A trio of PGA Tour members who played their college golf in Georgia – two ex-Bulldogs and a former Yellow Jacket – got off to fast starts on the 2019-20 season with ties for third Sunday in the season opener at the Greenbrier.
Georgia natives Harris English and Brian Harman, former UGA teammates, and Georgia Tech’s Richy Werenski all finished tied for third, with all three contending for victory in Sunday’s final round before Joaquin Niemann birdied six holes on the back nine to win by six strokes.
The ties for third were especially vital for English and Werenski, who both began the 2019-20 season with diminished status. English finished 149thin the FedExCup standings this past seasonto lose his exempt status, while Werenski started the season ranked 50thof the 50 qualifiers from the KF Tour regular season and Finals.
The 2018-19 season was not the best for any of three, as Harman needed a strong finish to finish comfortably inside the top 125 for an eighth straight season.
All three players finished the tournament at 14-under 266, seven shots behind Niemann’s winning total. Werenski was paired with Niemann in Sunday’s final group, while both Harman and English made strong Sunday moves up the leader board before Niemann raced away from the field.
Harman, a Savannah native who has settled on St. Simons Island, picked up where he left off late in the 2018-19 season, collecting his fourth top-10 finish in his last eight starts. He was outside the top 125 in the FedExCup with less than two months left in the season before tying for eighth in Hartford, for seventh in Minnesota and for sixth in the regular season finale in Greensboro.
Thanks to the trio of top 10s, Harman finished the season 86thon the points list, his eighth straight season inside the top 100. Between 2014 and ’18, Harman averaged 10 top-25 finishes a season, with 15 combined top 10s in 2017 and ’18. But he had just one top 10 last season prior to his strong finish – a tie for eighth in the Players Championship that vaulted him from 170thon the points list to 114th.
Harman has been a mostly consistent performer throughout his PGA Tour, winning the John Deere Classic in 2014 and the Wells Fargo in ’17, the year it was played in Wilmington, N.C., while Quail Hollow was hosting the PGA Championship. One month after his second career victory, Harman made a strong run at a U.S. Open title before tying for second behind Brooks Koepka at Erin Hills.
The 32-year-old Harman has been a prominent name on the Georgia golf scene for over half his life, winning the GSGA Junior Championship in 2002 and ’03 before winning the U.S. Junior Amateur later in ’03. He won the Georgia Amateur in his hometown of Savannah in ’05 just before beginning his freshman season in Athens. He also enjoyed an outstanding amateur career, winning the Players Amateur in ’05, the Porter Cup in ’07 and the Dogwood in ’09, while twice being a member of winning U.S. Walker Cup teams in ’05 and ’09.
During his four years in Athens, the Bulldogs placed sixth, second, eighth and third in the NCAA Championship, reaching the semifinals the first year the championship was decided in match play in ’09.
It took him a few years to make it to the PGA Tour, with a top-10 finish in the finals of Q-school late in 2011 earning him a spot on the tour in 2012.
Harman began his 2019-20 season with scores of 65 and 66 at the Greenbrier, going without a bogey on his scorecard the first two days. A double bogey on the second hole of the third round resulted in an even par 70, but Harman came back the next day with a 65, moving into contention with five birdies in a 6-hole stretch midway through the round.
English has been mired in a slump that has covered all of his last three years after four straight outstanding seasons from 2013-16. In that four-year span, English scored wins in 2013 and ’14 and had four top-3 finishes the next two seasons, twice finishing among the top 20 in the FedExCup standings and never ending up lower than 42ndduring that stretch.
But he fell from 35 in 2016 to 114 the next year, barely finished inside the top 125 in ’18 (124) and needed a final round 64 in Greensboro last month to move up from 151 to 149 in the final FexExCup standings.
English, a south Georgia native who has also settled on St. Simons Island, made 21 of 28 cuts in 2018-19, but a tie for 12thin the Honda Classic was his only finish better than 20th. After recording seven top 10s in 2014, he managed only two each in 2017 and ’18 and none this past season.
For many players, unsatisfactory results are frequently attributed to struggles with the putter, but English placed 15thin strokes gained putting last season. His most alarming stat was strokes gained on approach shots, where he finished 171st, resulting in a disappointing ranking in birdies.
English carded 21 birdies at the Greenbrier, at least four in each round, as he shot 66-65-68-67. The tie for third was his best finish since he placed second in the Colonial more than three years ago.
Because he finished the 2018-19 season outside the top 125 and did not finish in the top 25 in the KF Finals, English is not exempt for the 2019-20 season. He has limited status, but will get into tournaments with weaker fields. For other events, he will have to rely on sponsor exemptions, and English can expect to get his share this season, beginning with one he has already received to next week’s event in Napa, Calif.
Like former UGA teammate Harman, English won the Georgia Amateur in 2007 at Settindown Creek, just before beginning his freshman season. The Bulldogs reached the semifinals of the NCAA Championship his sophomore season and made it to the finals when he was a senior, but in the decisive match against Augusta State, he lost to Patrick Reed, who was a teammate of English for one season in Athens before transferring.
Shortly after the disappointing end to an otherwise successful college career, English won a Web.com Tour event in Columbus, Ohio, as an amateur, matching teammate Russell Henley’s victory in a tour event at the UGA course a few months earlier.
English delayed his pro career to compete on the 2011 Walker Cup team, and made just five starts on the Web.com Tour as a pro later that season, finishing second in one and third in another. He tied for 13thin the finals of Q-school to make it to the PGA Tour in 2012, and stayed there until last month.
Because he finished outside the top 125 in the FedExCup, English had to play in the KF Finals in an attempt to regain his exempt status, but finished 36thin the 3-tournament series when he needed to place in the top 25. He played respectably in two of the three tournaments, but a missed cut in the other proved costly.
Werenski was not an especially heralded player during his career at Georgia Tech, playing behind the trio of Ollie Schniederjans, Anders Albertson and Seth Reeves, all of who also played on the PGA Tour this past season but will all be on the KF Tour in 2020.
Following an outstanding season on the Web.com Tour in 2016, Werenski joined the PGA Tour and has managed to retain his status after each of the past three seasons.
Werenski has largely relied on one or two big weeks each season, with his tie for third at the Greenbrier his fifth finish or fourth or better in his relatively brief PGA Tour career. He got off to blazing starts in each of his first three rounds last week, posting scores if 67-65-65 before closing with a 69.
In the opening round, Werenskli was 5-under after seven holes and was 6-under after seven the next day, turning in 28 on the par-34 front nine. He was 4-under after eight holes on Saturday, and for the week, was 17-under on his opening nines while going 3-over on his incoming nines.
As a rookie in 2017, Werenski placed second in the late season event in Reno to move up from 154 to 121 in the FedExCup, and preserved his spot in the top 125 with a tie for 10thtwo weeks later in Greensboro, finishing 108 for the season.
A tie for fourth the next year in Memphis put him in position for a top 125 finish, and he again closed out the season with a runner-up finish in an opposite field event, this time at a Robert Trent Jones Trail course in Alabama to finish 101 on the points list.
Werenski had his big week early in the 2018-19 season, tying for third in Mayakoba behind fellow former Yellow Jacket Matt Kuchar. Werenski was 15ththe next week in the RSM Classic at Sea Island GC, but did nothing during the 2019 portion of the schedule and eventually dropped out of the top 125. A tie for 39thin the regular season finale in Greensboro was his best finish in a non-opposite field event, and he ended up 126thwith 374 points, two behind Pat Perez.
Thanks to a tie for seventh in the third of three KF Finals events in Evansville, Werenski tied for 24thin points in the series. That only improved his standing in the PGA Tour priority list by only one spot (No. 126 in the previous season’s FedExCup standings is next in line after No. 50 from the list of KP qualifiers), but it put him in position to improve his status via a reshuffle that occurs five times per season.
Thanks to his tie for third in the Greenbrier, Werenski will be near the top of the standings when the 50 KF qualifiers are reshuffled at the end of the 2019 portion of the schedule. He may miss a start or two the rest of the Fall after beginning the season as 50thout of 50, but should get into almost all the events next season.
Werenski qualified for the Web.com Tour on his first attempt, and after a decent showing as a rookie, placed fourth on the money list in 2016, winning the annual event in Greenville, S.C., after a pair of runner-up finishes in Colombia and Mexico. He added a third second place finish later in the season.
The highlight of Werenski’s career at Georgia Tech came during his freshman season, when he rallied from five holes down to win his NCAA quarterfinal match against Augusta State on the 19th hole. Tech lost to the eventual national champions 3-2.
Werenski won the Porter Cup, a top national amateur event, in 2012, and shortly after completing his college career, won one of the last Big Break events on the Golf Channel.