As the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship was nearing its conclusion, the CBS broadcast was anticipating a rematch of the Dustin Johnson-Jon Rahm battles from the two WGC events earlier this spring.
Rahm appeared to be the only player capable of denying Johnson a fourth consecutive victory in his first start since suffering a back injury in a household fall just before the Masters.
But the third Johnson-Rahm showdown never materialized. Savannah native and former UGA golfer Brian Harman stole the headlines from two of the game’s most talented players, finishing with birdies on the final two holes to overtake Johnson and score his second PGA Tour victory.
Harman emerged from a crowded leader board with four birdies on his final seven holes at Eagle Point in Wilmington, N.C., which served as tournament in host in place of Quail Hollow in Charlotte, which will be the site of the 2017 PGA Championship.
Thanks to his late flurry of birdies, Harman shot 68 in the final round and finished at 10-under 278 on a course that caught the attention of both the tournament field and viewing audience with its similarities to Augusta National.
Harman was one of the elite junior golfers in the U.S. before enrolling at UGA and enjoyed a successful amateur career that included a pair of Walker Cup appearances four years apart.
Although his college career did not reach the heights expected of someone with Harman’s credentials, he won a number of prominent amateur events, including the 2009 Dogwood at Druid Hills.
Harman concluded his amateur career by being part of a second victorious U.S. Walker Cup team, but spent his first few years as a professional at the mini-tour level, making it to the PGA Tour in 2012 on his third attempt at Q-school.
For much of his first three seasons on the PGA Tour, Harman played respectably but with little notice, placing 97 and 80 in the FedExCup regular season standings in 2012 and ’13. He was around 50th late in the ’14 season when he edged out local favorite Zach Johnson by one shot with a final round 66 in the John Deere Classic.
That win moved Harman into the top 15 of the FedExCup standings, and he ended the season ranked No. 21 before falling out of the top 30 in the Playoffs to miss what would have been his first appearance in the Tour Championship at East Lake.
Harman received the other usual perks for his 2014 victory, earning his first appearances in the British Open, PGA Championship, Tournament of Champions and Masters after making just one start in a major in his first 2 ½ years on tour.
The win in the John Deere did not significantly alter Harman’s career path, however, as his play during the 2015 and 2016 seasons was nearly identical to that of his first two years as a PGA Tour member. He placed 69 and 88 in the FedExCup standings, recording a total of five top-10 finishes along with 23 missed cuts.
Harman got off to one of his best starts in 2017, coming into the Wells Fargo event with three top 10s, one a few weeks earlier in Hilton Head, and three other top 20s. He made a scouting trip to Eagle Point before the tournament and evidently took a liking to the first-time PGA Tour host.
A second round 69 matched the low score on a very windy day and moved Harman within one of the lead at 4-under 140 after 36 holes. He remained one back after a 70 on Saturday, and was part of the multi-player group of contenders Sunday, rolling in a 20-footer for birdie on the par-4 ninth to make the turn in 1-under.
Harman moved closer to the top when he birdied the par-5 12th and hit his tee shot to 2 ½ feet on the par-3 14th. A three-putt bogey on 15 stalled his late surge, but he remained only one off the lead with two holes to play.
After a nicely placed drive on the perilous par-4 17th, Harman stuck his second shot within five feet and made the putt to tie for the lead. He went for the green in two at the risk/reward par-5 18th and after a wide miss to the dry side, came up short with his pitch from the rough.
Needing a 28-footer to break a tie with Johnson and Pat Perez, Harman drilled the putt to end almost three years without a victory.
The win earns Harman a spot in the 2017 PGA Championship and 2018 Tournament of Champions and Masters. It will almost certainly get him into both the U.S. and British Opens this year, which would put Harman in three of this year’s four majors after missing all four in 2016.
Harman moves up from 32 to 9 in the FedExCup standings, which puts him in position for a first spot in the Tour Championship. He improved his World Ranking from 93 to 52, which should qualify him for next two majors as well as the WGC event at Firestone this summer.
The 30-year-old Harman, who is right-handed but plays golf left-habded, is part of the sizeable group of PGA Tour players who have settled on St. Simons Island, and was a college teammate of fellow PGA players Hudson Swafford, Harris English and Russell Henley.
Harman entered UGA in 2005 as one of the top college prospects in the country, having played on the U.S. Walker Cup team shortly before beginning classes. Harman won the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2003, the GSGA Junior Amateur in ’04 and ’05 and the Georgia Amateur later in ’05 at Savannah GC in his hometown.
A victory in the Players Amateur that summer helped earn Harman his berth on the Walker Cup team, and he went 2-0-1 in the matches to help lead the U.S. to a 12 ½ – 11 ½ win. Harman won one of the bigger college tournaments in the fall of his freshman season (the NCAA Preview), but scored only one more victory as a collegian, that coming in ’06 at Isleworth. He was a second team All-American three of his four years at Georgia, with the Bulldogs finishing second at nationals his sophomore season and third as a senior, when he was part of a team that included Swafford and freshmen Henley and English.
Harman also played with PGA Tour members Chris Kirk, Kevin Kisner and Brendon Todd early in his four years in Athens, with the ’07 Georgia team taking second in the NCAA Championship two years after that trio led the Bulldogs to the NCAA Championship.
After completing his college career, Harman played on a second Walker Cup team and went 2-1-1 as the U.S. romped to a 16 ½ – 9 ½ win. He turned pro later that year, but was unable to qualify for either the PGA or Web.com Tour until his third try, going straight from the mini-tours to golf’s major leagues.
At 5-foot-7, Harman is one of the shorter players on the PGA Tour, and is not among the tour’s longer hitters. He has been known since his junior days as a quality ball striker and putter who plays aggressively and does not lack for self confidence. Those traits have served him well in his six seasons on tour and will likely earn him more attention the next time he gets into contention on the weekend.