A trip to the Masters is more than enough consolation for Harris English that his first PGA Tour victory couldn’t get him into the US Open too.
After all, playing at Augusta is what every Georgia golfer wants.
English won the St. Jude Classic on Sunday for his first tour win in his 44th event, and he birdied two of the final three holes to hold off Phil Mickelson and Scott Stallings by two strokes. An hour after celebrating with a simple fist pump on No. 18, English knew exactly what the victory meant to his young career.
”The main thing that I am looking forward to is playing the Masters next year,” English said. ”Growing up in Georgia, I mean, that was the main tournament that I always watched and went to when I was a kid. The invitation to the Masters is going to be very special and special for my family because they’ve put a lot of hard work and a lot of time to get me where I am.”
Now English will head home and figure out what this win, along with the $1,026,000 winner’s check means for someone who turns 24 in July. His schedule will feature some bigger tournaments now, even though he will miss out on the US Open at the Merion Golf Club.
”Kind of changes the way I play this year,” English said.
Mickelson came here wanting to tune up for the Open after taking off the previous three weeks, and he almost did more than that as he finished with a 67. He wrapped up his round with a birdie that included hitting a shot at the hole on No. 18 from 151 yards that wound up 2 feet away for a final birdie.
”I thought that one on 18 might even go,” Mickelson said. ”Wouldn’t have been enough with Harris making birdie on 17. He’s played some great golf.”
Still, Mickelson feels good with how he’s hitting the ball heading to Pennsylvania now for the Open.
”I’m really encouraged with the way I hit my irons,” Mickelson said. ”Got to get the 3-wood in play a little bit more, although next week at Merion distance won’t be as critical as TPC Southwind. I’ll be able to hit higher and softer shots.”
Stallings had a 68 on a day where he had a three-stroke lead with seven holes to play. The two-time winner on tour finished with a double bogey, birdie and bogey in his final four holes. He now has finished tied for fourth at Colonial and Memorial and now second here in Memphis.
”Gave myself an opportunity three weeks in a row, and hopefully take some momentum going to the US Open,” Stallings said. ”There’s so much golf to play and all sorts of weird things can happen. Harris has played great coming down the stretch.”
English survived a final round where he had six birdies and five bogeys. He finished with a 1-under 69 for a 12-under 268 total to get the victory in the same state where he helped his prep school, Baylor, win four Tennessee golf titles.
”I had probably 10 high school friends out there today,” English said. ”And I know that if I make a birdie or a bogey, they’re probably going to be the same and they’re rooting me on.”
English said caddie Brian Smith also helped him refocus as he made the turn.
”I really didn’t think I’d be in this seat right here coming off 9,” English said. ”I thought I kind of made some really dumb bogeys on eight, nine and kind of shot myself out of the tournament. But Smitty was saying, `Hey let’s go beat this back nine. Let’s get back under par for the tournament for the day, and let’s get after it.’ So it was almost pedal to the metal.”
It also helps that the TPC Southwind course has Bermuda grass greens like the ones he is so used to back home in Georgia.
English got four of his birdies on the back nine. He two-putted on No. 16, the second a 5-foot birdie, that tied Stallings for the lead. English then made a 17-foot birdie putt on No. 17 when he was just trying to get it close, and he said he overcame shaking hands as he two-putted No. 18 to finish off his win.
”I was glad I had a two-shot lead on that 2-footer I had because my hands were shaking,” English said. ”I couldn’t feel them, and I was just hoping that ball goes in the hole.”
Notes: The others to win in their first trip to this event at TPC Southwind were Lee Westwood (2010) and Dicky Pride (1994). … English is the 11th American to win this event since 2000 and the seventh to come from behind in the last eight years here. … English is the eighth player in his 20s to win this year compared to 15 last year. … Shawn Stefani, the 31-year-old rookie on tour and leader after the third round, shot a 76 and wound up tied for seventh.