LORAN SMITH COLUMN: Former Bulldog English playing with confidence

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

EDITOR’S NOTE: Guest Columnist Loran Smith is in England this week and will be corresponding with daily articles for The Herald at the 141st British Open.

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — Harris English, tall and erect, dressed smartly in a red pullover, moved sprightly about the Royal Lytham & St. Annes golf links Friday with the confidence of a seasoned veteran. You would never know that he was a rookie playing in his first major championship.

For years he has had the goal of being here. Now he wants to make the best of his opportunity. He is playing not only for himself, but also for his parents, Ben and Martha English, who are following him every step of the way this week; for his alma mater, the University of Georgia; for his coach, Chris Haack; and his hometown of Thomasville.

Actually you have to make that plural — he spent his early years in Moultrie where he learned the game at Sunset Country Club. His father took him to the practice range when Harris was only 5-years-old. Whatever success Harris experiences, he wants to share with friends who have supported him in his career.

Making the cut in his first British Open is overwhelming for this cogent and resourceful young man who has honed his attitude with respect and humility forsaking arrogance and ego.

“You can’t succeed in golf without a lot of support,” he said outside the media center Friday afternoon.

He was not just making conversation.

While success never comes easily in sports, there has been a budding consistency with English. He developed his game at the Glen Arven Country Club in Thomasville, the home of the Piney Woods Invitational, a highly regarded summer event of considerable duration. Harris won the Junior Piney Woods when he was 8-years-old, which was confirmation early on that he has not only had an affinity for the game, but the ingredients to compete.

Enrolling at Baylor in 2003, he led his team to four state prep championships and also won an individual title. At Georgia, he was named All-America by Golfweek while winning four tournaments. Following the Walker Cup, in which he won both of his singles matches, he turned pro.

With dreams of playing the PGA Tour, completing his eligibility with the Bulldogs and earning a degree had priority with his plans. He frequently interrupted our conversation with questions about, “How will the Bulldogs do this fall?”

Then, with a wide grin, he gleefully accented his emotions, blurting out, “I am a passionate Dawg fan!”

English’s degree was conferred in the spring of 2011, which was followed by his first trip across the Atlantic to play in the Walker Cup matches at Royal Aberdeen. That excursion only heightened his objective to play in the Open championship. He gained additional confidence, with respect for his game, when he won the 2011 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational.

While he is not without credentials, there are no guarantees in golf, but Friday’s round was a lemon-to-lemonade experience for him — a revealing reflection of his combination of talent and attitude.

Playing in a wind that was different for the first time — a staple of British conditions — he bogeyed four holes for a first-nine score of 5-over 39. With many players, a call to a travel agent for early departure might have been likely, but Harris expected more of himself. Even when he bogeyed the par 5 11th, he played with resolve — not trepidation.

Suddenly red numbers bunched by his name on the scoreboard. Making five birdies in the last six holes — including four in a row — he posted a 32 on the final nine holes for a 1-over 71 and a 2-over total for the tournament — only 12 strokes behind leader and friend Brandt Snedeker with two rounds remaining.

This Dawg can hunt.

In a review of his round, with his parents smiling approvingly, he counseled out loud with himself: “You can never lose your focus in a major. Not even for one hole.”

With the traditional winds of the championship forecast for the weekend and standing only 12 shots out of the lead, Harris English, never the presumptuous type, knows that anything is possible in the British Open.