This year’s Royal Liverpool course setup proved again that when a complete range of golfing skills are tested, those with the ability to keep the ball in play, hit reasonable scoring shots, and are consistent with their medium-range putting can and will win.
Journeyman PGA Tour player Brian Harman beat the field at the British Open by six shots in four days of weather that was alternately warm, cold, windy, rainy, and windy, cool, and rainy at the same time. It’s not that he didn’t make mistakes, but when he did, as his tee shot on the 5th hole in the fourth round into a gorse bush, he limited the damage with smart play to post a bogey.
Harman’s driving was not spectacular, especially compared to the big guns in the field like Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, and Bryson DeChambeau. After all, he is 144th in driving distance on Tour at just over 293 yards but a credible 8th in accuracy, hitting more than two-thirds of the fairway.
Those analysts who think they know it all dismiss Harman as a “one-off” who putted lights out for a week, the right week, and took home the Claret Jug. He was first in strokes gained putting by a sensational margin of almost 12 strokes, had zero three-putts, and missed only one putt under ten feet in the four rounds. His 106 putts were the fewest in the British Open in the past 20 years when another journeyman Ben Curtis took his only major.
The analysts are correct but for the wrong reason. It wasn’t just about his putting it was about his whole game. Keeping the ball in play, staying out of the penal bunkering, not letting the weather get to him, and maintaining his focus was the key.
In short, he was gutsy, smart, and dominant. He did not overpower the course, just his opponents.
What isn’t being discussed is how golf’s ruling bodies, the USGA and the R&A, continue to the boat, insisting the ball goes too far and must be reined in for the sake of golf’s future.
You’re familiar with the arguments for and against, but this same discussion has been going on with the same dire predictions for over a century, yet golf and golfers continue. The governing associations have proposed a Model Local Rule for elite players that, when enacted, will limit the distance balls can be hit.
Not everyone believes there is a problem that must be “cured.” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan has said the Tour will not go along with the proposed Model Local Rule, acknowledging it is not in the best interests of their players or fans.
The British Open at Royal Liverpool demonstrated for the umpteenth time the single biggest factor controlling scoring is course setup. Rough that actually is rough, not just long fairway grass, strategically placed bunkering that can be, in effect, a one-shot penalty, greens with contours that cause offline approach shots to run away…well, you get the idea.
Set-ups such as Royal Liverpool place the emphasis on having a complete game and the intelligence to manage yourself to success. They are an argument against any artificial attempt to restrict the performance of the equipment. Something that has never worked in the past and never will in the future.