May 3, 2007
Days after leading Michigan State to its third Big Ten Championship in school history, Matt Harmon was unianimously crowned the Big Ten Player of the Year. A three-time All-Big Ten selection, the senior Spartan became just the second-ever MSU golfer to earn the conference's annual accolade, joining Heath Fell, who won the honor in 1993. Harmon has posted an impressive 73.28 stroke average and recently won back-to-back tournaments, including the Fossum/Spartan Invitational on April 21-22 and the Kepler Invitational on April 14-15. He has finished in the top five in six of his nine tournaments this season, helping him wrap up his career with 12 top-5 finishes and 24 top-20 finishes.
Harmon took some time out of his off-week before preparing for NCAA Regional competition to talk with BigTen.org about the team's resident funny man Ryan Brehm, taking his game pro and how it feels to have your team's hopes on the line at the 18th green:
What was the first thought you had when you realized you guys won the Big Ten Championships?
It was kind of disappointing at first because [Minnesota's] Bronson La'Cassie made the put on the last hole to tie us. We had the score-keepers right there. But then after five minutes or so, it's kind of cool to realize we have won two championships in the past three years. Not many people get to do that.
You were a part of the Spartans second-ever Big Ten Championships title in 2005. How was this 2007 title win different than your first crown two years ago?
This year the team is completely different. Two years ago we had a really mature team, and we really had a great year the whole year. This year we really underachieved all fall and kind or had to soul-search a little bit over the Christmas break. We came up with some new plans, and I think we just out-worked everybody - probably everybody in the country - all spring. We're definitely seeing the success from that.
Being the only senior this year, how has your role changed?
It hasn't really changed much over the past three years, just because it has always been kind of a lead-by-example role. I'm not really there to coach the guys; that's what Coach [Mark] Hankins does. I'm there for support and to share my experiences, but mainly I'm just leading by example.
How did you recover from your round of 78 on Saturday during the championships - which coach Hankin called "one of (your) worst rounds all spring" - to notch a 72 on the final day of competition?
I just forgot about it. I really wasn't far off from having a nice round on Saturday. I hit a couple shots that if they would have carried a few more yards I would have hit over the bunker instead of going in the bunkers. Then maybe my chips are a little easier to get closer to the hole - instead of having eight-footers all day, which I missed, I would have had three-footers which I could just kind of tap in. I didn't really get down on myself. I knew I was pretty close and I had played well all spring. That round didn't really matter to me. I knew I was going to play well the next day.
What does it mean to be a unanimous pick as Big Ten Player of the Year?
It's incredible that all of the coaches decided I was the best player. I didn't think it was that decisive all year long because I didn't really play very well in the fall season, and there were a lot of other guys that had some fantastic seasons. To single me out like that, I was really impressed and really proud.
What does it mean for coach Hankins to also be named Coach of the Year with you? What have you learned from him over your career at MSU?
You don't ever really try to win these awards. You try to play well and then the accolades just come, so it's cool that we both won the Player of the Year and Coach of the Year at the same time. I think it just proves how hard we have worked as a program this spring. I've learned that nothing is ever as good as it seems and nothing is ever as bad as it seems. You just have to take it for what it is and go from there.
What did it mean to you to make such a statement personally and as a team at the Fossum Invitational with your second straight win and that being the only home match of your senior season?
That was a great win for us. Everybody thought that maybe we just played well because it was bad weather the two weeks before (in tournament wins at the Boiler and Fossum/Spartan Invitationals), but we really proved ourselves that we can do it on any course, with any kind of weather, whatever the condition is, that we're probably going to come out on top.
After you had such a great sophomore season during which you lead the team to the Big Ten title, you decided to retool your swing. How did that help and what have been the biggest changes in your game this year?
Really I did it all last year. I just wanted to get better mechanics throughout my whole game. I was always kind of a freelancer, I guess you could say. I would kind of just go get it done. But that doesn't really work under pressure. Over the past two years I've really worked on just getting really nice mechanics. It kind of proved itself because I hit some really nice shots under pressure this weekend.
What has it meant to you to have been relied on as the team's top golfer for pretty much your entire career? Does it ever stand out in your mind in an under-pressure situation like Sunday's final round at the championships?
I don't ever really think of it that way because I expect myself to play well every time. I don't think my teammates sit back and think "Oh Matt's got to do really well." I think they are just going out there and doing well for themselves, and we add it up at the end and hope its better than everybody else.
This being such an individual sport, especially at the professional level, what are the benefits of playing in this team environment?
It's great because there are so many different opinions that you hear. Everybody knows what's right for them and everything can be interpreted a different way. Just to experience nine or 10 different viewpoints from everybody on the team for about four years, you pick up on a lot of things and you really figure out what works best for you and how you can improve your game to the next level.
Why did you decide to come to Michigan State?
To tell you the truth, I knew a couple of the guys who were on the team and actually graduated before I got here. I looked up to those guys through all my time in junior golf and just kind of wanted to follow in their footsteps. Coach Hankins does a good job of recruiting and molding mainly Michigan guys with a few out-of-staters. We've all known each other through high school and have grown up together, so it's a really comfortable setting.
What does junior Ryan Brehm bring to the team?
You know, he brings a lot. (Laughing.) That guy, he is a funny kid. He's a real hard-worker, and he always wants the best for him and the team and everybody else. He brings a positive attitude all the time. He is an oddball; he is really funny. He definitely brings some comic relief to the team once in a while, too.
He narrowly leads you as MSU's career stroke average record-holder. Is there any friendly rivalry between the two of you for that distinction?
No, we don't really talk about it that much. We obviously don't like losing to each other, but we're going to root for each other the whole time that we're playing together and hope that we can just do something great together to help the team come out on top.
How do you and girlfriend Sara Brown - one of the leaders on the Spartans' women's team - rely on each other for support? Do you ever practice or play together?
It's great. We're good supporters of each other because we both have been there. We know it's difficult sometimes, and you just need a kick in the butt or a pat on the back. We don't talk about golf all that much though, to tell you the truth. We both kind of want to get away when we hang out, and then when we're at the golf course practicing together we both really share a passion for the game. It's a lot of fun.
What is your favorite golf course?
That's a tough one. I would probably say Atlanta Athletic Club. I didn't play there in college, but was there for the 2002 U.S. Junior Amateur, and I just thought that course was awesome. I obviously played really well there, and that has something to do with why I like the place, but that course is just an incredible golf course.
Looking forward to the rest of the season, what are your goals individually and as a team going into regionals?
We've had a week off, so we haven't really discussed team goals. We're just going to stick to our preparation plan for tournaments and hopefully go out and shoot better scores than the rest of the teams there.
What are your post-graduation plans? Any interest in playing at the next level?
It really depends on how I finish up this school-year with golf because when you're hot, you're hot. You can't turn down opportunities that won't always be there. Hopefully I can keep going and gain some status that someone sees worthy of supporting in a professional golf career.