Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith
GULLANE, Scotland -- Former Georgia golfer and Thomasville native Harris English is not exactly satisfied these days, but when he reflects on his career as a professional golfer, he has little to fuss about. He’s been at it for a season and a half, still wet behind the ears when it comes to tour experience. However, there’s money in the bank and a tournament trophy for the mantelpiece.
That victory — FedEx St. Jude Classic at Memphis — satisfied a longing that began when he started out as a rookie in 2012. There is that ongoing notion that if he is to play this game for a living that there should be a commitment to winning tournaments. There was an emotional bonus that came with winning at Memphis that is special for any Georgia-born, Georgia-bred golfer — he will get an invitation to play in the Masters next April.
“That is the first thing I thought about,” he said Friday after his even-par round of 71 enabled him to make the cut for the final two days of play at the Open at Muirfield. “If you grow up like I did, you think about how nice it would be to win the Masters. You want that one more than the others.”
Golfers can’t be selective when it comes to majors. Win as many as you can is the goal of every serious player, including Harris, who knows how important such success is for one’s career. As he sat in the warm sunshine with a pleasant breeze coming off the North Sea on Friday, he spoke of the lift he has gotten from playing links golf. He would be thrilled beyond words to become an Open champion. He knows how rewarding it would be to win the U.S. Open, his country’s national championship, and the PGA is about as major — when you consider the depth of competition — as it gets. Still, there are those boyhood memories when his dad, Ben, would drive him up to Sandersville, where his father is from, and take him to the Masters every day.
A review of Harris’ first 36 holes at Muirfield leaves you with the notion that his learning experience is paying off. He seems to be improving with every event, every round. The sobering reality that, at three over par and with Miguel Jimenez of Spain leading at three under, Harris might have been grouped in the Top 10 except for a triple bogey at the 18th hole on Thursday — a hole that he birdied Friday to ensure that he would make the cut.
Winning the tournament is not unthinkable, although it would likely take two subpar rounds to hoist the Claret Jug. Reality is that there are just too many good players between him and first place. Nonetheless, he will play his game this weekend the way he has all year — focus on improvement and make the best better.
The tour is grinding and nomadic. Sleeping in different beds every week, sorting out the best menu for health and comfort, seeing the demands on your time increasing and finding a way to cope with off-the-course isolation are but a few of the challenges a tour player experiences.
Harris has a patient and accommodating style — he extends courtesies to everybody, his polite and warm smile endearing him to players and spectators alike — and his compact swing is geared for efficiency and consistency, which have been his hallmark since joining the tour. If he had sat down and planned his professional start, he could ask for little more: $1 million plus in earnings as a rookie, his first tour win after 18 months of competition, currently 19th position on the money list ($1,914,347 coming into the British Open) with an opportunity to make a big move by performing well this weekend and in the forthcoming playoffs.
Right behind him on the money list is his Bulldog teammate Russell Henley of Macon who rebounded from a 7-over 78 in the first round to an even par 71 and making the cut.
Bubba Watson, fighting for momentum to move up on the leaderboard, had an up-and-down round of 2-over but is in a very favorable position for the weekend at 1-over for tournament.
Three Georgia Bulldogs have made the cut on the dry and parched Muirfield course, where anything could happen this weekend, including the unexpected or the unlikely. Stay tuned.