Thursday 12 December 2019

Getting chance to play in the Masters is a cool vibe – English

U.S. golfer Harris English
U.S. golfer Harris English

Karl MacGinty

Harris English was midway through a TV interview outside the clubhouse at Augusta National when one of the large Mercedes SUVs afforded to each tournament invitee for Masters week pulled up on the asphalt a couple of yards behind him.

The passenger window rolled down and a voice hollered in a distinctive southern accent: "Go, Harri, Go!" followed by a jubilant "Woooohoooo!"

English didn't bat an eyelid. Thoroughly unruffled, he ignored this unruly intervention from another one of the 24 Masters newcomers at Augusta National this week and simply finished his sentence.

In the absence of even the slightest acknowledgement, the window rolled up and the car purred away.

It was another example of the exceptional focus which helps establish the hugely talented, but agreeably humble, English (24), as one of the best equipped of this week's debutants to become only the third player in history and the first since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 to win on his first Masters appearance.

FUTURE

"Harris is an unbelievably good player," said Darren Clarke. "He hits it great, he hits it long and he hits it straight. He's a star already on Tour but this guy definitely is a big name for the future."

English, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour in the past 10 months, surely impressed Rory McIlroy too, beating him in the second round of February's Accenture Match Play.

Still, there's a reason nobody since Zoeller has won on their first outing at The Masters.

"I feel like I've watched this tournament virtually all my life," said US Ryder Cup stalwart Jim Furyk. "I got here for the first time when I was 26 feeling like I knew all the shots and pretty soon realised I didn't know anything."

Justin Rose explained: "First of all, you've got to get over being here. It's such an awe-inspiring place as a first-timer that you can't help but try to take it all in and potentially you might not be as laser-focused on playing the course.

"There also is a lot of knowledge about the course you have to amass over the years," he went on. "Most of all, you must learn where not to miss and what not to do."

Yet English and his former college mates at Augusta State, Patrick Reed and Chris Kirk, already have 'previous' at Augusta National, having played the course each winter during their college days.

"We played it in January-February, when it is cold and wet and the greens are not that fast and the fairways are long," English said.

"It is different when you get people out here and you get the atmosphere. Getting the chance to play the Masters is a cool vibe. Growing up in Georgia, this is the place I watched on TV from the time I was young and it doesn't disappoint.

"I first came to the Masters when I was 15 and watched Phil (Mickelson) win for the first time in 2004," he said. "I remember being on 16 on Sunday when he made that 20-footer up the hill and the crowd erupted. Got goose bumps. I remember saying to myself, 'this is what I want to do'."

Others among the crop of first-timers have dominated recent headlines, not least super confident Texan Reed (23), who raised quizzical eyebrows on the eve of his Cadillac World Golf Championship victory at Doral by saying he's one of the top five players on the planet.

Like Reed, Jimmy Walker has swooped for his first three PGA Tour wins this wraparound season, propelling the unassuming Oklahoma native to the top of the FedEx Cup points table.

Kevin Stadler (34) inevitably attracted media attention with his dad, Craig, winner at Augusta in 1982, as the first father and son to play in the same Masters, while 2013 Rookie of the Year Jordan Spieth (20) is a phenomenal talent.

Victor Dubuisson of France showed so much flair with his Seve-like short game as he got to the final of the Accenture Match Play, he'll be a joy to watch around here.

Yet English could quietly surpass them all.

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