'No moral victories' for Brian Harman at Erin Hills

Brian Harman started Sunday at Erin Hills with the 54-hole lead, but after struggling early, he could never get on track and shot an even-par 72 in the final round of the U.S. Open. EPA/TANNEN MAURY

ERIN, Wis. -- The pats on the back and words of congratulations would have to come later. Brian Harman was not much in the mood for any warm, fuzzy chatter about his best performance in a major championship.

The chip on the shoulder that Harman acknowledged he plays with was firmly entrenched, barely swayed by Sunday's gusty winds at Erin Hills, where a round of even-par 72 was not good enough to propel him past Brooks Koepka, whose 5-under-par 67 was good for a four-shot victory.

"I don't believe in moral victories,'' said Harman, 30, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour who was playing in just his eighth major championship. "I had an opportunity today and I didn't get it done. But at the same time, I don't feel as though I lost the golf tournament. I think Brooks went out and won the tournament.

"I'm just going to keep trying to do what I'm good at and keep doing what I know how to do and we'll see where it takes me.''

It probably didn't help Harman's disposition that he bogeyed the 18th hole -- the outcome had already been decided -- dropping him into a second-place tie that cost him $247,989.

And yet, the runner-up finish was his fourth top-five finish in his past five starts, including a victory at the Wells Fargo Championship. "I finished last at the Memorial two weeks ago, so who knows,'' he said.

If you get the sense that Harman is a bit hard on himself, and expects a good bit more than he has produced, well, this wasn't just him feeling a bit down after missing out at the U.S. Open.

Harman, who is 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds, has long fought the perception that he's too small to be competitive. Back when he was winning the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2003. Or the 2007 Porter Cup. Or as a member of two winning U.S. Walker Cup teams. Or as a three-time second-team All-America golfer while at Georgia.

Although Harman has never come close to losing his PGA Tour card since qualifying for the 2012 season, pro success has come a bit slower.

"That is an issue for a lot of us,'' said Russell Henley, a teammate of Harman's at Georgia who tied for 27th at the U.S. Open. "Now I think he's got a lot of confidence. He's always been a guy where pressure has been something that helped him, especially in college.

"He was No. 1 on our team the two years I was there. He's always been a solid player, and I think now he is starting to realize he's got what it takes. I think that win [at Wells Fargo] was big for him. It doesn't really surprise me. Once he gets in the moment and under the gun, he plays well. This will lead to more good tournaments, I'm sure.''

Harman got his first victory at the John Deere Classic, where he outlasted Zach Johnson down the stretch, and then won again at the Wells Fargo last month, holding off No. 1-ranked Dustin Johnson.

"He's fierce,'' Zach Johnson said. "There's not a whole lot of fear there. He might be a small guy, staturewise, but there is nothing small about him in his golf game.''

It was hard to find much fault with what Harman did Sunday. He made good pars at the first two holes after shaky drives, birdied the third and turned in a 1-under-par 35.

Harman, who took a one-stroke lead into the final round over Koepka and Justin Thomas, was tied with eight holes to go after Koepka bogeyed the 10th. But after bogeys at the 12th and 13th holes and a birdie at the 14th, Harman could not overcome the three-birdie run put together by Koepka at holes 14 through 16. A birdie at the 16th brought him within 3 strokes, but that was as close as he would get.

"You've got to tip your cap,'' Harman said. "He went and won the golf tournament on the back nine. I've done it before, but he did it today.''

Harman said "it bites a little bit right now'' and then was reminded that his 12-under total has been beaten by just two players in 117 U.S. Opens: Koepka on Sunday and Rory McIlroy in 2011.

"If you had told me I was going to shoot 12-under this year at the U.S. Open and not win, I would have taken that bet for sure,'' Harman said.

And, as he also noted, there are no moral victories.