PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Following his first-round 66 at the Players Championship, Brian Harman went to hop on the podium and field a few questions from the media. Instantly, he noticed that the microphone would tower over him, and he wouldn't go up until a PGA Tour representative adjusted it for his 5-foot-7 frame. "They must have had that set up for Dustin Johnson, not me," Harman quipped.
He certainly had a point. After missing the cut in five of his last seven starts on the PGA Tour, who could have expected Harman to snap out of his funk at TPC Sawgrass, which we were all told would play longer and softer in March? For a guy sitting at 197th on tour in average driving distance, you'd think that would spell doom.
But this is also the same guy who tied for second at the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, which stretched out to more than 7,500 yards that week. The winner was Brooks Koepka, who is averaging 310.2 yards to Harman's 280.4 this season. These are the types of challenges Harman has attacked head on his entire golf career.
On Thursday, he took on the longer, softer and greener Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass and gave it a workmanlike effort. He made birdies on all four par 5s, got up and down for par on four of the five holes where he missed the green in regulation, and posted just one bogey at the difficult par-3 eighth. His round was punctuated by a 27-footer for birdie at the 462-yard par-4 18th, which yielded nothing but a hat tip to the crowd from Harman for a job well done.
"I haven't been playing that bad," said Harman, who has registered just one top-10 on tour over the last year. "I've just been kind of on the wrong side of everything and haven't been handling it particularly well. I just got off to a bad start this year, but I just got to kind of dig it out of the dirt. And I've been working really hard, so I was playing really well coming in early in the week. I'm glad at least it carried over to today."
What's been particularly peculiar about Harman's recent stretch is that it came after by far the best year of his career. Between January 2017 and June 2018 Harman collected 13 top-10s and picked up his second career victory at the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship. In his last two full seasons he's amassed over $7 million in earnings, reaching at least the third leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs both years. This season, in 11 events, his best finish is a T-32.
The recent results have put a crimp in his quest to qualify for the year's first major, the Masters. Harman finished 2018 ranked 54th in the world, just missing being inside the top 50 and securing an invitation to Augusta. He'd have another chance to earn a spot if he was in the top 50 in the ranking the week before the Masters, but Harman's poor play has dropped him to 79th. A solid week at Sawgrass could help fix that fairly quickly.
"It happens, man. Sometimes you just wear the dunce cap. I've been wearing it for about six months. Just it's part of it, man, I mean it's a hard game, guys are good. But I've just been trying to focus back on what I'm good at and try and believe in myself a little bit more."
Harman has never been low on self belief, which explains why is gotten to where he has in his career. He's always willing to grind, and he plans to continue to do just that the rest of the week.
"Just trying to make a bunch of birdies, man, win some golf tournaments. Sick of missing cuts. That's what we're out here to do, right? Let's go win some tournaments."