Orangevale, Calif. —
The Hyundai Tournament of Champions has some new faces this year.
Among the 13 first-timers playing in this winner-only Championship is 24-year-old Harris English.
The former resident of Thomasville and 2011 graduate of Georgia entered the event 53rd in the Official World Golf Rankings and has arrived among the champions in his sport.
His first PGA Tour triumph at the FedEx Classic in Memphis, Tenn., in June 2013 qualified him for this event in paradise. While much of the country is dealing with weather issues, the Plantation Course at Kapalua, where the event is staged, is providing plenty of stunning views and pristine conditions for the combatants.
Although the PGA Tour’s new wraparound 2013-14 season began in October, this event still signifies the first of the 2014 calendar year. For English, playing against this unique set of peers is very special.
“It’s really cool,” English said. “It’s one of the best tournaments of the year. But you’ve definitely got to get your game to rise to the occasion playing against these guys.”
English is one of a select class of young American talent, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson among them, that will be vying hard for a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team IN September at Gleneagles in Perthshire, Scotland.
“This year the bar is set a little higher,” English said of his expectations for 2014.
“Obviously, I really want to do well in the majors. We’ve got the Ryder Cup team that I would like to make. It should be a great year.”
The two-time PGA Tour winner’s second win came at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in November by four shots, the biggest margin of victory in the event’s seven-year history.
English tasted the fire for intense match play when he played for the U.S. team against Great Britain and Ireland in the 2011 Walker Cup months after graduating from Georgia.
Twenty-two years old at the time, English went 2-2 in the 43rd playing of that biennial amateur event, winning his two singles matches at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in Aberdeen, Scotland. Jordan Spieth and former Bulldog Russell Henley also played for the U.S. team and are in Hawaii with English this week.
“It was one of the most exciting experiences of my my life,” English said of the Walker Cup. “The Ryder Cup is obviously a bigger scale. But any time you represent your nation it’s very special.”
Could this year see English returning to Scotland for another major “Cup” in his sport? That remains to be seen.
What we do know is that he will have some good playing opportunities to get there.
English will play in his first Masters this April at famed Augusta National as well as his first National Championship, the U.S. Open, up north at another magnificent course — Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina.
The top nine players in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings after the PGA Championship at Valhalla in Kentucky on Aug. 10 will automatically qualify for the team.
That week iconic captain Tom Watson will choose three captain’s picks to round out the team of 12 that will head to Scotland looking to end Europe’s streak of winning five of the last six.
In the meantime, English has made a switch from Ping to Callaway clubs.
The Hyundai signifies the first event where he has put the irons and driver into play. He used Callaway wedges in his win in November.
“I’m real happy with my new Callaway driver. I feel like I’m hitting it pretty good off the tee,” English said. “I’m struggling a little bit on the greens with my Ping putter but I’m happy with my new Callaway Clubs.”
Equipment change is part of the game, so says English. He is quick to point out that players change drivers at least every two years, so change comes with the territory.
English is in unchartered territory as the only American player under 25 with two PGA Tour wins at the moment, but he’s looking quite comfortable regardless.