Harris English: Returning to what made him good

Harris English has managed to get through two rounds of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, California, with a 2-shot lead and no bogeys. Both are no mean feats given that the South Course was described as “a beast” and the easier North Course provides for low scores and a bunching of the field.

Accordingly, he had 68 on the South on Thursday and a 66 Friday on the North. Not bad when the 36-hole scoring averages for the entire field were calculated at 73.594 and 70.232 respectively. Everybody plays the South to Sunday’s finish, so buckle up the chin straps boys.

English came out of the University of Georgia machine in 2012 earning his card through the 2011 Q-School. He was successful immediately earning $1.2 million with just 3 Top-10s. He won the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis in 2013 and the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in Mexico in 2014. That was a $2.9 million year and he finished just two spots outside of making the final 30 into the FedEx Tour Championship.

So what do these guys tend to do when they’ve gotten really good? They want to get better. He took an honest assessment of this game and charted a plan with a new direction: 

I definitely needed to be more consistent, that was the main thing. I felt like my greens in regulation stat was really good. But my driving and putting were not consistent enough. On my good weeks my driving was really good and my putting was really good. On my bad weeks, they were off.

So, I made a swing coach change last year in the last of the year and it’s really helped to simplify things and to focus on the small stuff. Because I’m such a feel player, just to get back to doing the things that I used to do as a kid and I love playing the game of golf and to have more fun on the golf course.

I’ve been having a lot more fun since I know where the ball’s been going these past couple months and I’m looking forward to the next couple years with working with Scott [Hamilton] and to see where we can, what we can accomplish. Started working with him a little bit after the PGA Championship last year.

Hamilton may be a familiar name because he has attracted quite a following from the Georgia contingent and that’s how English found him:

He was working with a lot of friends of mine. He’s working with a lot of Georgia boys, Chris Kirk, Brendan Todd, Russell Henley, Boo Weekley, Steven Bowditch. He works with a lot of guys that I’m really good friends with. So I would see them on the road a lot.

I think after the British Open we were on the same flight back. I missed the cut and we were on the same flight back on Saturday. I got to talking to him about some swing stuff and if he had watched me hit any balls and he is very smart, very attentive and watches a lot of guys on the range, whether you know it or not. And I really liked what he was saying and I talked to a lot of guys he was working with and ended up that that’s the direction I was going.

As he looked back at his year, he could see a general malaise creeping into his game and he wasn’t making goals for all the work he was doing. And he learned the hard way that working harder doesn’t always make you better. You can mire yourself in the rut of doing the wrong things:

Obviously I wanted to make the Ryder Cup team. I felt like I was playing well enough in the early part of the year to be in consideration for that team and I watched it the past number of years and really wanted to be there. I feel like that’s the pinnacle of our sport. Playing for your country, playing against Europe. I was part of that Walker Cup team in 2011 and I had a blast. That was one of the highlights of my career. So, I did really want to be on that team, but I don’t think it added more pressure on me.

I knew that I wanted to be at the top, I wanted to be the Top-50 in the world, Top-25 in the world, but it was just frustrating to get off to that good of a start and to really keep doing the things I was doing and nothing really worked. I really worked harder, I hit more balls, spent more time on the putting green and it almost made me worse. It got you in a rut where you couldn’t get out.

Which was tough. I mean, it’s hard when you’re struggling to think that you don’t need to practice more. It was one of the first times I have had to deal with that. But I feel like I learned a lot from it and I learned a lot about myself and how to persevere.

But it was finally the PGA Championship performance that galvanized a need to do something about it:

It was the PGA last year. I felt like Valhalla is set up really well for my game. Long, soft, big fairways. I couldn’t keep it on the golf course with a driver. I was hitting it in the rough every hole. I think I [only] missed the cut by one or two, but I hit it awful.

That was kind of the point where I was like, I have no clue what I’m doing on the golf course. I’m practicing, I feel like I’m doing the right things, staying committed, but it just wasn’t working out. That’s when I knew that I had to do something.

I was with my coach for three or four years, I started working with him senior year of college and it’s a tough thing, because you get so close to somebody and somebody’s such a good friend to you, it’s hard to take a different direction, but you got to take a step back and say this is my business, this is me wanting to get better and trying to get to the top.

So far he’s validated his move with a T3 at the Sony Open and he really started hitting his driver well in Phoenix. But he didn’t putt well there or in Palm Springs. So this opening salvo in San Diego has his confidence on the rise.

He took the chance and has gone in a new direction back to his old familiar ways. And it’s worked. That would inspire confidence in anyone.

Now that he’s publicly formed these thoughts and verbalized them, it will be interesting to see how he does. Will he just be able to just play or will he be thinking about it and “trying” to do what he said he was doing?

It’s a great game.

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