By Mike Blum
The University of Georgia contingent on the PGA Tour for 2012 more than doubled after outstanding efforts by four former Bulldogs in the finals of Q-school.
Brendon Todd and Kevin Kisner, teammates on Georgia’s 2005 NCAA Championship team, regained their status on the tour by placing among the top 25 finishers.
They will be joined by Harris English and Brian Harman, who are rookies this season.
English made his PGA Tour debut in Hawaii last month, while Harman was making his fifth PGA Tour start, the first three as an amateur.
While it took Harman a few years after graduating from Georgia to make it to the PGA Tour, English went straight from Athens to golf’s major leagues following a whirlwind six months that culminated with his strong showing in the finals of qualifying.
English enjoyed a very successful career at UGA, but his final appearance for the Bulldogs was bittersweet, as he lost in the decisive match against Augusta State’s Patrick Reed in the NCAA Championship finals.
A few months later, English again found himself on the losing side in a team competition, competing for the U.S. against Great Britain/Ireland in the Walker Cup. From an individual standpoint, English put together a string of impressive efforts that included a victory on the Nationwide Tour as an amateur.
“It’s been an unbelievable year,” English said from Los Angeles as he was preparing to board a plane for Hawaii and his first ever PGA Tour start. “A lot of great things have happened.”
Prior to turning pro after the Walker Cup, English won the Southern Amateur, reached the semifinals of the USGA Public Links Championship and won one of the Nationwide Tour’s premier events in Columbus, Ohio.
English joined the Nationwide Tour after the Walker Cup and immediately demonstrated that his victory as an amateur was not a fluke. He lost in a playoff in Texas to Danny Lee, the highest ranked player on the Nationwide Tour, in his second professional start, and placed third in Miami two weeks later.
“The Nationwide Tour was awesome for me,” English said. “It gave me some experience.”
Enjoying success in his brief stay on the tour “gave me a lot of confidence. It showed me I could play out here.”
English also has fond memories of his years in Athens, and said he was “sad to leave” after his four years there. The main disappointment was the Bulldogs’ loss to Augusta State in the NCAA title match.
“We were so close to winning,” English observed. “That was a tough loss.”
The NCAA title match and the Walker Cup gave English a taste of defeat along with the success he enjoyed as an individual, and helped prepare him for the challenge of Q- school.
“That was the most nervous I have ever been,” English said of his first ever appearance in the finals of qualifying. The length of the event (six rounds) added to his unease, but that wasn’t evident for the first five days.
English was in seventh place or better after the second, third, fourth and fifth rounds and said he “played really well the first five days.
“Every tour player is used to playing for four days, but Q school is six days. After the fourth round, I knew I had to keep going for two more days, and the last day I got a little ahead of myself.”
A late double bogey left English with a 74 and tie for 13th, but he again picked up some valuable experience.
“I learned a lot the last day,” he offered. “I learned how to play under pressure. I definitely got nervous, but it’s all a learning process.”
English has been touted as one of the 2012 PGA Tour rookies to watch. A number of observers have been impressed with his evident talent, beginning with his prodigious length off the tee
“You’ve got to put that to the side,” English says. “I’ve got to do what I’ve been doing and not worry about what anybody else is saying.
“But I take it as a compliment. I appreciate that they’re saying nice things. That’s awesome, but I can’t let it give me a big head or affect how I play.”
English’s experience as a professional is limited, just eight Nationwide Tour starts, three as an amateur. But even that brief exposure to the life of a tour pro had its benefits.
“I played five weeks in a row in a different city every week and I learned how to travel.
I’ve learned a lot over the past year, but I still have a lot to learn.”
In search of advice, English has turned to some fellow ex-Bulldogs, as well as the veteran group of PGA Tour players living on St. Simons Island, where English has recently settled after moving from Thomasville.
“They’ve gone through what I’m going through,” says English, who is aware that “The PGA Tour can be lonely at times.”
Harman has been a pro two years longer than English, but has spent most of his time grinding away on the mini-tour level, along with an occasional Nationwide Tour start.
Like English, Harman arrived in Athens in off a victory in the Georgia Amateur (2005), and made two Walker Cup appearances (2005 and ’09), both U.S. wins on home soil. He was a more heralded player as a youngster, winning the 2003 U.S. Junior, but failed to get past the first stage of qualifying in his first two visits to Q-school.
This time, Harman aced all three Q-school tests, tying for second place in both first and second stage qualifiers and contending for medalist honors in the finals, settling for a tie for eighth.
“I could not be more excited,” Harman said after a practice session in Los Angeles a few days before flying to Hawaii for his 2012 debut. “I’ve never been more excited in my life. A lot of hard work has gone into this. I can’t wait.”
Thanks to his outstanding play in qualifying, Harman is bypassing the Nationwide Tour, which raised a red flag for at least one family member. After he advanced past second stage for the first time, Harman’s mom offered the opinion that he might be better off if he wound up on the Nationwide Tour this year, but her son had a different opinion.
“I’ve never tried to limit myself,” said Harman, who played a handful of Nationwide Tour events each of the last two years. He tied for 18th in the Stadion Classic at UGA in his Nationwide Tour debut in 2010, and played solidly in both Valdosta and Athens last year.
Unlike English, who was making his PGA Tour debut in Hawaii, Harman was making his fifth PGA Tour start, but just his second as a pro. He made a handful of appearances as an amateur, making the cut in Hartford at the age of 17 in 2004. Harman played his way into the field as a Monday qualifier in Greensboro in 2010 and opened with a 68, but missed the cut with an even par 140 total.
Most of Harman’s experience as a pro has come on the North Carolina-based eGolf Tour. He enjoyed a consistently excellent rookie season in 2010, finishing in the top 10 in 11 of 14 starts to place third on the money list with almost $88,000. He played in fewer eGolf events last year in favor of more Monday qualifiers on the Nationwide Tour, and slipped to 10th in earnings.
Harman played well during his two years on the eGolf Tour, but said, “I would have liked to win a little more. I had a couple of good chances.”
His lone win came in Virginia in 2010, with Harman notching six other top-3 finishes in 24 starts, plus a runner-up finish last year in a Hooters Tour event in North Augusta, S.C.
“I learned a lot the last few years,” he says. “Now I want to find out how I can do on the PGA Tour.”
Harman realizes he is making a huge jump, and as a PGA Tour member will be playing against “the best of the best. I expect really good competition. I’ll find out how good I am.”
Having moved from his native Savannah to St. Simons after turning pro, Harman has been able to turn to some of the island’s tour players for answers to questions about what he is about to encounter.
“They’ve been helpful,” he says of players like Lucas Glover, Jonathan Byrd and Brandt Snedeker. “I can talk to them about anything. If I have a question, they’re willing to help me out.”
At 5-foot-7, Harman will be among the shortest players on the PGA Tour, and joins the small fraction of left-handers on the tour. Despite his stature, Harman can hang with the game’s big hitters and is not lacking for either talent or confidence.
“I’ve always been a pretty good ball striker. I might have relied on that a little too heavily in college.”
In preparing for his rookie season on the PGA Tour, Harman has targeted one particular area of his game for needed improvement.
“I’m a firm believer that most of the money is from one hundred yards and in. I’ve been an OK wedge player, not great. That and putting are the areas I need the most improvement in.
“I know there’s going to be some growing pains. It depends on my ability to adjust and improve.”
Harman put his talents on display in the finals of qualifying, notching 31 birdies over six rounds. His best stretch came on his final nine of the third round on the dangerous PGA West Stadium course.
Following a double bogey on the 18th, his ninth hole of the day, Harman was 1-over on the round and a modest 3-under for the tournament. He rebounded with birdies on seven of the next eight holes for a 29 on the front nine and was among the leaders the remainder of the tournament.
Harman was 5-under after 16 holes in the final round and was just one stroke out of the lead, but finished bogey-double bogey to tie for eighth at 13-under 419, four behind former teammate and medalist Todd.
(See English, page 6)
English, Harman make debuts on PGA Tour
(Continued from the cover)