The key to unlocking Brian Harman’s Open success

The key to unlocking Brian Harman’s Open success


Brian Harman blew away the field at the 151st Open Championship with a combination of accurate driving, precision iron play, deadly chipping and an even deadlier putting stroke.  

While not taking any of the credit, the work he has being doing with PGA Professional coach Justin Parsons, who took over the role from Harman’s long-time coach the late Jack Lumpkin, certainly seems to have paid off for golf’s newest major champion.

While many casual observers, and certainly the thousands of fans that watched the 151st Open Championship in person or on television, may have been somewhat surprised to see Brian Harman’s wide-margin victory at Royal Liverpool, one man who was perhaps a little less surprised than most was Justin Parsons, the Irish-born PGA coach who has been working with the left-handed American over the past four years.

Parsons, 47, is an Elite Golf Instructor at The Sea Island Golf Performance Center on St Simons Island, Georgia just a few miles down the road from where Harman lives.

Parsons, who grew up in Northern Ireland, and started out his coaching career at the Butch Harmon School of Golf in Dubai in 2009, before moving to Sea Island at the start of 2019, has been working with a growing portfolio of Tour players in recent years and counts the likes of Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, Harris English, Patton Kizzire, Seamus Power, Luke List and Davis Love III among his current list of professional clients.

He began working with Harman in 2019, shortly after Harman’s long-time coach, Jack Lumpkin, the legendary director of instruction at Sea Island, had been diagnosed with cancer. Parsons served as ‘on the ground’ coach with Harman and reported back and forth with Lumpkin on what they were working and on the progress that they were making. Sadly, Lumpkin died in February last year, aged 86, and Parsons has carried on working with Harman on his own since then.

“When I first started working with Brian, his game had been in a little bit of a decline,” says Parsons. “Jack [Lumpkin], who has been a brilliant mentor and influence on me, he had been ill for a little bit of time and Brian really hadn’t had much support on the road, and he knew he needed to move into direction where he had a bit more help. So, in the spring of that year, Brian, Jack and I collaborated on an approach where Brian and I would work together and we would report back to Jack and I then I would be on the road and I'd be able to ask Jack questions and call him on lean on him a little bit.

“We did a lot of statistical performance analysis work with Brian in those early months and were able to demonstrate where all his strengths and weaknesses were. He wanted to delve even more into that, and that’s been a big part of how we came to focus on some parts of his game that could be improved on.”

At 5ft 7in tall, and weighing just over 10 stone, Harman is one of the smallest and slightest players on tour, but he isn’t shortest off the tee, and was averaging 285 yards with the driver in the wet and windy conditions at Hoylake.

Parsons says he knew Harman had an exceptional short game and was one of the best putters on tour and convinced him to stop worrying about distance to become a better iron player.

"We've worked really hard for a couple of years to get him more on top of the golf ball to make him a better iron player," Parsons says. "He's always been a really good driver of the ball. But his iron play wasn’t quite up to the standard to where he was going to be able to consistently do what he was wanting to do."

Another aspect of Harman’s play that served him in good stead at Hoylake was his strength around the greens, and the ability of his wedge play to rescue him whenever he got out of position – which wasn’t often.

“When you see Brian's short game at work, you’ll notice the versatility in his shot selection,” Parsons says. “Often, you'll see that come through with him choosing to keep the ball on the ground. It doesn't matter that you can hit an impressive, high-spinning chip. It's more important knowing when not to. His capabilities are very advanced, but his application is something golfers at home should look at. Choosing the correct shot, hitting whatever shot is required; he's very strong in that regard. He's got one of the best pairs of hands I've ever seen, but he's not afraid to putt it from 20 yards off the green."

Another element of Harman’s game that Parsons has focused on is alignment, an element of his set up that had been troubling him over the years. The pair have worked hard to iron out the problems, dramatically improving his accuracy off the tee and with his approach shots – which certainly proved decisive during The Open, where anything hit off-line was severely punished.

"We really dived into consistent, daily alignment rituals," Parsons says. "As a left-hander, Brian’s tendency is to align too far over to the right, which would cause a series of knock-on compensations which would lead to him hitting pushes or hooks. Getting him aligned correctly, and working it into his routine, helped him hit a straighter shot shape because it allowed him to rotate correctly instead of relying on factors with more timing involved."

In practical terms the way the pair work on this was by placing two alignment sticks on the ground. One next to the club, down the target line, and another perpendicular to it to give Harman the feel of the appropriate ball position. At the start of each session Harmon will hit a series of shots with this setup, and then move on to whatever else he was working on.

Asked what it is about Brian’s all-round game that proved so effective at the Open, Parsons says: “I think Royal Liverpool definitely benefitted somebody who was prepared to hit the driver. It could misfire in a fairly horrible way if you got it wrong, as was proved, but Brian's great strength is his driving.

“He's able to hit it and he's very versatile with it, and can rely on it in situations where other people can't. I also think links golf plays into his strengths, as it allows him to be really creative. I think the turf conditions also benefitted his iron play, as did the wind, as it enabled him to really flight some shots and get on top of shots which is pretty much what his swing is, if that makes sense.”

Asked what his general philosophy is to coaching, whether it be for a world class tour player like Brian Harman or for someone just starting out in the game, Parsons says: “I would say that my philosophy is to treat every player as an individual. I avoid trying to lump players into any sort of system. I've got a great interest in the human being, and I try and teach people to play golf better as opposed to teaching golf to people.

“I can't really understand how people would think that a systematic approach would ever benefit everyone in the same way. While there are clearly some guidelines and blueprints that need to be followed, you have to treat players as individuals, and try to get the most out of each person in whatever way works best for them.”

Finally, with Harman now ranking third in the US Ryder Cup points list and 10th in the world ranking, what does Parsons think, as an Irishman, about the possibility of coaching one of the US Ryder Cup team in Rome?

“Yes, I can’t lie that it will feel a little strange to be wearing a USA team jersey, but I was also coaching Harris English when he made his Ryder Cup debut at Whistling Straits in 2021, so it won’t be something new to me. To be honest, I’m just there to work for a player at an event, and this one just happens to be a Ryder Cup. You just want to get stuck in and do your best for them. It would give me great pride to see any of my players, whether they’re European or America, to represent their county or continent at a Ryder Cup.”


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