Brian Harman, one of six former Georgia Bulldogs who will play in this week’s British Open, hits a shot from the rough beside the 17th green during his practice round at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club. (Reuters)
HOYLAKE, England — A reverse British Invasion is underway this week. Fifty years after the Beatles left Liverpool for their first U.S. tour, a huge group of golfers with Georgia collegiate connections headed back the other way this week to introduce themselves to the audience there.
The screaming and fainting of teen girls is bound to be much, much less this time around.
The destination is the Royal Liverpool Golf Club — Hoylake to the swells — and the event is the British Open. Hope they start serving grits and white gravy in the clubhouse, because there are 13 in this field who played their college golf at Georgia and Georgia Tech.
When Brian Harman became the sixth former Georgia Bulldog player to win on the PGA Tour this year Sunday at the John Deere Classic, he earned a last-minute invite to The Open. He was prepared, having packed his passport and a couple spare jackets just in case, and left for England on a special charter Sunday night.
Atop trying for his first PGA Tour victory, the 27-year-old Harman had other thoughts playing in his head coming down the back nine Sunday. Like qualifying for his first British Open, and his first Masters next year.
“You have to entertain those thoughts as some point or another,” he said. “I think anyone who says they blocked all that out, they’re being a little facetious.”
Harman, all of 5-foot-7, will not be short on company this week, joined by many pros who like him have settled in the St. Simons area as well as six others who in their down time might just start picking apart August’s Georgia-Clemson opener. Other former Bulldogs over there are Bubba Watson, Erik Compton, Harris English, Russell Henley and Atlanta’s Chris Kirk and Brendon Todd.
The prior week, in another event that also served as a British Open qualifier, former Georgia Tech player Cameron Tringale played his way in with a fourth-place finish at the Greenbrier Classic.
History looks kindly upon the Tech player at the British Open. Three have won the thing. One of them, Bobby Jones, won the second stage of his legendary 1930 Grand Slam on this very course. David Duval and Stewart Cink count The Open as their one major victory.
“Not a historian at all,” Tringale said. “I can’t really believe in any special kind of Bobby Jones ‘presence,’ but that is cool.”
Arriving early in England, Tringale by the weekend already had put in a practice round with former Yellow Jacket teammate Chesson Hadley, and was trying to set up another with Atlanta’s Roberto Castro.
The great number of Georgia and Tech players making noise on Tour has been a prominent sub-plot of this golf season. As they have broken through, so, too, have they been faced with a new set of challenges. Like playing their first British Open on a windswept links course (Tringale, Hadley, Castro, Harman, Compton, Kirk and Todd are all first-timers).
Bernard Darwin, Charles’ grandson, and a writer in the World Golf Hall of Fame, once penned of Royal Liverpool that it was “blown upon by mighty winds, breeder of mighty champions.”
There is much foreign to the Georgia player in this setting, from the look of the links course — “It often looks tighter than it actually is,” Tringale said — to the extreme weather conditions and the different variety of shots demanded as a result.
As for expectations, best to manage those carefully, too.
“I’ll do my best to prepare and then the hay is in the barn, as they say,” Tringale said. “I’ll have a blast out there. And I hope to learn more about how to play links golf and how to handle the adversity and the challenge of a major championship.”
Tringale is hardly the only one facing a unique set of difficulties over there. They are all in for a hard day’s night.