Villager keeps eye on son at FedExCup

Harris English hits off the second tee during the final round of the Wyndham Championship on Sunday.

A year ago, Harris English came within a whisker of losing his PGA Tour card. “He got real mad with himself,” Bob Hendrix recalled. “That’s when he decided he was going to hit more greens in regulation. If you look at his statistics now, he’s had a bunch of them.” The numbers bear that out. English went from being in the bottom half of the tour in reaching the putting surface to just outside the top 10. A more significant statistic: English is 27th in FedExCup points as play begins this morning in The Northern Trust, the first stop in the tour’s three-event playoff run. Though ballooning playoff points undoubtedly will shake things up, English has a strong opportunity to reach the Tour Championship in two weeks. And his father will be monitoring closely from his Village of Tall Trees home.

"All the big boys are coming back in,” said Hendrix, who moved to The Villages in May. “But he’s played with them before. He’s not scared of them.”

English tees off at 8:15 a.m. at TPC Boston, riding a streak of five straight top-25 finishes. Stretching back to before the PGA Tour’s restart in June, the Georgia native has placed outside the top 25 just once since February.

“He’s been up there pretty much every time he’s played,” said Hendrix.

Hendrix — he and English’s mother divorced when the golfer was a youth — is still working his way into The Villages lifestyle. He arrived after COVID-19 restrictions left many amenities unavailable, and medical issues have further cut into his time.

That said, he awaits the day when restrictions ease a bit more and he can get better acquainted with his new home.

“I love it, except I’ve been doing a lot of medical stuff,” he said. “The people are very friendly. About the third or fourth day I was here, the neighbors were out in the street inviting me to this and that. Everything you want is right here. Everybody’s got a golf cart.”

That includes Hendrix, with a bright red model in the shade of his beloved Georgia Bulldogs.

“I’m looking for a Bulldog club,” he said.

English starred three years at Georgia, earning All-SEC honors as the Bulldogs challenged for a pair of NCAA titles. In 2011, the team title came down to the final match between English and Augusta State’s Patrick Reed, where Reed prevailed on the 17th hole.

Later that year, English became just the third man to win a Nationwide (now Korn Ferry) Tour event while still an amateur, and teed it up for the U.S. Walker Cup squad at Royal Aberdeen. Among his teammates: Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay and fellow Bulldog Russell Henley.

Hendrix, meantime, had relocated to Alabama as head of that state’s tourism efforts in its southeastern region. He retired from that post in 2018.

On weekends, he’d try to catch up with English if the tournament was close enough. “Anything that was played in the Southeast,” he said.

Hendrix also spent a week with his son at the Masters, where English has teed it up twice, and the British Open. English placed 15th at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, a month after capturing his first PGA Tour victory in Memphis.

“It’s kind of neat when your son is at an event like that and they announce him off the first tee,” Hendrix said.

So is English’s mode of transportation. One of his sponsors is NetJets, meaning he has an allowance of flight hours he can use to fly privately between tournament sites. English is one of some two dozen pros backed by NetJets, which allows them to split the allowance when they fly together.

“They walk you out there and check your ID and you get on the plane,” said Hendrix, who has accompanied English on a couple of occasions. “Those private jets hold about 16. We just took our shoes off and laid back in our seats.”

English made the FedExCup playoffs in each of his first seven seasons until hitting a bump last year. He posted just one top-15 finish — a share of 12th at the Honda Classic — to stand 149th on the points list. Nor could he regain a full card in the Korn Ferry Tour finals series.

Two spots lower on the points list, and English would have been relegated to KFT membership for 2019-20. But he parlayed his limited PGA Tour status into six fall starts, where he tied for third at The Greenbrier and had three other finishes of sixth or better.

“That’s kind of been his turnaround,” Hendrix said.

With a less aggressive approach, English went from 91st in greens in regulation in 2019 to 11th this year. The difference is even more marked in the strokes-gained metric – from 171st in approach shots to 27th.

The Players Championship might have been a missed opportunity. An opening 65 left English two shots behind leader Hideki Matsuyama when the tournament was scrubbed as part of the COVID-19 shutdown that swept across sports.

English also endured a positive COVID-19 test that sidelined him four weeks into the tour’s restart. After isolating two weeks at home, he reeled off three straight top-20s upon his return, including the PGA Championship.

“We’ve made the most of it,” English told Golf Channel. “Weird times right now and we’re kind of in a weird situation, but we’ve done the best we could.”

If English can qualify for the Tour Championship by staying in the FedExCup’s top 30, he’ll punch his ticket into three of 2021’s four majors.

Hendrix, meantime, looks forward to his introduction to The Villages’ fairways. Back woes have delayed that prospect, but “I’m trying to do something about that,” he said.

“That’s going to be my main goal — play all 54 of the golf courses here. I’ve got my golf cart; I’ve got friends. I will.”

Senior writer Jeff Shain can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5283, or jeff.shain@thevillagesmedia.com.