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Harris English holds the champions trophy after the final round of the Tournament of Champions golf event, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, at Kapalua Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii. (Matthew Thayer/The Maui News via AP)

It wasn't that long ago when Harris English faced an annual challenge of simply retaining his PGA Tour card.

After finishing 12th in last season's FedEx Cup standings and winning this past weekend's Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, the former Baylor School and University of Georgia standout has a decidedly loftier objective.

"My goal really this year is to play on the Ryder Cup team," English said on a Zoom call after his Sentry triumph ended a tour drought that had surpassed seven years. (United States Ryder Cup captain) Steve Stricker is one of my favorite people out here on tour, and I feel like that's something I haven't done yet. I loved playing college golf and loved playing on a team like that, and playing in that QBE Shootout (which he won last month with Matt Kuchar) is a lot of fun because you get to share that experience with someone else.

"I've been out here for 10 years, and that's something I haven't achieved yet. That's kind of the pinnacle of our sport, playing for your country in either the Presidents Cup or the Ryder Cup."

English is giving Stricker a lot to think about due to the 31-year-old's surge the last several months that has included a runner-up finish to Dustin Johnson last August at The Northern Trust, the first leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs, and a fourth-place showing less than a month later at the U.S. Open won by Bryson DeChambeau.

This past weekend's triumph in a playoff over Joaquin Niemann in Kapalua vaulted English to No. 2 in this season's early FedEx Cup race behind Johnson and to a career-best world ranking of 17th, including 12th among American players. The Ryder Cup, which had to be postponed from last September until this September at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin because of the coronavirus, contains 12 American players vying against 12 European players in various formats.

That English has entered Ryder Cup conversation is staggering given that the 2005 TSSAA individual state champion began the 2019-20 PGA Tour season playing a limited schedule and ranked No. 369 in the world.

"It's hard to sustain great play for a long time, and I've realized that," English said. "It's easy to fall down the rabbit hole of trying to search a lot to get better. Every week, you play with somebody who you might think does this better or that better, but you are who you are, and you can get better at what you do. I've learned that I don't need to be like Dustin Johnson or Justin Thomas or Xander Schauffele.

"I need to be the best version of myself and do the things I do well."

English helped Georgia to an NCAA runner-up finish in 2011 and turned pro that same year. He discovered success quickly, winning two PGA Tour events in 2013 and making his first FedEx Cup playoff run to the Tour Championship two years later. By being among the 30 players who qualified for the final leg of the playoffs at East Lake in Atlanta, English earned a berth in all four major tournaments in 2016 and made the cut in all four.

Then he endured a slide into obscurity that required some changes, which started to be provided in April 2019 by coach Justin Parsons.

By sinking a six-foot birdie on the first playoff hole to subdue Niemann, English pocketed the first-place check of $1.34 million. The former Baylor boarding student from Valdosta, Georgia, who now resides in Sea Island, Georgia, has now amassed $18.65 million in career earnings, which puts him at 93rd on that all-time list.

English is one spot behind former world No. 1 David Duval, and there is no telling how high he can climb given his stellar play that has resulted largely from lessons along the way.

"I feel like I know a lot more about how I should practice and how I should play," English said. "I train more now than I did when I was younger. Everybody says the more experience you have the better, and I feel like I'm way more of an experienced player now. I understand how much work it takes out here to compete week in and week out.

"I just feel I've done a better job of being a true professional, and the results have paid off."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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