The Round Table: Harman’s precision vs McIlroy’s demons

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Even though most of the fans were cheering for someone else, all of the players were bigger and most of them were longer, Brian Harman still managed to prevail at the Open Championship. A combination of exceptional driving – he was only in two bunkers all week – and incredible putting powered him to an early lead that he never lost. Many have labelled this a boring, no drama major. What was your take on the Open?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I’d agree that it was boring, but that doesn’t dim the lustre of a stellar and consistent performance, and a most deserving Champion Golfer of the Year.  Those of us who were hoping for a different winner (Rory McIlroy, come on down!), kept waiting for a Harman tee shot to be buried in the rough, or a few impossible sand shots, but he kept striping it within the confines of the fairways, avoiding the bunkers, and putting on a masterclass of putting.  Just goes to show how little guys have as good a chance as anybody in golf, and how deep the talent is at the highest level.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Well, Harmon deserved the win, he earned it. That was the secret to Tigers win as well, avoid the bunkers. It was only a boring Major because it was over on Sunday after a few holes. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t exceptional golf played, Harman was simply the outlier, that’s generally what the Champion does. Glad he did it, because statistically off the tee he’s not a bomber, in fact he’s a short knocker. It’s good for the game to have these outliers win once in a while (especially a lefty).

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: It was a little of both. On the downside, the coverage had far too much putting and not enough sideway chipping away from steep bunkers. The course looks like a definite ‘bucket lister’ but it didn’t come across very well on TV. BTW I love the steep-faced bunkers but would not have changed the angle of the surface. On the upside, Brian Harman actually PLAYED golf. He positioned his ball well off the tee and into the greens. His putting was off the charts.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAWayTJ): It’s always a shame when there is no drama at the top of the leaderboard on a Sunday of a major, but I found myself rooting for Harman to perform under pressure and run away with it for some reason.  I guess the fact that I don’t have a great love for any of the guys that were chasing him may have something to do with it.  It was a clinic from Harman on how to win on Sunday with a lead.  Hit fairways and greens and rely on your superior putting.  Aside from the play, I think the course showed well and only reinforced that it’s my favourite style of golf to play.  I can’t wait to return to tackle the courses in and around Liverpool, what an area for golf!

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: When Eldrick boosted the ratings (and triggered the distorted price tag of massive TV deals) it wasn’t golfers suddenly tuning in, it was non-golfers. Anyone think that the massive TV audiences for the NFL and NBA spend their weekends tackling and dunking? It’s non-players watching. This Open had lousy ratings because it was boring for all but avid golfers. Who else would watch? And no one talks about the Canadian Open if a nobody wins it; everyone talks about it if Eldrick or Rory wins it. Same with The Open. This was Ben Curtis 2.0. No one cared but dedicated golfers, Harman’s family, and tractor salesmen in Georgia. In this year of LIV-induced crisis, more than ever golf needs stars winning big events. Not having the next Major for over 250 days ain’t gonna help either.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Not boring at all, but perhaps lacking in the drama department, thanks to the superb clinic Harman put on. Nothing fancy – just avoid all the trouble and putt like a wizard. Tiger showed the recipe for success at Hoylake in 2006 and Harman expertly followed directions. Players on the PGA Tour, and most of the macho golf world, are way too absorbed with the long ball. Takes a bunter to show how you can win with accuracy. Well done sir!

Rory McIlroy was one of the chasers at Hoylake but like every other major for the past nine years, he left without any hardware. A lot of pundits blame Rory’s putting. Is it that simple or are there other, darker forces in play here?

Deeks: Probably some darker forces in there, but honestly, his putting is streaky at best, and that does not a champion make.  I just shudder and close my eyes every time Rory stands over an 8-footer.

Loughry: Putting is certainly some of the problem. But he also has to beat 155 other players in the field. Not that Harman is a bad player, but I’m not sure he would be in the top 80 to place a bet on to win a Major. He was on this week and won, Rory was mostly on and finished T6 (was T2 at one point on Sunday). It’s hard to win Professional golf tournaments, but especially a Major.

Schurman: Yup, “darker forces” are called proximity to the pin. He is 154th in driving accuracy which is somewhat offset by being #1 in length. However, for his length he is also 64th GIR He faces far too many 40 to 60ft putts from his short irons, he is an average wedge player and although he might have chipped in this year, I haven’t seen him do it. The reason he wins is because he is simply that good, the reason he doesn’t more often including majors is he doesn’t have the magic fairy dust. He doesn’t make enough putts inside 10ft, and he doesn’t make that pull-ahead, backbreaker on the closing holes. All he does is play better than most, most of the time.

Rule: Not sure there are any dark forces, he always seems to play well on Sundays but he’s too far behind to make it matter.  It’s still incredible how often he’s in the top 10 on Sunday of a major and you’d have to think he’ll break through sooner than later.  It was certainly his putter that was to blame last year at the Old Course when he hit 20 greens in regulation (was on two of the greens in less than regulation) but had 36 putts to shoot 2 under.  This year he didn’t hit it as well, so you can’t blame his putting, which was actually +1 in the strokes gained stat for the week. The longer this drought continues for Rory, perhaps the more pressure he puts on himself, he’s not getting any younger!

Quinn: The dark force may be, as Brandel Chamblee pointed out, time. Since 2015, Rory has 20 top 10s in Majors. Since his last Major title, he has become the best and longest driver of the ball but he hasn’t putted like a champion, like he did in his 20s.

Mumford: I’ve maintained for some time now that there are demons roosting in Rory’s noggin when it comes to majors. He doesn’t need to change anything mechanically, but some mental coaching could help. Maybe hypnotism could help him shed the baggage of failure that grows bigger each year. People say he’s close and sooner or later will break through. Is there any evidence to support that? More likely the opposite as the major hurdle morphs into a monumental burden.

The 17th hole at Royal Liverpool was new for this Championship and came under a lot of criticism. The treacherous par 3 is short (136 yards) but the small green falls off on all sides into either deep pot bunkers or low chipping areas. Many players thought the hole unfair including 2022 U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick who birdied it Thursday and Saturday, made a triple bogey there on Friday and parred it Sunday. His recommendation was to blow it up and start over. How do you see it?

Deeks: I thought it was a great hole, and after Thursday, I didn’t hear much complaining.  Most Tour pros would love to see every hole shaped like a cereal bowl right-side-up, where all shots roll in toward the cup.  Boohoo when you get one that’s the opposite.  But the hole didn’t seem to play unfairly, and I thought it was a good test of skill and fortitude.

Loughry: I saw an interview with the R&A folks on this hole, they were quite proud of its design, a short extremely par 3. I think it’s OK for that level of play to have a short par 3 hole that says, “hit a shot”. The strategy was to just aim and hit the middle of the green, the surface itself wasn’t extreme, and it was possible depending on where your miss was to get it up and down, so there were many pars made. I didn’t mind the hole at all.

Schurman: Golf isn’t easy! It isn’t supposed to be fair, and it isn’t. It is supposed to require skill, management, intelligence and luck. Golf is an outdoor sport where nothing is definite. After round #1, the average score was 3.14 and it was the 8th hardest hole. So, what’s the big deal? If it was the toughest hole and averaged +5, Houston we have a problem.

Rule: I love short par 3’s.  I think every championship course should have one.  There are great ones like 12 at Augusta, 8 at Troon and 7 at Pebble, and there are bad ones too.  I think this one falls in the middle to me.  It’s a beautiful hole but it doesn’t really fit the look of the rest of the course, with an elevated blind green and severe fall offs.  I think it’s a great hole but maybe not a perfect fit for that golf course.  Having fall offs in each direction isn’t a terrible thing but when the run-offs are into severe lies, it may not be fair.  So, it could use a slight redesign in my opinion.

Quinn: It’s been said that Royal Liverpool members just mark down 6 and go directly to the 18th tee. It’s a nightmare for double digit handicappers, and without wind, a pretty but boring gap wedge for pros. Maybe it doesn’t have to be blown up, but has to be fixed starting with more playable pin positions.

Mumford: One of the criticisms of the hole was that it came at the end of a round and didn’t offer any room for a bounce back. But that’s not much different than the 17th at TPC Sawgrass. Both holes demand precision from a short iron and make for a tense finish. I enjoyed watching it and hope they leave it alone.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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