As President of the Georgia PGA, I'm always going to feel a great sense of pride when a local product does well on the world stage. So it's a real thrill to see Harris English, who's just a good a young man as he is a great golfer get his first win at the FedEx St. Jude this past week.
English is a product of Coach Chris Haack and the University of Georgia. As a die-hard fan of Georgia Tech, it's not easy to heap praise on my friends on the other side of the state - but give credit where credit is due. Bulldogs such as Bubba Watson, Russell Henley, Erik Compton, Chris Kirk and now Harris English are all making their mark out on Tour. Between them and the Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech (Kuchar, Cink, Troy Matteson, Roberto Castro, Matt Weibring, Nicholas Thompson, David Duval, Cameron Tringale, Larry Mize, etc.), our great state will be represented at the highest levels of golf for a long time to come.
There were obviously many pivotal moments for Harris as he tried to capture his first PGA Tour win this past week. But most observers would agree that his performance, specifically, his 2nd shot on the 17th hole on Sunday, was the key moment when he knew it was his tournament to win.
English's tee shot went a little left and he had a tough angle, thick rough and a tree to deal with on his second shot. It's a shot you probably see every round in some form. Many people would consider it one of the most difficult shots of their day. But it doesn't have to be.
Follow these quick tips when faced with a similar shot - you'll find you'll save yourself a number of strokes.
1.) Get out of the rough: That sounds so basic but if you happened to watch the end of the LPGA's Championship, you'd have seen that both Inbee Park and Morgan Pressel, on the same hole, tried to punch shots out of the rough and weren't able to. Take a club that gives you enough loft and carry to get out of the thick grass regardless of whether you're able to get it to the green or not. Even if you need to keep the ball low due to a tree limb (such as English), you're better off short of the green in the fairway than back in the rough, a few yards from where you started.
2.) Visualize what you're trying to do: When you're hitting a shot you don't practice much, with trajectory and carry more of an unknown, take a moment to see and feel the shot prior to hitting it. Your body will take cues from your mental picture.
3.) Grip down on the club: I suggest getting your hands down near the steel. This will help keep the clubface stable as it moves through the grass.
4.) Widen your stance a bit: This is a shot to hit with your arms while your body remains still. Strength and balance are key here. A wider stance will help in both.
5.) Abbreviate the follow through: When keeping the shot trajectory lower. Your hands and arms want to finish more waist high rather than the more traditional shoulder heighth.
6.) Practice the swing: Take a couple of practice swings - away from the ball - in similar grass conditions, to get a feel for how your club will react in the rough. A low punch may mean you need a flatter swing or a lower finish. Practice it.
I was so impressed with the way Harris English conducted himself and controlled his golf game down the stretch. His use of 3-wood or 5-wood off the tee, strategically putting himself where he needed to be to not only stay safe but to give himself scoring opportunities, is more the play of a veteran - not a younger player. But anytime you combine smart play, good shots and clutch putting - you're going to like your results. English did that all week and especially on the 17th hole Sunday. I hope these tips reap benefits for your play as well.
Brian Stubbs is a proud Georgian (born and bred), the Head Professional at the Country Club of Columbus and currently the President of the Georgia PGA Section.