Assessing Brian Harman’s Open Championship victory

Brian Harman, 2023 Open Championship, Hoylake,Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Harman, 2023 Open Championship, Hoylake,Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The victory of Brian Harman Sunday at the Open Championship highlights a personal season that has been both highly successful and historically uneven.

Harman’s successes are easy to measure. He ends the week ranked sixth in the FedEx Cup standings, not bad for a player who’s only once before finished inside the top 20.

He’s already won $8.245 million in official money, nearly twice as much as in any of his previous 10 full seasons on tour.

He’s been a three-time runner-up this season with six top 10s, both of those representing career highs.

Finally, there’s the dominance factor. Brian Harman seized control of the world’s oldest Major with a Friday round of 65 that gave him a five-stroke lead, one that was never really in jeopardy. His final six-stroke margin fell just one short of equaling the total margins of victory in the season’s first three Major championships.

Put it all together and the argument that his Open win caps the finest season of Harman’s career is a difficult one to challenge…especially when you factor in that he’d only won twice previously, and not since 2017.

Yet from what is sometimes referred to as the 10,000-foot view, Harman’s 2023 season still falls short of historical exceptionality. Those shortcomings have everything to do with the standards by which we measure exceptionality.

Let’s begin by looking deeper at those three runner-ups that preceded Sunday’s victory. They came at the World Wide Technology Championship and the RSM Classic, both in November, and at the Travelers Championship in June. He finished four strokes behind Russell Henley, two behind Adam Svensson, and three behind Keegan Bradley in those events, none of which attracted front-line fields.

In the truly marquee events, Brian Harman was — until this week — having a decidedly less exceptional season. He tied for 44th at the Players Championship in March, 14 strokes off the championship pace. At the Masters in April, he shot 77-74 and missed the cut by four strokes.

Rounds of 72-74 led to another missed cut – this time by a single stroke – at the PGA Championship in May. Brian Harman made the cut at the U.S. Open last month, but closed with a Sunday 75 and finished in a tie for 43rd, 15 strokes behind Wyndham Clark.

There were 34 PGA Tour pros who made the cut in at least three of the season’s four Majors this year. Thirty-three players finished top 30 in at least two of the Majors, 11 of them in three, and three – Scottie Scheffler, Viktor Hovland, and Xander Schauffele —  in all four.

Brian Harman does not qualify in any of the above groups.

The standard deviation of his victory Sunday – the statistic by which we can assess exceptionality on a relative basis — measured -2.82. That was the season’s best for a Major, surpassing Rahm’s -2.37 at the Masters, Koepka’s -2.67 at the PGA, and Wyndham Clark’s -2.23 at the U.S. Open.

Historically it ranks as very good yet – despite the six-stroke margin of victory – short of elite. It equals the 25th most dominant performance in British Open history, matching Seve Ballesteros in 1979 and Cameron Smith last year.

Next. Watch Brian Harman Celebrate Open Championship Victory. dark

In short, there’s no argument that Brian Harman has had a very good 2023 season. Winning a Major qualifies for that designation all by itself. But in the historical context, there are also gaps to Harman’s season that dampen the enthusiasm for him we might otherwise be feeling.