We're ringing in the New Year from Maui, with the first PGA Tour event on the 2018 calendar, the Sentry Tournament of Champions. An elite field of last year's champions will compete on the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort, all hoping for an early victory to punch their ticket back to Hawaii again next year.
Among the 34 players who won an event during the 2016-2017 season is our newest Titleist Brand Ambassador, Brian Harman. Brian earned a spot in this week's field with his win at the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship, where he capped off a thrilling final round charge with a 28-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to claim his second career PGA Tour win (his first came at the 2014 John Deere Classic).
We had the opportunity to sit down with Brian before a practice round earlier this week and we asked about his game, his goals for this season and his switch to the Pro V1 golf ball and a full complement of Titleist club equipment. Get to know Brian a little better in the Q&A below.
Q: Welcome to Team Titleist, Brian! We're really excited to have you representing us and we're looking forward to another great season for you in 2018.
Brian: Thank you. It's great to be with Titleist and I'm really looking forward to the year.
Q: First of all, we know you're a University of Georgia alum and a big Bulldog supporter. What are your plans for watching the national championship?
Brian: Kevin Kisner and I did pretty good watching the Rose Bowl together, so we'll probably try to follow up. I think there are a few of us [Georgia Alums] all in the field next week, so we'll be trying to find somewhere away from those Alabama fans to watch it.
Q: Let's talk about your equipment. At what moment did you decide that Titleist was going to be the best equipment for your game moving forward?
Brian: Well, I made the switch to Titleist irons at the beginning of the year last year. Very first time when I played was in Palm Springs. I worked with [Titleist Tour Rep] Mr. Jim Curran and we got them figured out. Finished third that week and I was having a pretty nice year.
Jim Curran, Titleist Tour Rep on Brian's CB irons: Brian called me during the off-season holidays last December (2016) and said he played Titleist irons before he turned professional and has not had that feel in his iron ball striking since then. He ordered a set of 716 CB’s-LH and we agreed to meet on the range in Palm Springs the Monday of CareerBuilders. It was then that we dialed in the his loft, lies and yardages. From there, Brian was low maintenance all season. I would check his grips, lofts and lies roughly once a month and he did the rest!
ED. NOTE: Brian transitioned into the new 718 CB irons at the CJ Cup in October. He played in three events during the fall season and finished in the Top 10 in each, including a T5 at the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges, 8th at the WGC-HSBC Champions, and T4 at the RSM Classic, where he lives in Sea Island, Ga. He currently stands 18th on the 2017-18 FedExCup points list entering this week.
Brian, cont'd: Then, Johnson Wagner asked me to play with him at the Zurich Classic in the team tournament. He was kind of curious as to what ball we wanted to play. I said, 'I played Titleist balls in college and everything. We'll just play your ball, no problem.'
We had a nice tournament, especially the last day. It got really windy. I was hitting some shots with Johnson's ball, shots that I just couldn't hit with the ball I was playing. After that round, I decided to switch to the 2017 Pro V1. I won the next week with it, the very first week I played it.
Q: Nice, Not a bad result, huh? Was there one shot or type of shot that stood out to you when you compared the Pro V1 to your previous golf ball?
Brian: Yeah, actually, I hit one shot on the second hole the last day in New Orleans that spun up into the wind. I hit it flush but it came up 10 yards short and plugged in the bunker. And I just remember thinking, 'That's the last time I'm going to hit that ball. I'm switching balls.' So, I switched, man, and I'm back. When I switched, I want to say I was right around 90th in the world, and now I'm 30th, I think. (he's actually 27th in the Official Golf World Rankings currently)
Q: You mark your Pro V1 in an unusual way. Is that morse code?
Brian: Morse code, that's a first. That's funny. It's deer tracks. I'm a big deer hunter.
Q: We heard that everyone in your family is also a skilled scuba diver. Do you have any plans to do some diving while you're here in Maui?
Brian: I do not. I wish I did. My parents went diving here a couple years ago and loved it, but I'm going to have to wait until I get back East before scuba diving again.
Q: Let's talk about some of the clubs in your bag. You're gaming a new 917D2 driver here at Kapalua. Can you talk a little bit about the fitting process and why the 917D2 is right for you?
Brian: It took all of about, I don't know, maybe 25 minutes for us to get it figured out. It went right in, man. It's one of the easiest hitting drivers I've ever hit. JJ [Titleist Tour Rep JJ VanWezenbeeck] and I worked on that. It didn't take much time at all. The numbers were perfect. I actually spun my old driver a little too much at times. And with the 917D2, the spin came right down and I'm just so excited about the year, I can hardly stand it. I've been hitting it at home for a long time, and it's just been itching to get in play. So, I'm excited about this week.
JJ VanWezenbeeck, Titleist Tour Rep on Brian's 917 D2: We spent some time working on shaft length and setting. We were able to show Brian that the length of his previous driver was part of the cause of some of his dispersion issues. So when working on shaft length we were balancing swing speed versus dispersion. We found by shortening his driver by 1/2" we were able to not sacrifice speed. The D2 head was a great fit for him and we were able to test some SureFit settings that optimized spin and direction.
Q: And how about your irons? You mentioned that you've played Titleist irons since the CareerBuilder Challenge last year. Were those CBs?
Brian: Yep, I started with 716 CBs in Palm Springs and I'm playing 718 CBs now. I just love the look at address and how they feel. But more important is the consistency. I can control the trajectory and I know exactly how far the ball is going to carry.
JJ VanWezenbeeck, Titleist Tour Rep on Brian's 718 CB irons: Brian's iron game had been very good since switching to the Titleist CB and he was very happy. We double-checked his numbers with the 718 CBs heading into the new season and everything was spot on. The one issue he had this year was his 4 iron. It was slightly height deficient and caused some gapping issues. 75% of Titleist iron players on Tour play a mixed set, so this wasn't anything new. We tried TMB and AP2 with limited success. Brian prefers a much shorter blade length, so to solve the issue we used a 718 CB 3 iron bent weak to give him a little more speed and height. It fit the gap perfectly and gave him better height.
Q: Right now you're ranked 4th on Tour in Strokes Gained - Total, 3rd in Putting and 8th in Scoring Average. Week to week, what are some of the stats that you focus on?
Brian: Well, I'm trying to hit the ball a little bit better, and trying to hit the ball a little bit more consistently. When I was younger, when I was a kid and I played all Titleist stuff, I was one of the best ball strikers around. That's kind of eroded over the years. And, I was never a very good putter. Now, I can really putt it, so I'm hoping to marry the two a little bit and be a little bit better this year.
Q: When you practice or when you're preparing for a tournament, are there any games that you play that amateurs might try to help improve their games?
Brian: Yeah, so my caddy and I, we play a game during the Pro-Ams where we focus on greens in regulation, because that's probably my weakest stat over the last two or three years. In the game, I'll have to hit 12 or 13 greens to break even. If I hit more than that, I make money. If I hit less than that, I lose a lot of money. So, it's a good incentive and it keeps the competitiveness going.
Q: What would you say is the strongest part of your game right now?
Brian: I can think my way around a course pretty well. With this new driver, I'm hitting it much straighter than I used to and a little bit further. So, I'm going to try to take advantage of that and maybe try to play a little bit more aggressive this year and I should have some better opportunities to attack pins from the fairway.
Q: Are there any favorite memories you can share from your amateur days? The Walker Cup or Palmer Cup teams that you were on? How important were those experiences in your path to becoming a pro?
Brian: I think winning the U.S. Junior was a big one. I was pretty close one year and got beat in the quarter finals by Charlie Beljan [21 holes]. Charlie ending up winning, and then I won it the next year [in 2003]. That was pretty gratifying. Then, getting picked for the Walker Cup the first time was a great memory. And my whole college experience was really positive. I didn't play as well as I wanted to, but I think all that definitely prepared me to play professional golf. Just the travel and being on your own a little bit.
Q: Do you remember the first tee shot you hit on the PGA Tour?
Brian: Yes. I got a sponsor's exemption when I was 15 to play at Harbour Town. Yeah, I teed off on No. 10, and I just like dribbled one down to the left edge. It like curled around the water. Should've gone in the water, but I got lucky.
Q: What was going through your mind on that first shot?
Brian: I was just trying to get it over with!
Q: We saw something interesting in your profile - golf is the only thing that you do left-handed. How did that happen?
Brian: I was a baseball player and whenever I picked up a bat or something, I always swung it left-handed. So, my parents thought I was a lefty. But when they got me a baseball glove for my right hand, I'd catch the ball, then take my glove off and throw it back to them with my right hand. Hitting just always felt more natural from the left side.
My brother is just the opposite. The only thing he does right-handed is play golf. He's a true lefty who plays golf right-handed.
Q: What's one piece of advice that you could share with Team Titleist members?
Brian: If you want to hit it far, you need to hit well first.
Q: Lastly, what does Titleist mean to you in one word?
Brian: Consistency. For example, we were talking about testing drivers. I had trouble for the last five or six years on Tour. I'd find a driver that I really liked and I could never find a backup. So, if something happened to that gamer, if the epoxy came loose, or the head started rattling, or I cracked the face or something, it was a huge process to find another one, and, being left-handed, the availability just wasn't there.
Whereas, when I was testing drivers with JJ, we were interchanging one after the other after the other, and they all were the exact same. So, it was really comforting to know that I've got a driver, and a backup and a backup to the backup. I'm going to be fine for the rest of the year.
Thanks, Brian and once again, welcome to the team. We look forward to following you throughout the 2018 season!