English relishes his first Masters

Harris English

 

After Bubba Watson slipped into the green jacket at the 2012 Masters, he thanked his Georgia Bulldog supporters who had encouraged him during his march to victory.

Watson had been on the Georgia golf team. And his victory in Augusta, 95 miles from Georgia's Athens campus, was a proud win for the school and state.

Harris English was not in the field at Augusta National that Easter Sunday, but he knew that he wanted to be the next former Bulldog to don the green jacket.

Then a tour rookie, the Thomasville, Ga. native had almost earned an invitation to the Masters via the Honda Classic, where he played in the final group on Sunday with Rory McIlroy.

That afternoon in south Florida, he fell out of contention with a 77, but his appearance on the leaderboard was both a sign of greatness to come and a lesson in how much work he needed to do to become one of the tour's elite players.

Two years later, the 24-year-old English has a very good chance of becoming the next Georgia alum to win the green jacket, as he will make his first start in the Masters this year after two wins in 2013.

"It's been quite the whrlwind from just getting on the PGA Tour two years ago to making my way up and winning a couple of times," said English, who won the 2007 Georgia Amateur. "Early last year I was sitting around trying to figure out how I was going to get into the Masters and World Golf Championship events.

"The Masters is just a magical place, especially when you grow up in Georgia. It's going to be surreal actually standing out there playing golf in the tournament. It's the pinnacle of golf."

For the last two years, English has worked very hard to reach this summit.

In recent years, few players have been more heralded coming of college than English. In the summer of 2011, after graduating from Georgia, he won the Web.Com Tour's Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational as an amateur. Then he easily made it through Q-school that fall. Long-hitting,  6-foot-3, 185 pounds, he was the prototypical modern tour player.

But he still needed some polish.

"Harris has learned to handle his body and emotions better on the course," said Mike Taylor, his swing coach. "He's getting into situations on Sundays where he's playing with the better players and he's seeing how they do it."

Taylor said that English also has become a more complete shot-maker. When English first came on the tour, he relied almost exclusively on the fade. Now he can confidently fade and draw the ball, which allows him to attack more pins.

And English's short game has improved. "The big change from college is his putting and wedges," Taylor said. "He's learned how to flight his wedges much better and control the spin from 100 yards in.

"He was like a lot of young guys, hitting the wrong club, hitting it way up in the air. So he's definitely advanced his game."

The other big step English took last May was to hire Brian Smith, a 22-year tour caddie who had stints with John Huston, Justin Leonard and Brad Faxon, among others. Smith instantly brought a wealth of experience that's been invaluable to the young player.

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