Origin Story

British Open 2023: How Brian Harman got hooked on golf, in his own words

July 23, 2023

Jared C. Tilton

Author's note: During the 2014 season, when Brian Harman won his first PGA Tour event, I sat down with him for long interviews on two occasions. The excerpts that follow about how he got into golf are taken from those interviews and are presented with only light edits for clarity. Everything that follows is Harman in his own words.

My family and I moved when I was 2 into this golf residential neighborhood in Savannah, right on Southbridge Golf Club. It's the same house they live in now. My dad's a dentist, and my mom's a chemist for International Paper, and neither one of my parents played golf at all. Our house was on the golf course, but it was never something I was interested in. I just never even really noticed it until I was a little older.

I didn't start playing golf until I was about 12. I started playing with some of the guys who were in the neighborhood just messing around, but I played baseball way before that. But I just got into golf and fell in love with it, and worked really hard and started playing some tournaments and just fell into it that way. I played a lot of baseball before that, played until I was about 15 or 16 until I just focused on golf 100 percent. I was good at baseball for a local player, but I wasn't anything special by any means. I was a pretty outgoing kid, I pitched and played shortstop and batted leadoff, and I loved it, I loved playing baseball.

My dad was a pretty good football player and an OK baseball player, and my mom has turned into a real big runner and does all these triathlons and stuff like that. She's very athletic. She never really played any organized sports; she grew up on a farm, so they were more worried about harvest time than playing sports. I have a younger brother, he doesn't play golf, he just got into dental school. So he got accepted this past year, he's going to start in the fall.

The moment I fell in love with golf is interesting. I've actually had a conversation with [former U.S. Open winner] Steve Jones. He won the 1997 Phoenix Open, and I was home from school and sick, and for whatever reason I just started watching that tournament on TV. It was the year that Tiger made a hole-in-one and everyone was freaking out. I watched the whole thing and said, “Man, I'd love to give that a try.” I started playing golf the next week, and I've actually told Steve Jones that story. I randomly ran into him in a practice round, and I was like, “Man, you're probably going to think I'm crazy, but you're the reason I started playing golf. I watched you win that tournament and thought it was so cool that you could work that hard and have it all to show.” He was like, “What a cool story” and he was obviously really grateful that I told him that story, so it was cool. I hadn't watched any golf before that, but it clicked with me and I've just been playing ever since.

Golf appealed right away. This is going to sound selfish, but being a pitcher I'd get out there and pitch four, five innings, and at that age the games were only five or six innings, so I'd go out there and pitch four or five innings, then they'd score a run and we'd lose 1-0 or something, or I'd go 4-4 at the plate and we'd lose the game. I hated that, so for me I was like, with golf, the better you play the higher you finish, you don't really have to depend on anybody else, you've just got to do your own thing. That sounded very attractive to me.

I got good quick. I'd hit balls in the backyard at first. So my mom tells the story that I'm in the backyard hitting these golf shots, and she's like, "Eric—that's my dad—Eric you gotta come check this out.” And he comes out there and he's watching me hit balls he's like, “Dang, he's not so bad, he's pretty good.” Dad still played golf every so often, and so I was going up to the golf course every day and we weren't members of the golf course or anything like that, but it was either a dollar or two dollars for a bag of balls, so I'd bring 10 bucks and I'd hit balls all day and sometimes they'd give me a couple extra bags or whatever, so I was just beating balls all day long.

I started going to the golf course every day, I'd ride my bike with my clubs. I don't know why I had some clubs, but I just had these clubs that were just totally random, I don't even know where they came from. But the only reason I knew I was left-handed is I batted left-handed when I played baseball, but I threw right-handed. I still only had like six clubs at the time, I think I had a 3-iron, 5-iron, 7-iron, 9-iron, and like a 3-wood and a driver, and a putter obviously, so that's what I was playing golf with.

So finally my dad and one of his buddies, they were going to go play golf, and I was going to come with them. And the head pro at our golf course, we're out there warming up getting ready to play, he comes out and he goes, “You know, Brian needs to be able to have access to this place out here, I think he's pretty good, he needs to have a place to practice and play.” He said it was 200 bucks a year for unlimited range balls, and said, “You need to get him a membership.” So it started so it started from there, where I could go up there and hit balls all day and do all that.

Once I started playing competitively, that kinda became part of my identity, and it was what I wanted to do and who I was and I was very proud of it. I started playing competitive golf right away and did really well in the AJGA (American Junior Golf Association), but it was always because I wanted to be there, my parents never made me do anything I didn't want to do. I think it works out where you end up developing your own love and passion for the game, and that's not taught to you. Golf is a very time-consuming sport, and it's one of those things where you really have to want to do it as opposed to someone telling you that you should do it. As a junior golfer, there were certainly a lot of players that had really overbearing parents, and those guys all sort of quit as we got older. They'd have a bad day, and you'd see their parents would be all upset and I mean, it's like it meant more to the parents than it did to the kids sometimes. Whereas for me, my dad hasn't played golf in probably 10 years and he just wants me to be happy and doing what I want to do, he could care less what it is.

I got good because I'm obsessive. I have one of those minds where I'm just like where I just, I freak out whenever I figure out something I really like doing. I do it to the max, you know? A good example, a friend will say, “hey man, do you want to come shark fishing on the beach?” And I have to have the best equipment and the best things and put a plan together, so I end up with this rod, this reel, and I can re-string it with braid, and I go to the marina and I get the bright leader and learn how to tie it just right, get some wire leader just in case. So I'm like a thousand miles an hour, you know?

And the friends go, "We just wanted to go drink a couple beers!"

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Is it the British Open or the Open Championship? The name of the final men’s major of the golf season is a subject of continued discussion. The event’s official name, as explained in this op-ed by former R&A chairman Ian Pattinson, is the Open Championship. But since many United States golf fans continue to refer to it as the British Open, and search news around the event accordingly, Golf Digest continues to utilize both names in its coverage.