It’s long been said that consistently hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports, though playing quarterback for the New York Jets must rank high on the list.
Winning golf tournaments is up there on the difficulty scale, no matter how easy Tiger Woods once made it look. All a player can control is himself while trying to beat what feels like a battalion coming at him.
When Harris English won the Sentry Tournament of Champions on Sunday in a playoff over Joaquin Niemann, it was his first PGA Tour victory in nearly eight years (though he did team with Matt Kuchar to win the playful QBE Shootout in December) and it extended a theme that has developed in this wraparound season.
There is no time limit on winning.
“Winning is so hard out here and I haven’t done it in a long time. I guess I thought it was a little easier said than done.” – Harris English
Stewart Cink went 11 years between wins before taking the Safeway Open last fall. Martin Laird ended a seven-year drought in Las Vegas. Brian Gay (Bermuda) won again after seven years. Robert Streb (Sea Island) went five years between victories.
Perhaps that bodes well this week for Ryan Palmer, who (other than his team victory with Jon Rahm in the Zurich Classic last year) hasn’t captured an individual trophy since winning at the Sony Open 11 years ago.
“Winning is so hard out here and I haven’t done it in a long time. I guess I thought it was a little easier said than done,” English said Sunday evening at Kapalua.
“This game, it’s hard to sustain great play for a long time, I’ve realized that and it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of trying to search a lot, search to get better.
“Every week you play with somebody that you might think does this better, does that better. But you are who you are, and you can get better at what you do. That’s what I’ve learned, not to go up-and-down the range of saying, ‘I need to be like Dustin or Justin Thomas or Xander Schauffele.’ I need to be the best version of myself and do the things I do well and always work at it.”
Is there a reason why players who haven’t won for so many years are suddenly doing it again?
Yes, but those reasons are more individual than collective. It’s possible to delay the effects of aging more effectively now but, perhaps more than any other game, golf is every man for himself.
Cink winning at age 47 – he hadn’t won since beating Tom Watson in the Open Championship in 2009 – was the result of everything falling together. He had his son, Reagan, on the bag and his wife Lisa, who has battled breast cancer, with him. There was new equipment in the bag. He felt good coming in.
And sometimes it just happens.
Martin Laird had almost lost his card a couple of years earlier due to back issues. He has young children. And, like a number of players, his priorities shifted. But the fire remained.
“I think when I sit back and think about it, this one might go right to the top just because it’s been a while,” Laird said after winning the Shriners Hospitals For Children Las Vegas Open in October.
“I had a bunch of life changes since my last win. Now I’ve got a couple kids who kept asking me when I was going to win the trophy. They would see the ones that I previously won. They weren’t born when I won them, so they kept asking, ‘Daddy, when are you going to win a trophy?’”
We’ve heard that story a few times through the years.
As we understandably watch Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and others collect trophies – and we tend to judge them when they miss their chances – the week-to-week work on the PGA Tour is a grind. Yes, we roll our eyes when we hear tour players talk about how tough their lives are but, while they’re not digging ditches, it is hard.
Jordan Spieth is learning how hard. Louis Oosthuizen, as good as he is, has won just once on the PGA Tour and never in the United States. Tony Finau knows all about it.
So, when Harris English turns his career around like he has – finding the right balance of coach, trainer and commitment – it’s an enormous accomplishment.
It wasn’t that long ago – the fall of 2019 – that English was doubting himself. In position to regain his PGA Tour privileges with a high finish at the Korn Ferry Tour finals, he bogeyed five of his last seven holes and missed his card, forcing him to rely on conditional PGA Tour status to get starts.
He committed to what his coach, Justin Parsons, was telling him, bought into a training program and where there was darkness, now there’s Hawaiian sunshine.
“(Parsons) was telling me how good I was playing and the opportunities I had coming up and he kind of flipped the script of I could sit there and feel sorry for myself or I could say, ‘Hey, I’m playing really good golf. I know I didn’t keep my card, but here are the opportunities I have coming up and I got to seize them.’ And he kind of helped me do that, helped me flip the script of being confident and being positive,” English said.
“It’s kind of come full circle of I feel like I know a lot more about how I should practice, how I should play, how I should train more now than I did when I was younger. And everybody says the more experience you have, the better, and I feel like I’m way more of an experienced player now than I was when I was a kid and understand how much work it takes out here to compete week-in and week-out and just being a true professional. I feel like I’ve done a better job of that and the results have paid off.”
Top photo: Harris English won last week for the first time in nearly eight years. Photo: Cliff Hawkins, Getty Images
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