Wiedmer: English ready now to be a pro

Wiedmer: English ready now to be a pro

September 14th, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

In this file photo, Harris English chips out of the rough on to the 7th green during the final round of the Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational golf tournament at the Ohio State Scarlet Course, July 24, 2011. (Dispatch photo by Neal C. Lauron)

Harris English set aside this past weekend for country. The Walker Cup being held in Aberdeen, Scotland, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the recent University of Georgia graduate brushed aside talk of turning pro to represent the United States against Great Britain and Ireland on the golf course.

"To play for my country on September 11th was such an unbelievable experience," said the 22-year-old English, who helped lead Baylor School to the 2006 state title.

"Before Sunday's round our captain read us a letter from President George Bush, who thanked us all for playing. The whole team wore black pins on their caps commemorating 9/11. Even the GBI team wore them, which was really special. The Walker Cup is definitely the best thing I've ever done."

(The Walker Cup is named for George Herbert Walker, the grandfather of George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States, and the great-grandfather of our 43rd president.)

Yet despite English's two come-from-behind victories in the event, the U.S. ultimately lost. He flew home Monday through Newark, N.J., and Atlanta, finally arriving in Chattanooga late, late Monday evening.

So why the rush? Because English had set aside Tuesday for his future. During the Nationwide Tour's pre-tourney media luncheon for the Oct. 6-9 Children's Hospital Classic at Black Creek, he announced he's turning pro immediately.

By the time the Classic arrives in three weeks, English will be entering his third Nationwide event as a professional. He has played three tour stops as an amateur.

And in case anyone wonders if he's ready, English won the Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational on Ohio State's Scarlet Course in late July but was unable to accept the $144,000 winner's check because of his goal to remain an amateur through the Walker Cup.

That doesn't mean he isn't looking forward to getting paid to play.

"I started playing golf when I was 9 or 10," English said. "And from the beginning my dream was to become a professional golfer one day."

He certainly has the resume. The third youngest Georgia Amateur winner ever (18), English trails only the legendary Bobby Jones and Charles Yates in that category.

He won the Southern Amateur in July and the Nationwide stop in Ohio and was a four-time All-American at UGA.

The former Chattanooga Classic upgraded its own resume by becoming the Children's Hospital Classic. Tournament director Mickey McCamish's goal to raise $1.8 million through the tournament to renovate patients' hospital rooms gives the entire community a clear reason to support the event for years to come.

But for this year, the presence of English and fellow former Baylor star Luke List should be reason enough to boost attendance.

Not that English is taking anything for granted.

"It will definitely be different playing professionally than not playing for money," said English, who's already landed an endorsement deal with Ping and will rent a home in Sea Island, Ga., from PGA Tour golfer Chris Kirk, one of the famed "Sea Island Mafia" gang that includes Davis Love III (the group's Godfather), Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Jonathan Byrd.

"Hopefully they'll give me some good tips," English said.

His good foundation began at Baylor under golf coach King Oehmig. A native of Thomasville, Ga., English moved here his freshman year, his mother Martha renting a condo at Black Creek with his father Ben -- a former UGA basketball player -- making the 11-hour round trip each weekend.

A single story from Oehmig to explain both English's talent and toughness: In the state tournament of 2006, the Red Raiders struggled so much throughout the final match with Knoxville Webb that Oehmig congratulated the Webb coach three different times before the match officially ended.

But English, a junior that year, wasn't giving up. On the final playoff hole, he shrugged off an upcoming 48-foot putt for an improbable victory, telling Baylor captain Don Franklin, "I'm going to make it."

A downcast Franklin mumbled, "Right."

Moments later, English's putt found nothing but the bottom of the cup, causing him to turn toward Franklin, point his finger at his captain and say, "I told you."

His Webb opponent was so stunned he three-putted from 20 feet to hand the title to the Raiders.

"Somebody took a picture of Harris pointing at Don saying, 'I told you,'" Oehmig said. "That picture still hangs in my office."

Said English: "There's a copy of it in my parents' house in Thomasville, too."

Just a hunch, but it probably won't be the last time English holes a big putt to win a big golf event. It might even happen Oct. 9 at Black Creek.