At Walker Cup, in Harman you trust

Brian Harman hits a shot during a practice round at Merion Golf Club at the Walker Cup.

Brian Harman hits a shot during a practice round at Merion Golf Club at the Walker Cup.

ARDMORE, Pa. – There wasn’t a decision for captain Buddy Marucci. Brian Harman is here at Merion, so he goes off in the first group tomorrow at 7:30 a.m. Anyone that can read the deer tracks on Harman’s golf balls knows that. He doesn’t pass up the start to bow season for just anything now.

“I just told the guys, look, you’re never going to be this nervous, but you’re never going to have this much fun, either,” Harman said Friday outside the Merion clubhouse as rain poured down on the Philadelphia area.

A couple of years ago, Harman stood in the parking lot at Olympic Club with his hands on his head and a blank expression on his face, having just missed the cut at the ’07 U.S. Amateur. He knew he needed a good finish to put himself into any consideration for the U.S. Walker Cup team; a month later, he watched from home as the Americans celebrated victory in Ireland.

Harman knows what that’s like. In 2005, he stood with his hands on his head and an amazed grin on his face at Chicago Golf Club after going 2-0-1 to help the U.S. to its first Walker Cup victory since 1997. He was 18 then, the youngest player to ever suit up for the American side.

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Brian Harman celebrates the United States' victory at the 2005 Walker Cup.

Harman is 22 now, with two days remaining in an amateur career that has been both trying and tremendous.

He will go down as one of the best junior golfers of all time, but also as a college golfer who struggled to meet expectations, especially in his early years at Georgia. He will go down as a guy with a hot temper, but also as the one whom you would want hitting the shot with everything on the line.

At this week’s Walker Cup, you would be foolish not to let him hit the first shot and even more foolish not to hope he will hit the last.

For sure, there is proof, perhaps the best example coming last spring at the NCAA Championship, where his Bulldogs drew top-ranked Oklahoma State in the first round of match play. The score locked at 2-2 with only one match remaining, Harman made birdie putts of 8, 12 and 8 feet on Nos. 16-18 at Inverness to beat Walker Cup teammate Rickie Fowler, 1 up, and send those rival Cowboys home early.

As the final putt dropped, Harman pumped his fist and screamed as loud as you can on a golf course, perhaps releasing the frustration of what his coach Chris Haack called “disappointing years” that yielded little highlights and a missed Walker Cup opportunity. The victory also punctuated a comeback spring during which Harman climbed to No. 13 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings and propelled him into the summer with only Walker Cup on the brain.

“I made it my commitment this year to make this team, and I’m really glad I stuck around and put off a pro career to do it,” said Harman, perhaps the last player with professional aspirations to play in non-consecutive Walker Cups. “It’s very gratifying.”

Harman’s club caddie this week, Jeff Owsik, said he could tell after only a few hours how serious Harman was about being at Merion this week. While Owsik said Harman “is absolutely hilarious,” he also pegged him as an emotional leader, someone who should make things even more exciting.

Harman brushed off the role and said he doesn’t “think anyone will have any trouble with emotions this week” – but understand that those words come from a guy who has had strep throat since Friday and a scar longer than a putter head on his left side from what he’ll call only “a hunting accident” since age 11. (Want to see it? Just ask. He’ll tug his shirt out of his rain pants to show you.)

For Harman, it’s not a big deal, whatever it is. This whole Walker Cup thing, it’s just “cool, really cool so far,” he said.

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Brian Harman unleashes a fierce fist pump on the 18th green at the NCAA Championship this year.

Owsik said Harman told him this week about a foursomes match at the ‘05 Walker Cup in which he was paired with Anthony Kim and hit a 3-wood to 6 inches to win the match. The pair bumped chests and put forth what Harman called an “outlandish celebration, just over the top,” which is fitting, considering he listed Boo Weekley as his favorite golfer on his media information sheet this week.

“That’s how Anthony was, and I really fed off of him,” Harman said. “It was pretty good, a lot of fun.”

Harman e-mailed Kim jokingly during the Ryder Cup last September after Kim was paired with Phil Mickelson: “At least I know I’m still the best left-hander you ever played with.”

Harman has been often criticized over the years for acting out his temper on the golf course, but there is also a sense of humor and fiery passion that he doesn’t hide one bit, the side to him that makes him a popular teammate on and off the course.

“You should hear some of the jokes we’ve been telling on the team bus,” Harman told the media during Friday’s press conference. At the same time, Marucci put his left hand over Harman’s microphone.

Marucci is perfectly fine with letting Harman’s play do the talking, which is why he has put him out in the first morning foursomes group with Morgan Hoffmann to face Great Britain & Ireland’s Wallace Booth and Sam Hutsby, and again in the first match of afternoon singles against Gavin Dear.

“I’ve had my issues in the past, there’s no doubt. And I will never deny the fact that I have made a total jerk out of myself plenty of times on the golf course, and I probably will do it a lot more times before I’m done,” Harman said. “I’m very passionate about the game. And if anyone wants to question my commitment to amateur golf or my commitment to other people, just ask one of my teammates. Don’t ask me. Ask one of them.”

And when you ask them, they will smile. One will even say, “What do you think?”

Harman is an avid hunter and fisherman and said Friday that with bow season beginning in Georgia Saturday, “there’s one thing I’ll miss bow season for, it’s the Walker Cup and not much else.”

So it should be no surprise then that Harman dots his golf balls with deer tracks. He’s never covered up his tracks; he’s only kept making them.

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