ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
AP photo by Chris O'Meara / Harris English acknowledges the crowd after sinking a 35-foot birdie putt during the opening round of The Players Championship golf tournament on March 12 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. English shot a 7-under-par 65, but the tournament was canceled that night.

On the afternoon of March 12, Harris English drained a 35-foot birdie putt on his next-to-last hole to help close an opening 7-under-par 65 at The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, which placed him in a tie for second behind Hideki Matsuyama.

Several hours later, he received a phone call he won't soon forget.

"I went to sleep that Thursday night around 9:30 or 9:45, and my coach, Justin Parsons, called me and woke me up at 10:15 to tell me they had canceled the tournament," said English, who starred on four consecutive Baylor School state championship teams before becoming a four-time All-American at Georgia. "I was pretty shocked. I thought we were at least going to get 36 holes in. I actually thought we were going to complete all four rounds.

"Friday morning, I went out to get my stuff from the course, because everybody had everything at their lockers. Talking to the players was really weird, because everybody was like, 'Hey, man, I don't know when I'm going to see you again, but have a good little break and hopefully we'll see you soon.'"

College basketball fans will never know whether top-ranked Kansas would have won the 68-team NCAA Division I men's tournament or whether No. 1 South Carolina would have prevailed in the women's 64-team field. The COVID-19 pandemic stripped each of those three-week extravaganzas from determining its champion.

Likewise, the 30-year-old English will forever wonder what could have been at The Players, which is often referred to as golf's fifth major.

Rory McIlroy won last season's tournament at TPC Sawgrass, earning $2.25 million, while Jim Furyk's runner-up finish pocketed $1.35 million. Placing first or second would have yielded the largest career paycheck for English, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour from Sea Island, Georgia, who has earned $1.67 million this season and ranks 24th in the FedEx Cup standings.

Photo Gallery

PGA Tour golfer Harris English

 

'Really good spot'

English entered The Players coming off a 16th-place finish at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, a 17th-place finish at the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and a ninth-place finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando.

"I was playing really well during the Florida swing and got off to a really good start at Sawgrass," English said. "I felt like my game was in a really good spot to get after it on the weekend and have a chance to win that tournament. It was kind of unfortunate calling it off and not having a chance to move up the leaderboard, but I understand why they did it and why Commissioner (Jay) Monahan made the call.

"I'm just looking forward to seeing when we can go back out and hopefully keep my hot hand going."

That desired return will take longer than first expected. The night The Players Championship was canceled, so were the ensuing tournaments (Valspar Championship, Dell Match Play and Valero Texas Open) leading up to the Masters, which was postponed the next day.

This past week, the PGA Tour announced the cancellations of the four tournaments following The Masters (RBC Heritage, Zurich Classic, Wells Fargo Championship and Byron Nelson) and the postponing of May's PGA Championship in San Francisco. The next tournament currently on the PGA Tour horizon is the Charles Schwab Challenge, which is scheduled for May 21-24 in Fort Worth, Texas.

"Normally this time of year, you only may get a week or two off, so I'm always either working out or working with my coach and staying sharp with my game," English said. "It's just weird right now. I'm trying to use this as a little bit of an offseason. Luckily, down here at Sea Island, we've got 12 to 15 PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour players, so we can get some good money games up and try to stay as sharp as possible, but it is definitely strange."

Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Brian Harmon, Patton Kizzire and Keith Mitchell, the former Baylor and Georgia teammate of English who won the 2019 Honda Classic, are the more prominent PGA Tour players living in Sea Island, which is also the home of World Golf Hall of Famer Davis Love III. So there is potential for some intense competition during this time off.

 

Making the turn

English earned his first PGA Tour win at the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, where he defeated Phil Mickelson and Scott Stallings by two strokes. The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder reached the 2015 Tour Championship at East Lake outside of Atlanta and finished 22nd, which guaranteed him a spot in all four majors in 2016.

He would make the cut in all four.

From there, however, English's game faltered, and he flirted with losing his PGA Tour card. His FedEx Cup ranking plummeted from 47th in 2016 to 118th in 2017 to 125th in 2018 and to 149th last year.

"For the last two years, I had really been struggling in striking the ball," English said. "That was something I always had done well in high school, college and my first couple of years on tour. I got into a bit of a slump and went through the coaching carousel trying to find the right thing, and it wasn't working out. That started to hurt my confidence, and my greens in regulation went way down.

"I started working last April with Justin, who worked at the Butch Harmon School in Dubai for 10 years. We went back and watched videos of my swing from my Baylor and Georgia days, and we started noticing some things."

This season's dramatic rebound for English has consisted of 10 made cuts in 11 events and five top-10 finishes. He ranks fifth on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation.

"When you're putting for birdie more than the other guys, you're obviously going to have a lot better chance to go low," he said. "I've been putting well, so all of my stats have been good this year."

A year that English hopes can resume in May.

"I think golf is in a good spot in that we're not all touching the same ball or even come into close contact with your playing partners," English said. "Hopefully they're taking that into consideration and that we can be one of the first sports to resume and give people something to watch on TV when they're home on the weekends."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

 

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT