FILE - In this March 8, 2020, file photo, Harris English hits out of a bunker onto the 14th green during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament in Orlando, Fla. Before the PGA Tour season was halted by the coronavirus, English worked his way up to No. 24 in the FedEx Cup. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

Column: Strong play won't go unrewarded for Harris English

May 05, 2020 - 5:17 pm

The sure solution to just about any problem in golf always is to play better.

Harris English wondered if that would be enough.

If going six years without a win wasn't difficult enough, English failed to keep his full card after seven seasons on the PGA Tour. He had conditional status at No. 149 in the FedEx Cup standings, meaning the 30-year-old from Georgia could only play in tournaments that had room.

And he played better.

English finished no worse than a tie for sixth in four tournaments in the fall and had another top 10 at Bay Hill. He already was at No. 24 in the FedEx Cup, enough to get into The Players Championship. He opened with a 65, two off the lead.

That was the final round before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down The Players, along with the next four tournaments.

And then the Masters was postponed.

And then four more PGA Tour events were canceled. And there was speculation — there still is in some corners — whether any golf would be played the rest of the season.

The news English wanted — but wasn't guaranteed — came last week when the PGA Tour decided that no one would lose their card in a virus-shortened season. Players would have the same status as when they started the season, unless they improved their priority ranking as English has.

“There was definitely some relief,” English said Tuesday. “I guess they could have kept it the same. But to bump up my status, that's cool. It's how it should be. I shouldn't be penalized for a whole other year for being 126th to 150th. ... I've pretty much got my card locked up.”

Now he can't wait to play again.

English lives and plays out of Sea Island, where there is no shortage of strong competition from the number of PGA Tour players in the neighborhood. One such occasion was at Federica Golf Club, where a dozen tour players each ponied up $100. English shot 67 and cleaned up.

“I've taken a little bit of a break,” English said. “But I've used this time to keep it going, to get better, to add to what I've already done. I want to get to where I'm rested and ready to go as if I've been playing.”

He has been working with his swing coach at Sea Island, Justin Parsons, a couple of times a week. His putting coach, Ramon Bescana, drove up from Jacksonville, Florida, for a session.

How much a three-month break helps or hurt will be determined when the scores count and the stakes are higher.

Rory McIlroy, the world's No. 1 player, said this week he went seven weeks without playing until courses in South Florida reopened late last week. Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, a pair of former No. 1s, haven't really hit their stride since knee surgeries after last season. Maybe the time off will help.

For English, the work is not done.

“I know I'm in a good situation,” he said. “But I want to get back to Maui (Tournament of Champions), the WGCs, back to the majors. This is a good opportunity.”

The objective is not to get into the funk that cost him his card. English attributed it in the simplest terms as the “search for perfect,” which typically leads to problems in a sport where perfection is never found.

He looked at old video from his time at college — English won a Nationwide Tour event when he was at Georgia — and considered what he did well. It was a time to stop looking around at how well McIlroy hit the driver and how well Brandt Snedeker putted — and realized what he had was good enough to win twice on the PGA Tour.

English narrowly missed getting his full card back through the Korn Ferry Tour Finals last year. He was nervous that last round, something he hadn't felt in some time. That was the start.

Instead of getting down about losing his card, English huddled with his manager, his coach and his caddie and figured out a way to use his situation to his advantage.

“I know I'm not going to get in as many tournaments,” he said. “But when I was in a tournament, I was going to be prepared, focused and rested. I didn't see it as a negative. Little stuff can go a long way.”

English was No. 369 in the world when he missed out on his card. Now he's up to No. 155, still a long way to go, but certainly headed in the right direction. Assuming golf resumes June 11-14 at Colonial, he'll have about three months to finish what he started.

And the best news is knowing that even if there are more delays to the schedule, he won't lose what he's already done.

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