online golf column
Chris Dortch

September 14, 2011

If Harris English earns his PGA Tour card this fall, it will be because he gave himself the best possible opportunity by maximizing his final summer as an amateur.

As long as he can draw back a club, English will recall the summer of 2011. Where to begin? It started at the U.S. Amateur Public Links in June, when he reached the semifinals of match play. The next month, he won the Southern Amateur, then, taking advantage of a sponsor’s exemption, he went to Columbus, Ohio and won the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational, becoming just the third amateur in history to win on that tour.

English's margin of victory was a single stroke, but he shot 14 under par, opening with a round of 5-under-par 66, matching it a day later and following that with a 68.

Had English been a professional, he’d have taken home a check for $144,000. But English’s pro aspirations would have to wait, and in the meantime, he finished off a productive July by finishing tied for third in the Porter Cup.

Then came the news English had waited for ever since he was old enough to realize what it would mean to play for his country. He was chosen for the Walker Cup team, and though the U.S. side lost two days ago at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in Scotland, the accomplishment of having made the team, Harris says, “is awesome.

“Walker Cup was definitely the best thing I’ve ever done as an amateur. Being picked among the top 10 players in America was unbelievable. It was such an honor for me to play with those other nine guys. It was the pinnacle of my [amateur] career, something I can always look back on and remember.

“It was definitely good to end on something like that.”

English was in Chattanooga on Tuesday, having flown straight from Scotland, to be a part of the Children’s Hospital Classic media day at Black Creek and announce his intentions for moving on to the next level. He’s turned professional and will head to California and then Texas to play in Nationwide events before returning to Chattanooga on Oct. 6 for the Children’s Hospital Classic.

Unlike just about every other college player eager to test his game against professionals but secretly harboring a bit of self-doubt, English charges into his Nationwide Tour adventure secure in the knowledge that he already belongs.

“It’s going to be different playing as a professional instead of not playing for money as an amateur,” English said. “It’s going to be something I’ll have to get used to: traveling on my own. Having a caddy. It’s just going to be different.

“But I’m glad I was able to find out for myself what [the Nationwide Tour] is all about. And it’s good to know I can compete with those guys. Those guys are really good.”

In attendance at Tuesday’s festivities was English’s old high school coach, King Oehmig, who presided over a dynasty—in boys’ and girls’ golf—at the Baylor School in Chattanooga. Asked to rate English among all the great players that had passed through his program, Oehmig had to stop and think for a minute.

“It’s clearly between Harris and Luke List,” Oehmig said. “Luke wasn’t on the Walker Cup team—but should have been—but he played in the U.S. Open three weeks after he graduated [high school.] It’s a total toss-up between those two. They’re equally wonderful, great guys and a real tributes to the game.”

Oehmig was reluctant to forecast English’s fate in the pro game.

“I’ve got to say I just don’t know,” he said. “That’s not in any way doubting him. It’s just such a mystery. There have been people I thought wouldn’t have made it who did, and others I thought for sure would make it and didn’t.

“But I’ll say this: Harris has the mental toughness, the physical strength, the moxie and the backing. Just the innate capability to do it.”

English will find out in a hurry if he can make the grade. His Nationwide Tour victory earned him an exemption into the second round of the PGA Tour’s Qualifying School. In preparation, he’s already moved to Sea Island, Ga., to be near his swing instructor and some of the finest comp anywhere.

“A few days ago I played with Lucas Glover and Zach Johnson,” English said. “It’s kind of hard not to get better when you’re playing with those guys, I mean, the Masters champion and U.S. Open champion. It was an easy decision for me [to move to Sea Island.]”

When English returns to Black Creek early next month, he’ll be a battle-hardened pro. He looks forward to showing his friends and family how far his game has progressed since his days at Baylor.

“Playing here in Chattanooga is going to be great,” English said. “I’m probably going to have a lot of friends and family come out. I love Black Creek. I played a lot here in high school. I’m just very excited to be here, see some familiar faces and have fun.”


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