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Fiery Harman lights up Porter Cup Record 22-under total nets nine-shot victory

Brian Harman looked so relaxed all week. He would just stroll down the middle of the fairway, bag on his back, then calmly hit his golf ball exactly where he was aiming it.

But inside, his competitiveness was raging. He had the chance to beat the best amateurs in the world, to prove he should represent his country in international play, and his desire for victory was burning.

"He's really fiery," Ryan Hybl, the assistant coach at the University of Georgia, said just before his Bulldog rewrote the Porter Cup record book Saturday. "He's so competitive, and it's one thing that's gotten him as good as he is.

"He wants to beat you till you can't breathe anymore."

Harman took everyone's breath away at the 49th Porter Cup. He smashed the tournament record with a four-day total of 258, 22-under par. It was an eight-stroke improvement over Casey Wittenberg's 14 under from 2003. Harman also tied the standard for largest margin of victory, finishing nine shots ahead of former college teammate Chris Kirk.

"I really didn't even know where I was until I looked up on [No.] 18, and I'm still just speechless," Harman said. "I'm so proud of myself for the way I played this week. It's just the accumulation of a lot of hard work. I couldn't be happier.

"That's the best golf I've ever played, that's for sure."

No one who saw his onslaught on Niagara Falls Country Club would dare argue. The 20-year-old did everything right. He opened with the best score of Round One, a 64, and closed with the lowest score of the final round, a 5-under 65.

"When he's playing good, he's the best player in the country," Hybl said by phone from Atlanta.

Harman added the Porter Cup to a resume that has been growing since his high school days in Savannah, Ga. He won the U.S. Junior Amateur and was Georgia's Player of the Year at age 16. He was named Rolex Player of the Year by the American Junior Golf Association in 2003 and 2004, joining Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Tracey Phillips as the only two-time honorees. In 2005, he was the youngest golfer ever to play in the Walker Cup. He was the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year two years ago and was named second-team All-America this year as a sophomore.

But he'd been struggling up until last week. His putting had betrayed him, so he switched to a belly putter. The device, which is longer than traditional putters and has the top resting against the abdomen, changed his whole outlook. In the five rounds using it, he's 28-under par.

"Needless to say I am very proud of Brian, and this is something he needed badly to get his confidence back," Georgia head coach Chris Haack said in an e-mail from Costa Rica. "I know he has been working hard, and it sounds like the belly putter has finally complemented his great ball-striking."

Harman started the final round with a four-shot lead over UCLA's Lucas Lee, and he spent all of Friday night thinking about the impending victory. It wasn't as easy as it might sound.

"I was nervous," he said. "I was real nervous."

His game never deserted him. He made par on the opening hole, then birdied Nos. 2 and 3 to reinforce his dominance. He poured in five birdies on the front nine for a 30, and he stayed calm on the back to get an applause-laden walk up the 18th fairway.

"I'm just happy to be part of Porter Cup history, at least for a little while," he said. "I knew that the record was 13 or 14 under, but the only thing I was thinking about today was winning the golf tournament. I didn't care if it was by 10 or by one, as long as I got it done. I just stayed focused the whole way through and never let my guard down."

The resounding win likely earned Harman a return trip to the Walker Cup. The U.S. team for the biennial event against Great Britain and Ireland will be named next week. Harman was a borderline selection early this summer, so he joined the Porter Cup field.

Dismantling it should show he deserves a spot.

"He just is playing very flawless golf," Kirk said. "He just doesn't make mistakes. It's awesome to watch."

"I was just rock 'n' rollin'," Harman said. "I've done it before, and I knew I had it. It's just good to see that I'm better now than I was before."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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