue where finding fairways was more important. Brian Harman ranked first in fairways hit, a massive reason for his success. It makes you wonder if more tournament venues had the makeup of Hoylake, would we have more Brian Harman type players rising to the occasion. Analyzing why the fairway mattered so much this week, I would lean towards a few factors:
- Penal, well-placed bunkers and hazards/OB.
- Wispy rough that made it difficult to judge how the ball would react.
- Fairways that moved on angles vs straight lines. These force players to choose a line and distance, as opposed to a straight-line hole. Asking two questions will always present a more challenging test than just asking one.
This is a combination of factors often found at Open Championship venues which help make distance a less-decisive advantage.
A parting thought: historically-great performances from historically not-great players should be celebrated, not torn down. 2023 at Hoylake will always be the week where Brian Harman elevated his game and dominated golf’s elite. That’s inspiring stuff.
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