HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — Brian Harman has a long history at Harbour Town Golf Links, where he made his PGA Tour debut back in 2004 — when the 17-year-old became the first teenager to compete in the RBC Heritage on a sponsor’s exemption.
He was a junior at Savannah Christian Prep in Georgia when he made his debut — coming off a win in the U.S. Junior Amateur the summer before.
On Thursday, Harman put together a stellar round in his 13th appearance at Harbour Town — with a bogey-free 6-under 65 that gave him the lead in the clubhouse for a short period of time, before Viktor Hovland posted a 64.
Harman birdied the first — making an 11 footer that ignited a hot day on the greens. He converted a birdie putt from eight feet or longer at five more holes — holing his longest putt of the day from 21 feet at the par-4 sixth. He hit 16 greens in regulation.
Looking back at his debut 19 years ago, Harman had some funny memories.
“I remember hitting it left on 3, and then I tried to chip it out, hit a tree, and it came back and hit me right in the chest. It’s like welcome to the PGA Tour,” said Harman, who is ranked No. 34 in the World Golf Ranking. “It was cool. I was blown away by how nice everyone was. Davis Love was obviously a hero of mine, and he was super nice. Played a practice round with Steve Elkington. He was great. So I’ve got a lot of fond memories of that week.”
He’s looking to make some more this week while trying to stay focused on his game with a large contingent of family and friends on hand to watch the former University of Georgia star.
“I love coming here. I mean, golf is my job, so I try to make it as business-like as possible because, if I get so wound up in who’s coming and who’s getting tickets and who’s coming out to watch, like I just end up focusing on the wrong things,” said Harman, who lives on St. Simons Islands with his wife Kelly and three young children. “So my job is to hit fairways, greens, and try to make putts. Whether that’s here or Memphis, Tennessee, or New York City, it’s all the same.”
Harman was disappointed about missing the cut at the Masters, but he stepped away from the game to get in the right frame of mind to play Harbour Town this week.
“I went and I killed a pig Friday night at my farm, and I killed a turkey Saturday morning. I didn’t hit any balls until I got here Tuesday,” Harman said.
Fast start for @HarmanBrian
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 13, 2023
It wasn’t long before Harman finished his interviews that Hovland, who started his round on the 10th hole, followed his birdie at No. 8 by knocking one close to six feet at the par-4 ninth and converting for his seventh birdie of the day to post a 64.
His iron play was spot on as five of his birdie putts were within eight feet. He drained a 19 footer for his longest of the day at the par-4 third hole. He was impressive on the par threes on the back — converting from 17 feet at the 180-yard 17th, one of Harbour Town’s signature holes and making a seven footer at the 194-yard 14th hole.
“That was really good,” said Hovland, who finished tied for seventh at the Masters last week. “I hit some really nice shots starting the day but didn’t make the putts. It was a little frustrating, but stayed patient and just kept on hitting great shots. Then the putter started heating up, and it felt very stress-free from there on in.”
This is Hovland’s second appearance at Harbour Town — he finished T-21 in 2020, and he said he loves the layout.
“I think it’s cliche to say, but it’s all right there in front of you. I’m a big fan of Pete Dye golf courses. I think they’re just awesome. And tree-lined golf courses, it’s pretty narrow, so I can kind of hit that drive where I tee down, grip it down a little bit, and just hit like a low bullet,” he said. “It’s hard for me to hit a disastrous shot with that shot.
“As soon as you start hitting drives up in the air, the wind can start to blow, and it’s hard to hit it straight. But, yeah, if I keep driving it off the tee like I am, I’m going to have a lot of looks from the fairway, and also putted well today.”
There was a group of four golfers two strokes back at 5 under including Joel Dahmen, Scott Stallings, Matt Fitzpatrick and Zach Johnson.