The 2023 season marked the year everything in golf stopped mattering outside of major championships. Put a little less nihilistically, everything else in golf only seems to matter within the context of major championships. While so much of men’s professional golf has fallen victim to self-interested parties and leadership vacuums, major championships are the exception. They retain a soul.
All majors take on personalities of their own, including the 2023 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool. Propelled by a brilliant round early Friday morning, 36-year-old Brian Harman snagged a commanding 36-hole lead. He led local favorite Tommy Fleetwood by five shots, and left a host of other talented golfers praying for his downfall. Players five-to-ten strokes behind Harman were not the only people wishing he would falter. Hoping for drama or a more popular winner, the entire golf world seemed to be cheering for a Harman collapse that never came.
A former U.S. Junior Amateur champion, Brian Harman has been solid throughout his entire career. Golf fans may recall the stellar stretch of golf he played in the second half of 2017, which featured a win at Wells Fargo, a runner-up at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, and five straight top-10 finishes between the 2017 CJ Cup and the 2018 Sony Open. Harman has put together occasional stretches worthy of an elite player. But showing flashes of excellence and winning a major championship are entirely different animals. I must admit: I thought there was a strong chance he would squander his lead. As Harman himself conceded, sleeping on a five-shot lead is incredibly difficult, especially when you are on the precipice of a life-changing accomplishment.
Though this major championship will not be lauded as a classic, I am going to remember at least two things from the tournament. The first is to appreciate the scenario in which a non-star leads the field by a healthy margin, and we get the opportunity to speculate on his chances of hoisting a trophy on Sunday. Texting with friends about a player’s chances of sleeping on and holding a lead never gets old. In part, those are conversations about course fit, conditions, and players’ skill sets. But they are also conversations about the mettle of a human being. Predicting and observing which players can withstand the height of pressure taps into the essence and beauty of elite competition. The cycle of having those conversations and bearing witness to the result shouldn’t be taken for granted.
The second thing I will remember from this tournament is that Brian Harman got the job done. He figured out a way to quiet his mind, got some sleep, and woke up on Saturday and Sunday ready to execute golf shots. He succeeded in a situation in which we have seen countless golfers crumble. He won the tournament by six. Witnessing dominance shouldn’t be taken for granted either.
The 2023 Open Championship was a refreshing reminder of what ultimately defines major championship golf: excellence. The crowd proved hostile. Millions of golf fans wanted to see him fail. But Brian Harman was too excellent for any external factors to matter. Now he has the Claret Jug to prove his excellence.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.