Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Scott Robertson golf: Harmans refuse to quit

The ovation was a little louder for this one. The parents gathered around the first tee clapped, as they do when any young golfer is introduced. But this time, there also came shouts from the gallery and a roar from the scorers' tent.

"Yeah, Matt! Go Matt!"

Matt Harman teed up his ball to start his second round of the prestigious Scott Robertson Memorial. One of the tournament officials leaned over and quietly broached the subject that was on the minds of many here Saturday -- especially the young golfer's.

"The last thing he said before he got up there," the official whispered, "is that he wanted to play well for his mama."

Harman drew back, swung, and whacked the ball more than 300 yards down the left side of the fairway.


How he's doing this, nobody really knows. But just a week after learning his mother has brain cancer, Harman has played some of the grittiest golf of his life here at Roanoke Country Club.

On Friday, the same day his mother began chemotherapy treatments, Harman stood at 5-over par after only four holes of his opening round. Naturally. Understandably. Predictably.

But then he blistered the back nine to finish at even par, keeping himself in contention in one of the nation's top junior tournaments.

"With everything that was going on," Harman said, "it was definitely one of my greater comebacks."

His father, Mike, was helping tend to wife Linda and didn't see most of the rally. But he did arrive in time to see Matt's performance on No. 17, where the Cave Spring senior whacked his tee shot into the trees and then got it up and down for birdie.

"I'm just really proud of him for fighting back," Mike Harman said. "And that's kind of what we're doing right now -- fighting back. He showed us that he could do it, and that's what we're all doing right now."

Junior golf is a family sport, largely because it has to be. Travel is intense for top players such as Harman, who is headed to Radford University on a golf scholarship this fall. Many families parlay junior events into family vacations; the Harmans couldn't tell you the last time they went to the beach. Many times, one parent drives while the other stays home.

But two months ago, the Harmans celebrated together when Matt won an International Junior Golf Tour event at Pinehurst.

"He's won other tournaments," Mike said. "But that's the first one his mom has been to where she watched him through that whole tournament, stroke after stroke, all the way through those last nine or ten holes. She saw 'em all.

"That was really special," he added. "I didn't know how special."

Matt didn't either. But about two weeks ago, he started to realize.

"I knew she was sick because she'd been having some seizures lately," Matt said. "She had a stroke, and we took her to the hospital. I knew something was wrong."

Radiation treatments started immediately following the diagnosis and continued all of last week. But the family decided that Matt should still play in the area's marquee junior golf event.

"He loves his mom very much," Mike Harman said. "They've got a very close relationship. They talk about things that even Matt and I don't talk about. He's obviously concerned about her and worried about her. But the thing that we decided as soon as we found out she was sick, the first thing she said to me was, 'I want Matt to do everything that we were planning to do this spring and summer.' "

That includes playing in the IJGT Tournament of Champions in Orlando, Fla., later this month and representing his country in Scotland in July. He'll keep his mother in his heart at every stop, just as he's doing this weekend.

"When I'm walking on every shot, it's in my mind," he said. "Just thinking about it all the time."

Harman said the support he's gotten from the local golf community has been terrific. After he carded a 1-over 72 on Saturday, leaving him tied for 11th and the top area boy heading into today's final round, other parents hugged him and offered encouragement.

"I'm sorry to hear about your mom."

"Thank you, thank you."

"Hang in there."

"I will."

Matt's performance in this golf tournament means little in the long view. But Mike Harman likes to view his son's response, and particularly Friday's round, as a symbol for his family's approach moving forward.

"I don't care what you're doing in life -- you could get to 5-over in anything, figuratively speaking -- but there's always an opportunity to get it back if you don't quit," he said. "He didn't quit yesterday, and that's really what it's all about. Sometimes things don't go the way you hoped they would, but you don't give up. You just don't give up."

And they won't.

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