Ardmore, Pa. (August 25, 2005) -– If David Denham had his druthers, he would have preferred to play Brian Harman in the final.
The 6-and-5 drubbing in the second round of match play Thursday morning had little to do with it.
"I had hoped it would be later in the tournament," said Denham. "You never want to play a friend until the final day of play."
Yes, the two Georgians are friends. Roughly for about two years. Seeing each other’s names on the pairing sheet must have been as awkward as seeing a relative bathe. The friendship goes deeper. Both are University of Georgia Bulldogs. Well, sort of. The 18-year-old Harman, just out of high school, is an incoming freshman and one of the nation’s top men’s golf recruits. The 22-year-old Denham, a two-time Academic All-American from Tifton, just graduated from the school and helped lead the team to a NCAA Division I title this past spring.
Denham said he had the kind of day where everything backfired. He did hold a brief 1-up lead after the second hole, securing it with a bogey, but that had more to do with Harman driving his ball out of bounds. Denham had a cushion to work with there. That hole was critical for Harman because he had already conceded it in his mind and was focused on making fluid golf swings that would create positive thoughts. It worked because from that point on the 2005 USA Walker Cupper played the equivalent of 4 under par, recording five birdies.
To exemplify how dire Denham’s game was, the 2005 U.S. Open qualifier didn’t card a single birdie until No. 13. But that was only because he conceded the match when his lofted tee shot plopped into the cross bunker that guarded the par-3 green. Officially, even though he didn’t hit another shot, history will remember it as a birdie. Such are the subtleties of match-play scoring.
"I just could not get my head into it today," said Denham. "Sometimes when you’re not there … it doesn’t help."
On the par-3 third, Denham got lanced. The wound would grow to hemorrhage after that. Harman dropped in a 10-foot birdie putt to square the match and the left-hander from Savannah, Ga., never looked back. Harman won four consecutive holes after the two halved No. 4.
At that point Harman suspected that the dagger had been wedged in securely. The kill was imminent. He studied Denham’s face, empathizing with his aggravation.
"He was like, ‘I can’t do anything right,’" said Harman.
But friendship can only go so far when it’s a battle of survival.
"It’s tough," added Harman. "I want to win and win as quickly as possible.
"I’d rather play poorly and lose then to get beat if I played well."
Harman’s victory was so sound that he had nearly a four-hour wait before his next match, which will be against Canadian Ryan Yip, a 2-up winner over Brett Stegmaier of Hamden, Conn.
While leaning against the rope that surrounds the first teeing ground, Harman looked bored. The biggest decision he had to make was whether his caddie ought to change his blue-and-white striped shirt before the next match.
"Nah, let’s keep the love," said Harman, lingo for being superstitious.
He wasn’t sure what he’d do to kill the time, other than quipping, "Play some ping-pong or something."
Just then Denham emerged from the dining tent and uttered, "Hey, we’ve got a table. Let’s eat."
Sometimes friendship runs deeper than golf.
Ken Klavon is the USGA’s web editor. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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