Brian Harman is ready to make his mark
Savannah's Brian Harman was finger painting and watching Sesame Street when Tiger Woods made his PGA Tour debut in 1992. Woods was granted a sponsor's exemption into his hometown event, the Nissan Los Angeles Open.
Now a dozen years later, they've each come an awfully long way. The scrawny teen that missed the cut in California has grown into arguably the greatest golfer of all time, with 40 PGA Tour wins and eight major championships on his resume to date.
The Savannah native has grown some as well. Watching the 5-foot-6, 135-pound Harman crush an unsuspecting Titleist nearly 300 yards is a bit incongruous, like seeing Willie Shoemaker clearing the fence at Yankee Stadium. He's now the reigning U.S. Junior Amateur Champion, and the 17-year old is set to make his hometown debut on the PGA Tour in mid-April at The MCI Heritage on Hilton Head Island. While the immediate future couldn't be more exciting, his longer-term prospects are just as bright. The letters are starting to trickle in and will inevitably turn to a torrent.
Georgia, Clemson, Stanford, Arizona, Arizona State, Duke, North Carolina State and Oklahoma State have all expressed interest, though Brian has yet to decide where he'll enroll. As evidenced by his academic record it's doubtful he'll struggle though. Through his first two years at Savannah Christian High School he's maintained a 4.0 grade average.
While his college choice is still a muddle, there's no mystery to where he wants to be after that. "I love golf, and I would love to play as a pro," he states emphatically. Hard to pin expectations on one so young, but he's got the length, touch, work ethic and focus of an older soul.
There have been plenty of major champions, not to mention workaday Tour pros, who've never seen the inside of the Big & Tall Shop. There's Jeff Sluman, Corey Pavin and Ian Woosnam, to name but three of recent vintage. "Don't forget Mike Weir," reminds Harman, referring to the current Masters champ and kindred spirit, another slightly built lefty. As Harman prepares for the first of what likely will be hundreds of PGA Tour starts, he answered some burning questions:
• When your sponsor's exemption was announced in early March, you went out and shot 66 and beat the entire field of local club professionals assembled. Granted, the tees weren't set all the way back and the pins weren't tucked like they will be for the tournament, but that performance had to give you some confidence.
It definitely did. I hadn't been playing that much or very well with all the cold weather we had this winter. I hadn't played Harbour Town well in the past, so it was a big boost of confidence.
• If you managed four consecutive scores of 66 during the event itself, you'd have the tournament scoring record. Seems unlikely, but what are your goals for the week? Can you keep it near par? Break par? Bearing in mind Tiger didn't sniff the cut-line in '92 at L.A. will you be disappointed if you're not playing on the weekend?
It being my first PGA event I won't be extremely disappointed if I don't make the cut. I put lots of pressure on myself anyway, and I'll prepare, and hopefully be playing my best golf. I think I have the game to make the cut, but I'll do my best and see what happens.
• Which is more pressure - preparing for the U.S. Junior Amateur, or the MCI Heritage? Are your preparations similar or different?
The Junior takes more mental toughness, in my opinion. Match play is different, and it takes a different type of mental preparation. I have to psyche myself up for that tournament. Of course never having played on the PGA Tour, I'll certainly be preparing hard as it gets closer.
• How familiar are you with Harbour Town? How often will you get up there in the next month or six weeks to learn the course?
I hope to play at least once a week leading to the event. I've played it close to a dozen times, in the Junior Heritage and the Georgia-South Carolina Junior Matches. I'm hoping to learn more about the nooks and crannies as the tournament nears.
• What do you feel are your strengths in playing this classic layout? What about the weaknesses in your game that might potentially be exposed?
I hit it pretty straight off the tee, a key factor there. The disadvantage is I get frustrated on the course sometimes, and on Harbour Town sometimes you can hit what looks like a perfect shot and get caught behind a tree.
• Do you feel any added pressure because your spot in the field precludes a professional from participating? Do you feel pressure because you're a local boy, or does being the hometown favorite help?
I think I'll thrive off the locals coming out to watch me. It'll be a help. It was up to the committee to decide who should get the exemption, it was out of my hands, and so that doesn't affect me. It's totally out of my control.
• Unless you get into contention, your first two rounds will be played with somewhat anonymous workaday pros. Given your choice, who among the regular participants at Harbour Town would you like to be paired with?
I'd have to pick a lefty like myself, so either Mike Weir or Phil Mickelson would be great. And as a Georgia boy, I'd love the chance to play with Davis Love III.
• You are practically anonymous compared to another teen that made a PGA Tour debut this year. How would you stack up to Michelle Wie in 18 holes of match play? Any different in stroke play?
Good question. She has a great game, and hits it a long way. I met her in Hawaii once. It would probably be a good match. Anyone can beat anyone in 18 holes.
• If you teased your hair straight up you'd barely come up to her shoulder. How does a kid built like Corey Pavin hit it like Fred Couples?
I think its strength in proportion to body size. For example, I could never lift as much weight as a huge guy, but for someone my size and weight I can probably lift as much as anyone.
• Last Question: If the stars aligned, you won the tournament and were awarded the Tartan Jacket, would you have the guts to wear it back at your high school?
That jacket would be glued on to my body. I'd never take it off.