ATLANTA, GEORGIA | On paper, Harris English’s golf résumé over the last year speaks for itself. He’s ranked No. 11 in the world, the ninth highest ranked American on a stacked global leaderboard. He’s won twice on the PGA Tour in 2021, in playoffs at Kapalua in the Tournament of Champions and at TPC River Highlands in the Travelers Championship. He finished third and fourth in the two U.S. Opens staged this season and made the cut in every major he played.
In years past, English would already be automatically qualified to compete in his first Ryder Cup at No. 10 in the U.S. rankings, but this month’s match at Whistling Straits gives U.S. captain Steve Stricker six wild-card picks that he’ll make on Sept. 8. So while his odds for getting a good phone call next week look good, the 32-year-old English still has some campaigning to do at the Tour Championship at East Lake.
What can Harris English offer as a rookie pick for the Americans?
“I think I’m more of a Swiss Army knife,” English said when asked to make his own case for inclusion. “I can play with anybody. I can hang out with anybody. I think that’s one of my strengths … I can find common ground with every single person. So whatever role they need me to play, whoever they need me to play with, whatever time, whatever format, I’ll be there and go to war with anybody.
“So, I think that’s kind of what I bring to the table.”
Survey folks on or around the tour about the nicest, most likable players in the game and English is on the short list with guys like Tony Finau and Webb Simpson. All three of them are prime candidates to get picked by Stricker, who himself ranks among the same pleasant fraternity. Considering the variety of attitudes Team USA already has on its roster, having a reserve of players capable of partnering with anyone is key to balancing team chemistry.
Harris’ college coach at Georgia, Chris Haack, knows better than most the value that brings to a locker room.
“They’re all good players no matter how far you go down the list – from a talent standpoint you’re not getting anything different from those guys,” Haack said of Stricker’s choices. “A guy like Harris, in my opinion, he gets along with everybody and might be the nicest guy out there. He can play foursomes or four-ball. He’s a great teammate to have because he’s just easy to get along with. In that format you want to have a guy that you feel comfortable and get along with and out there trying to win for each other.
“Harris’ demeanor and personality never changes. Nothing ever rattles him. I don’t think it hurts to have guys like that because you do want some camaraderie in the locker room and guys who do get along with everybody with no ego. I do think they help balance things out and do help give you somebody to talk to when there might be only a few other ears in the locker room willing to listen and talk to you.”
English has obviously never played in a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. But he is no stranger to elite team golf. He competed for the U.S. in the 2011 Walker Cup with a roster that included Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay, Patrick Rodgers and his Georgia roommate Russell Henley.
“We had a really solid team,” English said of a U.S. squad that narrowly lost 14-12 in Scotland.
He also helped lead Georgia to the final match in the 2011 NCAA Championship, losing 2-and-1 to collegiate juggernaut Patrick Reed in the decisive match. Reed went undefeated in six head-to-head matches against an all-star cast of fellow collegians to lead Augusta State to consecutive NCAA titles.
“I love team golf,” English said. “That was one of the best parts of playing at University of Georgia was being part of a team. So, I think I’d be great in the team room. And I would love to play and go to war with those guys.
“I feel like I’m in a good spot. Hopefully, I can be picked for that team. I mean, my whole goal was to get in the top six and make it on my own merit. But I didn’t do that, so hopefully I can get picked. … I like a lot of guys on the team, all the guys on the team, so I would love to play. It would be an unbelievable experience.”
It’s a pretty heady conversation for English to be in considering before 2021 he’d been in a seven-year winless drought since winning twice in 2013. Late in 2019, he had fallen to 369th in the world and was resecuring his PGA Tour status in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals.
He started inching his way back up the world ranks late in 2019, but he really emerged as the best version of himself after the pandemic break in 2020. “He got back to the basics and he looks like the Harris of old,” said Haack.
“It started last year – I had a really good year last year, very consistent,” English said of his renaissance. “I don’t know how many top 10s I had, but I was close to breaking out. Played with (Matt Kuchar) in the Shark Shootout last December and played really well. I think we won by like nine shots. I kind of carried that into the Tournament of Champions in Maui and played really well.
“It’s just about getting in that winners’ circle again, knowing you can do it, craving getting in the hunt again, and I feel like I’ve done that. Getting back into it at the Travelers, it’s just been a continuation of last year of just some really consistent play, really solid play, and if you do that enough, you’re going to be near the lead and then have a chance to win.”
“… you’ve kind of built the whole year for this, and you’re playing for a lot of money. Obviously, getting your name on the Tour Championship trophy is incredible, and this is the biggest prize of them all.” – Harris English
English very nearly became the first three-time winner on the PGA Tour this season when he built up a four-shot lead heading to the back nine of the WGC event in Memphis, Tennessee, in August. But playing with Bryson DeChambeau in the final pairing, they each made a mess of the 11th hole and got put on the clock. Rushing to catch back up got English further out of his rhythm and he missed a putt on the last hole to get himself into another playoff.
Despite that hiccup, he started this week’s Tour Championship at East Lake in sixth place at 4 under with a legitimate shot to win the FedEx Cup title and $15 million bonus with six shots to make up on Cantlay. He aced the 224-yard 15th hole in Thursday’s first round to kickstart a 4-under 66 that pushed him up to third place and a stroke closer to the lead. A roller-coaster 69 on Friday left him T5 but eight shots off the lead.
It’s a far cry from when he eked his way into his first Tour Championship in 2015 in 30th position.
“I remember qualifying for this … for the first time, I mathematically had no chance to win,” he said. “I think now everybody has a chance to win if you play some really good golf.
“The way I look at it, it’s a five-round tournament. I just shot 4-under, and I’m six back, and there’s a lot of golf to be played. Really anything can happen. I don’t think six shots is a lot in 72 holes, especially on a golf course like this where it’s not hard to make bogeys if you hit it in the rough, and if you play good golf, you can shoot 5-, 6-, 7-under.”
Considering the confidence he’s gained in his game this season, English does not discount his chances to make one last strong impression on captain Stricker.
“I feel like I’ve got a chance to win this. This is pretty serious business,” he said. “Then you’ve kind of built the whole year for this, and you’re playing for a lot of money. Obviously, getting your name on the Tour Championship trophy is incredible, and this is the biggest prize of them all.
“I come in here wanting to win a golf tournament and wanting to get in contention and playing against the best when everybody is seemingly at the top of their games.”
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