After his riveting/epic playoff victory in the Travelers Championship clinched a spot in the season-ending Tour Championship, Harris English set his sights on another cherished goal, a spot on the United States Ryder Cup team.
English’s second victory this season, thanks to a 16-foot birdie putt on the eighth hole of a playoff with Kramer Hickok, vaulted him into eighth-place in the Ryder Cup team standings with the points ending Aug. 29 after the BMW Championship, the second FedExCup playoff event.
The top-six finishers qualify for the biennial competition against Europe on Sept. 24-26 at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisc. The remaining six players will be selected by captain Steve Stricker following the Tour Championship on Sept. 2-5 at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
“The Ryder Cup is where I want to play, I love Steve Stricker,” said English following his fourth career PGA Tour victory at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell two weeks ago.
“That’s what I miss about playing golf at the University of Georgia. I miss that team atmosphere, and the pinnacle of our sport is to represent your country and to play in probably one of the biggest tournaments in the world.
“This is a validation win. It took me seven years to win this year in Maui (Sentry Tournament of Champions), and I think this is a validation of where my game is right now and that I’m working on the right things in Sea Island (Ga.).
“But I still need to keep playing well and keep showing Strick that I deserve to be on the team because I feel I’m a good team player who can add something the room. But I’m looking forward to having a chance, and we’ll see what happens.”
English didn’t play in the Rocket Mortgage Classic last week, but Hickok was elevated to being in one of the featured TV pairings with defending champion Bryson DeChambeau, who missed the cut after splitting with his caddie the day before the tournament started.
On Sunday, Hickok hung around to watch the playoff since the charter flight to this week’s John Deere Classic wouldn’t leave until the outcome was decided.
While viewing more overtime golf, a spectator said to Hickok, “These guys have a long way to go before they equal what you did last week.”
Hickok, who had tied for 58th, smiled, and the fan proved to be right as Australian Cam Davis won with a par on the fifth playoff hole with Troy Merritt after Joaquin Niemann was eliminated on the first hole by his first bogey of the week.
English, 31, has never made a Ryder or Presidents Cup team but was 2-2 on the losing 2011 U.S. Walker Cup team that also included 2017 Travelers Championship winner Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay, Russell Henley and Peter Uihlein.
The points leaders for the U.S. Ryder Cup team ahead of English are 2020 Travelers Championship winner Dustin Johnson, DeChambeau, Collin Morikawa, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Reed.
Cantlay, Tony Finau, Spieth and Daniel Berger round out the top 12.
English’s presence in the most significant team competition in golf would also mean plenty to his caddie, Eric Larson, who would work for a third rookie to make the team, joining Anthony Kim (2008) and Jeff Overton (2010). Larson has caddied on the PGA Tour for more than 20 years, starting with Ken Green and close friend Mark Calcavecchia.
“I’ve never had a guy make a birdie putt on the last hole to possibly win (from 28 feet), let alone have an eight-hole playoff,” Larson said.
“I’ve never seen Harris get that animated. It was just incredible how well they played. Either one of them could have won or lost it a couple times.
“How many times do you experience that emotion? I didn’t even realize it was eight holes. It seemed like Groundhog Day going back to 18 over and over.”
The Travelers Championship win and a tie for third in the U.S. Open the previous week earned English $2,193,457 and Larson more than $200,000 with the standard caddie payoff of 10-percent for a win and 8-percent for a non-victory finish.
It was an unprecedented payoff for the 60-year-old Larson, who is well aware a caddie’s financial situation can change overnight.
Going to the Ryder Cup with English would be especially meaningful for Larson, who grew up in Wisconsin before moving to South Florida in the late 1970s.
“That would be the ultimate dream for me to caddie at a Ryder Cup in Wisconsin not far from where I grew,” Larson said. “You never know when you will caddie in the Ryder Cup for the last time.”
Larson caddied for Green and Calcavecchia before spending 10 years in federal prison (1995-2005) when he was caught mailing cocaine from South Florida to friends in Wisconsin. Larson said he never used drugs or sold them on the PGA Tour, but he was given a harsh sentence because the cocaine crossed state lines.
Larson accepted his fate and counted the days until he could return to the PGA Tour. Calcavecchia, who visited Larson in all four prisons that he was incarcerated, hired Larson after his release, and they won the 2007 PODS Championship to get Larson back in the game.
“It would be remarkable if Eric gets three rookies in the Ryder Cup, but his story is also remarkable,” said Jim “Bones” Mackay, the longtime caddie for Mickelson who is now a roving reporter for NBC.
“When you look back at his story, you see how he owned his mistakes. Eric is one of the most kind, gentle persons on the PGA Tour. That’s why everyone loves him. … Eric is already the mayor in most towns because he is so popular. If he caddies at the Ryder Cup, he’ll be the governor of Wisconsin.”
Larson worked for Kim and Overton before joining English in 2017. Their 29-year age difference is like father-son, but their relationship is more like brothers.
“It’s about the perspective he brings,” English told the New York Post during the Travelers Championship. “There’s nowhere I can put him on a golf course that’s going to be in a worst spot than he was in 15 years ago.
“I know he has my back and he’ll do anything for me, and I’ll do anything for him, too. That’s the kind of relationship you build with your caddie out here. You’re with him almost more than you’re with your wife, so you better respect him and like him and enjoy being around him.
“I respect his story. He could have gone two different ways with going what he went through and he chose probably the hardest way, which was pick himself up and keep going and make himself something. He has obviously been through a lot in his life.
“What I like about Eric is he doesn’t really treat caddying as work. He loves everybody out there. Like, this is his family, and you can sense that from him every single day. It doesn’t matter if I play a practice round at 6 in the a.m. or 6 in the p.m., he’s ready to do whatever it takes to get me where I need to be.”
His victory in Cromwell continued a remarkable comeback for English, whose previous two PGA Tour wins came eight years ago. He dropped as low as 369th in the world rankings in September 2019 and briefly played on the Korn Ferry Tour before resurrecting his game.
English steadily climbed back up the rankings with four Top 10s in a five-event stretch to start the 2019-20 season and really showed he was headed in the right direction when he finished second to Johnson in last year’s Northern Trust at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass. He then reached the Tour Championship, which earned him a spot in the season-opening Sentry Tournament of Champions thanks to the PGA Tour expanding the field due to the COVID-19-shortened calendar last year.
English took advantage with a victory in Hawaii and then had only two Top-20 finishes in 13 starts before his third in the U.S. Open and victory in the Travelers Championship, which had its longest playoff in its 70-year history that tied the /second longest on the PGA Tour.
Most of the fans allowed on the TPC River Highlands course this year hung around the 18th hole, while many also twice ran to No. 17 and really got into chanting and doing the wave.
“It was awesome,” English said after becoming the fifth two-time winner this season. “The fans were keeping us in it, getting the juice from them, all afternoon.
“Hats off to Kramer. What a competitor. We were both grinding, and that’s what it was all about. We were grinding and trying our hardest.
“It was incredible to go eight holes. What an experience. The fans are always great in Hartford, and I’m glad we got to give them a little show at the end.”
Now, English hopes to be part of the Biggest Show in team golf.