Harris English Triumphs at The Tournament of Champions
HARRIS English claimed his third PGA Tour title – but his first since the Mayakoba Golf Classic in November of 2013 – in a playoff over Joaquin Niemann at the Plantation Course at Kapalua to secure the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
However, his victory was overshadowed by the behaviour of two of his rivals. Justin Thomas uttered an audible homophobic slur after missing a short putt during the third round, while Jon Rahm was heard using the f-word on several occasions. These are lucky young men who live a privileged life and earn millions of dollars playing in some of the most beautiful parts of the world. Thomas at least had the good grace to issue a grovelling apology, admitting that he had made a mistake and needed to learn and move forward. He won’t have heard the last of this.
Rahm is one of the most gifted golfers on the planet and is a joy to watch when he is in full flow. It is a rather different matter when the birdie putts don’t drop. His regular foul-mouthed outbursts when things are not going his way need to be addressed. It is such a common occurrence that the TV commentators no longer even apologise. And that cannot be right. Players such as Rahm and Thomas need to appreciate that youngsters watch them - and copy them.
English joins Stewart Cink (11 years), Martin Laird (seven years) and Brian Gay (seven years) as players to break win droughts of over seven years this season. We have also seen Robert Streb win again after a six-year drought.
Sergio Garcia and Hudson Swafford also won for the first time in more than three years, while Carlos Ortiz and Jason Kokrak gained their first wins after four and nine seasons, respectively.
“It feels amazing. All the hard work that has gone into this, all the highs and lows of golf that it brings over a career and I feel like I've gotten out of my valley and getting back to the tournaments and some of the quality of golf that I know I can play,” English said. “It feels great to have some validation out there on the golf course.”
In 2019 he finished 149th in the FedEx Cup, losing his full playing privileges. It marked a pattern - in 2017 he was 118th and the following year he was 125th.
And he admits that he had nobody to blame but himself, failing to put in the hard yards on the practice ground.
“Every week you play with somebody that you might think does this better, does that better, but you are who you are, and you can get better at what you do,” English explained. “That's what I've learned - to not go up-and-down the range saying, I need to be like Dustin or Justin Thomas or Xander Schauffele. I need to be the best version of myself and do the things I do well and always work at it. I feel like I've gotten a lot better at doing that and my coach back home has really kept me on track.”
After getting a start in A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, English finished in a tie for third, ensuring a start at the following week’s Sanderson Farms Championship. He finished tied sixth there and by the end of the autumn had further top-five finishes at the Houston Open and Mayakoba Golf Classic. He would eventually finish in 12th place in last season’s FedEx Cup race.
English entered the final round at Kapalua with a share of the lead and was there alone after the opening hole. But he was treading water as he covered the front nine in level par and Niemann looked to be on the way to victory.
But English battled back on the back nine, picking up four birdies in a five-hole stretch from the 11th to the 15th. After dropping a shot on the par-four 16th, he came to the infamous downhill, downwind par-five 18th needing a birdie to force extra holes.
He almost didn’t need them. The 31-year-old struck a glorious three iron from 268 yards to just inside 10 feet, setting up an eagle putt to win the tournament. The putt didn’t drop, but a birdie on the first playoff hole was enough after Niemann was unable to get up and down from long grass to the left of the green.
“I knew Joaqo and Justin (Thomas) were making a run and I needed to do something, and I love being in those situations. Even when I was a kid, I loved having the ball when the clock's running out in basketball… and I kind of crave getting back into that. I hadn't had it in a long time,” English said.
“I couldn't have hit it any better than I did coming down the stretch on 18 in regulation. You've got to have confidence in yourself. I'm still not satisfied with where I'm at in the game, there's still a lot more that I want to accomplish,” he said. “Hopefully this is just the tip of the iceberg of me getting better and better and hopefully having a chance to win a lot more tournaments.”
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