JDC win started Harman on his way to capturing the British Open

The John Deere Classic, Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour event, is known for its first-time winners.  It’s had 23 of those in its 52-year history, and Brian Harman was one of them.

Harman, who won the British Open by a whopping six-stroke margin on Sunday, made the JDC his first victory in 2014 at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis.  He had only one other victory – –  the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship in North Carolina — until his run-away win at England’s Royal Liverpool in the final major championship of 2023.

Only one of the JDC’s first-time winners, Jordan Spieth in 2017, went on to win the British and just one of the JDC’s other champions, Zach Johnson in 2015, captured a British Open title. That made Harman’s win unusual but it was even more than that.

Imagine two former JDC champions standing one-two much of the day in Sunday’s final round.  Austrian Sepp Straka, who won at TPC Deere Run earlier this month, tied for second in the British with Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Tom Kim. Straka was alone in the runner-up spot until he made bogey on the final hole.

Harman and Straka both played collegiately at Georgia and are hopeful their play in the British will lead to their selection to Ryder Cup teams.  Harman became a contender for the U.S. team, captained by Johnson, and Straka could be a selection the European squad captained by Luke Donald. The matches are Sept. 29-Oct. 1 in Italy.

Regardless of what happens with the Ryder Cup Harman’s life will change.  Winning a major title always does that.

Now there will be fascination with his pre-shot waggles.  That could be disruptive.  Sergio Garcia was known for doing the same thing and the abrasive New York galleries at the 2002 U.S. Open were annoyed enough to count them when Garcia was preparing to hit a shot.

Harman’s waggles got up to 12 at the British. There were members of the world golf media willing to count them, and then chide Harman about it.

None of that mattered when the last putt dropped on Sunday, making Harman the 15th American to win the title in the last 40 years. It’s always rare when a left-handed golfer wins a tournament, and Harman was the third to win the British.  Bob Charles, in 1963, and Phil Mickelson, in 2013, were the others.

The John Deere Classic was just a starting point for Harman.  He was a tourney regular from 2012 to 2021.  In addition to his win he had a top-10 finish in 2017 but his last appearance was a downer.

Harman missed the cut in 2021 and opted to skip the tournament in 2022. He addressed that issue with the media earlier in the week in England. His first British appearance came off his JDC win and it was also at Royal Liverpool.

“I won the John Deere and got in at the last minute,’’ recalled Harman.  “I had the 4:15 tee time on Friday and finished my round at 10:15.  I made the cut and loved the golf.  I was really excited because I had missed four or five cuts in a row before coming over and I couldn’t figure it out why I wasn’t playing well.’’

After his missed JDC cut in 2021 Harman decided to skip the tournament the following year and head overseas early.

“I came early for the Scottish (the Scottish Open, held the week before the British) last year, and I beat two people in the Scottish Open.  I played horrible,’’ said Harman.  “It was like, `Golly, I love coming over but I’m getting me teeth kicked in.’’

This year Harman initially entered the JDC, as it had dates a week earlier than in previous years, but he was a last-minute withdrawal, apparently to play the Scottish Open again with a little extra time for on-site preparation.

After a slow start to the season his game was starting to improve.  He finished second at the Travelers event on the PGA Tour and followed that with top-15 finishes at both the Rocket Mortgage Classic, in Detroit, and the Scottish.

The magic carried over to the British, a win he labelled  “overwhelming joy.’’

“This is the best tournament in the world, and I’m thrilled,’’ he said.

Whether the JDC will see him again remains to be seen. His change in scheduling paid big dividends on Sunday.  Why change a routine that works?