Harris English has been a familiar name on the Georgia golf scene since he won the Georgia Amateur in 2007 shortly before enrolling at the University of Georgia.
English made headlines during his college career in Athens, winning four tournaments and earning All-America honors each year for the Bulldogs, who had a pair of top-3 finishes in the NCAA Championship during his four years on the team.
Just after completing his college career, English began drawing some national attention. He won one of the Nationwide Tour’s top events as an amateur, and was a member of the 2011 U.S. Walker Cup team later that year.
English turned pro after his Walker Cup appearance and was an immediate success. In his second start on the Nationwide Tour as a pro, he lost in a playoff in Midland, Tex. Two weeks later, English was 3rd in Miami. He closed out his brief rookie season as a pro with a strong showing in the finals of Q-school, earning his PGA Tour card in his first attempt.
Although English did not win during his debut season on the PGA Tour, his name kept popping up on leader boards, and he easily retained his status, finishing 84th on the final money list.
English was enjoying a comparable sophomore season when he made his first major mark as a professional, winning the FedEx St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind in Memphis.
With the victory, English joined UGA teammate Russell Henley as a winner on the 2013 PGA Tour, and stamped himself as one of the tour’s up and coming stars. The win earned English spots in the 2013 WGC Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship, as well as the 2014 season-opening Tournament of Champions and, most importantly, next year’s Masters.
“The main thing that I am looking forward to is playing in the Masters next year,” English said after his victory. “Growing up in Georgia, that was the main tournament that I always watched and went to when I was a kid.”
English did not get into the U.S. Open, but is likely to compete in the British Open for the second straight year, with last year’s tournament his first appearance in a major championship.
As he has done a number of times in his brief PGA Tour career, English was an early contender in Memphis, sharing the first round lead at 66 and taking first by himself after a 64 Friday.
As a rookie, English established a pattern of fast starts but stumbling finishes, particularly in a trio of events in Florida at different stages of the season. English has improved his weekend play this year, and even though his back-to-back 69s in Memphis did not match his scores the first two days, they were good enough to secure his first PGA Tour victory.
English lost the third round lead to playing partner Shawn Stefani, who went to the front with a 66 despite a quadruple bogey on a par 3. English began the final round one off the lead, and both he and Stefani were overtaken on the opening nine by Scott Stallings.
But after carding four bogeys on the front nine, English came back with four birdies on his final nine, taking the lead with consecutive birdies at 16 and 17.
The birdie on the par-5 16th, a hole he eagled in the opening round, was expected, but not the one on the difficult par-4 17th.
“That birdie on 17 was huge,” English said. “I really wasn’t going for birdie there. I had that 20-footer downhill. I was really trying to two-putt and it went in dead center. It gave me a lot of momentum coming into 18.”
English got a little unexpected help over the weekend from a friendly sky box and a few of his competitors. An off-target approach shot late in the third round landed on top of a sky box and landed closer to the putting surface before deflecting off a spectator into a very favorable lie in a greenside bunker, leading to a par.
Stefani’s quadruple bogey kept English close to the lead after 54 holes, and Stallings gave up a 2-shot lead late Sunday when he chunked a short iron approach into a pond and made double bogey.
English wound up winning by two with a 12-under 268 total. Stallings and fast-finishing Phil Mickelson tied for 2nd at 10-under, with English preserving his lead on the dangerous 18th hole at TPC Southwind, something more experienced players have failed to do in the past.
“That was my first time holding the lead in a PGA Tour event, especially after 36 holes,” English said. “I felt very, very comfortable, very calm out there. I haven’t been leading a tournament before, but I’ve been around the lead and I really know how it felt.”
The first big win for English was the 2007 Georgia Amateur at Ansley Golf Club’s Settindown Creek, and he finished 2nd and 3rd the next two years in the tournament behind Henley.
English and Henley were the Bulldogs’ top two players for most of their college careers, and have spent the last few years one-upping each other.
Henley struck first with a strong showing in the 2010 U.S. Open, followed by his win in the 2011 Stadion Classic at UGA late in his senior season with the Bulldogs. English won as an amateur on the Nationwide Tour a few months after his second straight solid showing in the Stadion Classic. English and Henley were both part of a talented U.S. side in the Walker Cup that lost to the GBI team in Scotland.
English made it to the PGA Tour first and played well as a rookie, but Henley closed out his rookie season on the Web.com Tour with a pair of victories to join English this year. Henley made a dramatic debut by winning his first PGA start in Hawaii to beat English to Augusta, but English is guaranteed a spot in the 2014 Masters while Henley is still working on securing an invitation.
While English and Henley have enjoyed comparable degrees of success throughout their days in college, amateur and professional golf, they have done so with different styles.
Henley is an aggressive, intense competitor known for his deadly putting touch. English favors a more low-key approach, relying on a textbook swing and a power game he has dialed back a bit since joining the PGA Tour. English is not as dangerous on the greens as his former teammate, but his putting stats are above average.
Unlike Henley, a Macon native who has since moved to Charleston, S.C., after living briefly on St. Simons Island, English has settled on the Georgia coast as part of a large contingent of tour players on the island.
“I’m still learning every day and trying to learn from the veterans at Sea Island as much as I can,” English said. “They’ve been in this situation and know what it feels like to be on 18 and you can’t feel your hands and you’re shaking. It’s good to have guys like that I can lean on.”
The win by English was the second in two weeks on the PGA Tour for the St. Simons contingent. The previous week, former Georgia Tech great Matt Kuchar won the Memorial Tournament, his second title of 2013 along with his WGC Match Play victory.
The final leader board in Memphis was filled with players with ties to Georgia. Patrick Reed, a teammate of English for one season before transferring to Augusta State, was a contender down the stretch, placing 5th at 8-under.
Jonathan Byrd tied for 10th at 5-under, with fellow St. Simon resident Davis Love T18 at 4-under along with Roberto Castro, Brendon Todd and Jason Bohn, all of whom live in metro Atlanta.
By Mike Blum