LEWISTON -- Maybe Brian Harman will become another Scott Verplank, David Duval or Phil Mickelson, heralded collegiate golfers who lived up to their billing on the PGA Tour after triumphs in the Porter Cup. Or maybe Harman will follow in the footsteps of Ryuji Imada, Casey Wittenberg and Bill Haas, former Porter Cup winners with glowing pre-tour resumes who haven't achieved -- or have yet to achieve -- the levels of greatness once projected. Or perhaps, like 1993 winner Joey Guillion, Harman will make a quick retreat into golfing anonymity, although that seems most unlikely.
The downside of golf for those who aspire to play it for a living is it may be the most competitive and ruthless sport on the planet. Millions upon millions tackle it, thousands upon thousands play it exceedingly well. And yet every year only the top 125 on the PGA money list and a handful of qualifiers from the Nationwide Tour are guaranteed full playing privileges on the game's elite tour the following season. For the rest of the hopefuls it's on to Q-School to partake in golf's version of Russian roulette, an analogy that's barely an overdramatization, as those who've played it will attest.
Golf grants no favors on the basis of potential. If Harman were a "full-fledged" Georgia Bulldog, a football player as talented as he is a golfer, the certainties would abound. He'd go high in the draft. He'd ink a multi-year deal replete with a signing bonus that would cover the mansion and the luxury wheels with enough left over to shop small islands. But the only financial security Harman will have when he makes his run at the pros is whatever he can muster from a golf-related endorsement or two. All the rest he'll have to earn, by himself, no teammates to lean on for mental or physical support.
Golf is by its structure unsympathetic and unsentimental. Do you think the sport is impressed that Harman dismantled Niagara Falls Country Club over the last four days, obliterated the Porter Cup scoring record held by Wittenberg, validated himself yet again as a player with extraordinary pro possibilities? Do you think the game will grant him special treatment because he was twice the American Junior Golf Association Player of the Year, twice a Division I All-American, made the U.S. Walker Cup side when he was all of 18 and should be a shoo-in for selection again this year?
Once he goes pro, either Harman performs or he disappears. There are no teams to fish him off the waiver wire if his game goes to pot, no means of cashing in on all the initial expectations others had for him, or that he had for himself. Former Buffalo Bills guard/tackle Mike Williams is back home these days -- and a big home it must be -- counting his multi-millions after busting with the Bills and frittering away a second chance with the Jacksonville Jaguars. It's nice work if you can get it, which in golf you can't. Golf always wants to know what you've done for it lately.
The game has no conscience. In 2003, Wittenberg won the Porter Cup as an 18-year-old, expanding his reputation as the hottest young golfer on the planet. The following April he tied for 13th at the Masters. That he would enjoy a long and illustrious career seemed as sure as a bet in a one-horse race. Yet this year Wittenberg's trying to make a go of it on the Hooters Tour while Brandt Snedeker, the player he overtook to win the Porter Cup, the player he nudged off that year's Walker Cup team, has beaten the game's bushes and emerged as a leading contender for PGA Rookie of the Year. You just never know.
There were no visible cracks in Harman's game as he further distanced himself from the field during Saturday's opening nine. He toyed with defenseless Niagara Falls Country Club during a 5-under 30 that was two narrowly missed putts from an unfathomable 28 that would have invited pursuit of the record 60 Haas shot in the second round of '03. It'll be a long, long time before someone blitzes the course as thoroughly as Harman did this week in taking full advantage of stunted rough, softened greens and mild winds, conditions tournament organizers have fretted over as technology threatens to render traditional courses obsolete.
What this all portends in terms of Harman's pro career is absolutely nothing. He's a splendid player, as was Wittenberg, Haas and others of great distinction who've come through these parts over the Porter Cup's 49 years. But amateur successes beget no professional assurances.
Harman may become the next great tour player or he may be sentenced to an exasperating and never-ending search to recover the game he once possessed. Having seen how it works both ways, one can only salute his excellence at the Porter Cup and wish him the best of luck from here on out. Because sometimes golf takes greatness and turns it into a cautionary tale.