May 18, 2023
By Lynn Burkhead
Like the other 155 golfers in the field of the 105th PGA Championship this week, PGA Tour player Brian Harman hopes to be holding up the 27-pound Wanamaker Trophy sometime on Sunday evening.
If so, that would mean his third career Professional Golf Association victory, his fifth career professional triumph and his first major championship victory after a near-miss runner-up finish at the 2017 U.S. Open.
But if the 36-year-old golfer from St. Simons Island, Ga., finds himself short of his major-championship dreams, he'll shrug, smile and head home to do a little fishing. Time spent in the great outdoors is the balm that soothes his soul.
"I've been lucky to do the stuff I've been able to do in golf and the outdoors," said Harman, who is very much a family man despite his hectic schedule. Dad to daughter Cooper and sons Walter and Jack, Harman spent last week polishing his game, attending a weekend dance recital, having a Mother's Day breakfast with his mom Nancy and wife Kelly, and then flying north to Rochester, N.Y., where he went to work on Monday morning at Oak Hill Country Club, trying to win this week's big event.
If he wins, Harman becomes a household name in the golfing world. And if not, heading back to Georgia and its grand outdoors canvas is a pretty good consolation prize too. "Honestly," he said, "if there's still something left on the bucket list for me, it's going to include more fishing, getting another big deer with my bow, trying to get my kids to like it [the outdoor], and trying to make sure that they like coming with me and doing these kinds of things."
Priorities On, Off the Course
As the 2023 PGA Championship begins, it sounds like Harman has his priorities in order, both on the course and off. But then again, that's nothing new for Harman as he negotiates the life of chasing a little white ball around for 18 holes, stress and all. Born in Savannah and attending the University of Georgia, one of the game's few ambidextrous golfers was a three-time second-team All-American for the Bulldogs, winning tournaments and three times taking the team's annual award for having the highest grade-point average.
His amateur career was distinguished, including winning the U.S. Golf Association's 2003 U.S. Junior Amateur, the Players Amateur in 2005, the Porter Cup in 2007—where he shot a tournament-record 22-under par—and the 2009 Dogwood Invitational. Harman also played on the winning squad in the 2005 and 2009 Walker Cups, as well as the victorious Palmer Cup team in 2007.
Since embarking on his professional golf career in 2009, Harman has seen his world ranking soar, climbing as high as 20th and currently sitting at 34th. Add in $26.6 million in career earnings, victories in the 2014 John Deere Classic and 2017 Wells Fargo Championship, and a runner-up finish to Brooks Koepka at the 117th U.S. Open at Wisconsin's Erin Hills, and Harman clearly has a stellar game.
High-level golf is his day job and there's nothing wrong with the office views at hallowed courses like Augusta National and St. Andrews—Harman tied for sixth place at the Old Course last summer when the 150th Open Championship was contested at the birthplace of golf in Scotland.
Still, Harman gets just as much excited about going fishing, calling in a wild turkey at full strut, getting his bow ready for a fall whitetail hunt, or tending to the Peach State farm he bought a few months ago. "I love hunting, love farming, love fishing, love gardening, and I love game-keeping," said Harman, who shoots a Mathews VXR bow and took a great Rocky Mountain bull elk during a fall bowhunt last fall. "I just love being outside, learning how to do stuff out there, and having a deep respect for the way that things used to be."
Like many others who have found their way back to a field-to-table lifestyle, Harman has a commitment to not rely on grocery stores for all of his family's nutritional needs.
"It's a more organic way of living," he said. "We hunt the animals, yes, but we also plant a bunch of food for them, increase the natural habitat, etc. I'm kind of a grassroots guy, and I like to mess with all of this stuff, start to finish. I fish in the spring and summer, then hunt deer and elk during bow season and rifle season, then it's duck hunting after that, and then turkey hunting in the spring. It's kind of a year-round operation for me."
That includes this spring just prior to the recent RBC Heritage golf tournament at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, S.C., where Harman lived true to his word. At the tournament where he made his PGA Tour debut in 2004—the first teenager to compete at the tournament, thanks to a sponsor's exemption—Harman downed a wild hog on his farm the Friday evening before the tournament, and then a gobbler the next day.
Lessons of the Outdoors
Harman has maintained his outdoors lifestyle and keen desire to put wild protein on the dinner table since his dad taught him to do so a number of years ago.
That happened at the age of 8, a few years before he began playing golf at Savannah Christian Prep. As Harman reportedly shot his BB gun out back, he inadvertently killed a squirrel. In a story that appeared in Golfweek, Harman recalled that his father Eric came outside and dispensed some fatherly wisdom that remains a bedrock principle in his life.
"Now you have to take care of it," his dad told him before they dressed the squirrel and got it ready for the table. "You don't kill for fun."
That guidance has stayed with Harman to this day. "It built a deep respect for animals," Harman told Golfweek writer Steve DiMeglio. "What they provide. They are a renewable resource. Being able to know where your meat comes from is important to me, being able to take care of the animal once you've killed it shows immense respect to the animal."
Harman's love for the outdoors is deep—he famously proposed to his wife Kelly during a spring turkey hunt when he slipped the engagement ring into the pockets of her new hunting pants—and that includes hunting with his Mathews bow, his trusty Remington 870 shotgun and hanging out with some of his PGA Tour pals like Kevin Kisner and Patton Kizzire, who share his love of hunting bull elk, whitetails, turkeys, and more.
But hunting isn't the only thing in Harman's outdoors soul. He also has a passion for fighting gamefish.
"My dad used to take me up to the New River in South Carolina," Harman said. "We fished for largemouth bass and striped bass. And then he upgraded to a slightly bigger boat and we learned the inshore game, learning how to catch redfish, spotted sea trout, flounder, stuff like that. And then he upgraded his boat again, and we started going off the coast for things like cobia. And then he upgraded again and we got into bluewater fishing. I dabbled in all of it growing up, but my dad has kind of settled into offshore bluewater fishing now--he's kind of ate up with it."
Harman likes being out there too, as he and his dad will sometimes go a few dozen miles off the Georgia coast, aiming for the beautiful and fish-rich Atlantic gulf-stream waters.
"It's amazing out there and you can see a change in the environment," Harman said. "It goes from a dull sea green to a rich royal blue color. The salinity is different, the temperature is different, and the current can be ripping out there. It's a drastic change."
The love of offshore angling doesn't keep Harman from enjoying the rich bounty closer to Georgia's beaches, however. Noting that his region has great fishing in June, July, and August—something that's tough for a guy who plays professional golf for a living— Harman loves chasing redfish, speckled trout, flounder, and even the occasional tarpon. He's also learning to fly fish and recently caught a good fish at a freshwater golf-course pond.
Harman admits that he's got a real love for saltwater's tripletail, partly for the angling challenge that they offer, partly for the fun of battling one to the boat, and partly because of the exceptional table fare that they provide.
"Tripletail can be really finicky, temperamental fish that can be leader-shy," Harman said. "But they also swim up near the surface and we have often found them around weed lines, so it's kind of like sight fishing, I guess. I'm not sure what they're doing up there, but they like structure and being in the shade. They are a cool fish, fight hard, like to jump, and are just an amazing-tasting fish."
To catch Georgia tripletail, Harman uses a 7-foot, 6-inch medium-action rod, a Penn 5000 reel, braided line, a 12- to 15-pound fluorocarbon leader, and either live shrimp or "little bitty Gulp shrimp." Once he's hooked up and gets a tripletail to the boat, that's where the dinner-table magic begins.
"We filet them out, then I often put them on my Traeger Timberline 850, and keep them going usually 10 to 15 minutes on 350 to 375 degrees. We use an apricot white wine reduction sauce that my mom taught me and got from a Savannah restaurant, and when we get them off the Traeger, we'll drizzle some of that on there and it gives it a little bit of sweetness. When I'm eating that, I'm about as happy as I can be eating fish."
While there's little off-season for a professional golfer, Harman looks forward to this fall and more woodsy adventures for whitetails and other game animals. Someday, as he does controlled-burns and manages his farm for wild critters like deer, turkey, and bobwhite quail, he may find himself trying to figure out the upland bird hunting game.
But for now, there's work to be done and a major championship trophy to try and win. And when it comes to the chase for the Wanamaker, clearly, Harman has the game to accomplish that. And if not, he'll smile, grab his bow, and head for the woods later this year where his favorite game actually lives.
"Honestly, I'd love to win a bunch more golf tournaments before I'm done and I'd love to win a major, the PGA Tour championship, and I want to be the best I can possibly be at what I do for a living," he said. "If I can be the best I can be, then the rest of that stuff takes care of itself. I still have a passion for the game, and I want to keep that as long as I can."