The University of Georgia’s Harris English rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole Sunday at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational and became only the third amateur ever to win on the Nationwide Tour.
English and college rival John Peterson of LSU were locked in a weekend battle that saw them flip-flop the lead on several occasions. The final switch came at the 72nd hole, where Peterson stumbled to a bogey after his tee shot settled into a horrible lie in the rough and English rolled in his putt to join former Bulldog roommate and Russell Henley as amateur winners this year.
“That’s really what you dream about growing up. You want to put yourself in those positions to win. This is what you spend hours and hours practicing for as a little kid,” said Engilsh. “When I saw the ball disappear, it was the greatest feeling in the world. It’s pretty unbelievable.”
Peterson’s tee shot nestled into a sloppy divot in the rough and his second shot came up 30 yards short of the green. His pitch shot left him with 15 feet for par. When he missed the putt, he set the stage for English.
“My goal was to win this week and I didn’t get it done. I guess it just wasn’t meant for me,” said Peterson, gracious in defeat. “If I wasn’t going to win, I wanted him to win it.”
English started the day one shot back of Peterson, who held the outright lead after each of the first three days and set or matched records in the process. His 1-under-par 70 at the Ohio State University Scarlet Course put him at 14-under 270, one better than Peterson (72) and Columbus native Kyle Reifers (68), who rolled in a critical 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole.
“I thought 14 was the number today,” said Reifers, who winds up collecting first-place money as the highest-finishing professional. “The money is a big part because of what it might mean as far as next year.”
Since neither English nor Peterson could share the monetary spoils, Reifers’ reward of $144,000 vaults him from No. 52 to No. 5 on the season money list halfway through the schedule. The 25 leading money winners at the end of the year will earn PGA Tour cards for 2012.
Josh Broadaway (65) and Brian Smock (69) shared fourth place, two back of English. Ted Potter Jr. (65), Cincinnati native Brett Wetterich (67) and leading money winner Mathew Goggin (69) were tied for sixth at 11 under.
“I don’t think either of us had our best stuff today,” said English, who hit 16 greens but had 34 putts. “I misread a lot of putts today. We just had to grind it out. I really wanted him to make that putt at 18. That would have been the perfect circumstances.”
Sunday’s final round, like most of the previous three, had the spotlight on the amateurs. English was coming off his first major amateur win the Southern Amateur last week in Florida and Peterson captured the NCAA individual championship last month.
When Peterson birdied the opening hole and English made bogey, the margin was three in favor of the purple and gold of LSU.
“I was trying to run away with it but my putter wouldn’t let me,” said Peterson. “I putted terrible today. I was striping it but my putter caught up with me.”
And so did English, who celebrated his 22nd birthday on Saturday.
“This one had a different feel to it coming down the stretch,” said the winner. “My future was in my hands coming down the last couple of holes. I knew that a win here would be big for me in the future and give me a Tour to play on when I turn pro.”
The pro ranks and the check-cashing will have to wait as both English and Peterson have a few more amateur events to play this summer. Both will head to upstate New York next week for the Porter Cup and then likely turn pro after the Walker Cup in mid-September.
--Harris English becomes the third amateur in Nationwide Tour history, and the second this year, to win. The others were Daniel Summerhays at the 2007 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational and Russell Henley at the 2011 Stadion Classic at UGA. English is the third former Georgia Bulldog to win this year, along with Henley and Erik Compton (Mexico Open) in the winner’s circle.
--English has 60 days to join the Nationwide Tour and play in the Tournament Winner category through the remainder of the 2011 season. If he chooses not to join within 60 days, he may still join for the 2012 season at the end of this year. He would play in 2012 out of the Tournament Winner category, which would be his second year of eligibility in that category.
--Josh Broadaway and Brian Smock split second and third-place money, each collecting $70,400. Broadaway moved from No. 83 to No. 26 on the money list and Smock jumped from No. 75 to No. 21.
--Paul Claxton aced the 186-yard 13th hole using a 7-iron.
--Roberto Castro played the final two rounds without a bogey. Castro had scores of 68-68 on the weekend and tied for 14th. He also moved up from No. 19 to No. 15 on the money list.
--Two-time Nationwide Tour winner Jason Enloe posted a 3-over 74 and tied for 54th. This was Enloe’s last event before hanging up his competitive spikes. He has already been hired as the assistant men’s golf coach at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, his alma mater.