Pro notes recap: Mistaken identity; engagement; more
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
HONOLULU – PGA Tour golf fans, say hello to Harris English. Oh, and offer greetings to Hudson Swafford.
You probably don’t, but don’t feel embarrassed if you confuse them. You’re not the first, and you won’t be the last.
“A lot of times people would say, ‘I just saw Hudson,’ and I’d say, ‘No, that was Harris.’ Or they’d say, ‘I just saw Harris,’ and I’d tell 'em, ‘No, that was Hudson.’ After a while, I stopped correcting them,” said Chris Haack, the University of Georgia's golf coach.
He offers a hearty laugh, the byproduct of years spent in the presence of these former Bulldog golfers and the confusion that sometimes swirled around them. Though Haack never mistook English for Swafford or Swafford for English, he concedes in one aspect they’re interchangeable.
“People talk about Southern gentlemen? Well, these two are both Southern gentlemen, just very good, very polite kids,” said the longtime coach. “They say, ‘Yes, ma’am,’ and ‘No, sir.’ They were the easiest guys a coach could ever have. Never caused me a minute of trouble.”
These days, the only trouble they generate is not their fault. Blame instead one wild quirk of fate, for in so many ways – from backgrounds to physical appearance to their good manners – English and Swafford are similar.
Their Southern roots, for example. English grew up in Moultrie, Ga., and attended high school in Chattanooga, Tenn. Swafford hails from Tallahassee, Fla.
Their junior golf paths, for another. They first met when they were 9 (English) and 11 (Swafford) and hit up a friendship that carried on for years.
Their college choice, for yet another. It was always going to be Georgia for Swafford, who won a Southeastern Junior Golf Tour tournament in Athens, Ga., and on the ride home told his parents, “that’s where I want to go.” He entered in the fall of 2006. A year later, English, who always pointed to Athens, joined him. “It was our dream to go to Georgia together, and we did,” Swafford said.
But most of all, there is the striking physical appearances, as each stands 6 feet, 3 inches, swings it beautifully and walks with a smooth and lengthy gait.
“In college, we went through a spurt where we would introduce ourselves as brothers or twin brothers,” English said. “College teachers got us mixed up; college coaches got us mixed up.”
The best example, said Swafford, was Clemson coach Larry Penley. “I don’t think he knows Harris English exists. He was always (saying), ‘Hudson’ to me and ‘Hudson’ to (Harris).”
Spitting images? Many would say yes, though veteran English-and-Swafford observers tell you they don’t have any problems distinguishing Harris from Hudson.
“Harris is a little thinner,” said Brian Harman, a former Georgia teammate and current PGA Tour colleague. Standing nearby, Harman’s caddie, Scott Tway, adds, “Harris is standing a little taller these days, too,” and they both walked away laughing.
Their comments, however, are understood. English is slightly thinner, his weight at 185 to Swafford’s 200, and Tway’s reference is one of respect, because the kid from Baylor School in Chattanooga already has won twice in his first 55 PGA Tour starts.
A rousing beginning to his pro career, no doubt, and the Official Golf World Ranking reflects just how so – English, 24, is No. 47, and only four players inside the top 50 are younger (Jordan Spieth, 20; Matteo Manassero, 20; Hideki Matsuyama, 22; and Victor Dubuisson, 23). Rory McIlroy is slightly older than English and more successful, too, though nothing about English’s progress has been anything but impressive, especially when you talk about composure.
“I just don’t think he has a heartbeat,” said Swafford, 26, and 22 months older than English. “I’ve seen him disappointed a few times, a little flustered, but you won’t see it out there.”
If the tough-to-tell-apart saga involving English and Swafford is uncanny given their Southern pedigrees, friendships, physical appearances, college connections and powerful games, it is made even richer by the sidelights.
They were roommates for a while in Athens, and Haack said at one time they dated young women who were also roommates. “They were inseparable in college,” said Harman, and he might as well have referenced their Web.com Tour performances, too.
English won the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational in 2011 as an amateur, Swafford the Stadion Classic in 2012 as a professional.
Toss in that they both love to hunt and fish, cheer for the Atlanta Falcons and reside now in the Sea Island, Ga., golf mecca alongside Davis Love III, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Jonathan Byrd, Lucas Glover and a small army of others and, well . . . it’s no wonder Harris is Hudson and Hudson is Harris to a lot of people who can easily be excused.
“If we’re together, you can tell us apart,” English said. “But I guess we walk the same, have the same build, are about the same height.”
Swafford, having missed the cut and flown back home, was in the fitness room the day after English scored his second win, last November at the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico, and some older members kept congratulating him. “Great win, great playing," they said, and after about the first four or five or six, I just started saying, ‘Thanks.’ ”
He laughs, but Swafford is quick to direct the story to that part where the similarities ended. Though younger, English made it onto the PGA Tour first, a Q-School graduate in the fall of 2011, a PGA Tour rookie in 2012. Swafford, the one who served as a mentor to English? He was a Web.com Tour member in 2012 and ’13, making it onto the PGA Tour for 2013-14 via his 21st-place finish in the Web.com Tour Finals.
“He got here a little faster than I did, but we’re both here together,” said Swafford, who then laughs. “I hate it, but I’ve got to take some advice from my so-called younger brother.”
Jeremy Elliott, the agent who represents both players for Crown Sports, said it’s a part of the story that remains a work in progress. “Hudson was always the one Harris looked up to, the ‘older brother,’ if you will. Harris is reluctant to offer advice. He’s not comfortable being the mentor.”
But it is coming. The former Bulldogs were in the same fields in Las Vegas, the McGladrey and in Mexico. With each tournament there were practice rounds and dinners, conversations and reminders that they’ve been side by side for many years now. With each day, English has gained only more respect with his PGA Tour brethren, and Swafford has gained more confidence in himself.
“What he’s done inspires me,” said Swafford from the Sony Open, “and it convinces me that I can play out here, because I know I can compete with him.”
At Waialae Country Club, English continued an impressive streak of golf, finishing fourth. He has now made eight consecutive cuts, dating to last year, and 15 of his last 16, a stretch during which he has won twice and recorded six other top-15 finishes.
And Swafford? In just his fifth PGA Tour start, he strung together rounds of 70-64-69-67, finished at 10 under, and was T-8, his first top 10. A small step, perhaps, but crucial, nonetheless.
Big brother isn’t just watching; he’s showing that he belongs.
• • •
PEREZ'S CONFIDENT QUESTION: Pat Perez a romantic? Who knew?
“It’s called class,” said Perez with a laugh, when asked to tell the story of his New Year’s Eve proposal to girlfriend Ashley Pendley.
Invited to a private party at the MGM in Las Vegas, Perez asked for permission to have the stage before the headliner, Stevie Nicks, came on to perform. “I only need two minutes,” he said.
Once on stage, Perez, 37, asked for Pendley to come forward – when she did, he got down on one knee. A video clip of the moment was shown and at that point, there’s a long pause followed by an emphatic, “yes.” But Perez said he wasn’t nervous in those moments of silence.
“I knew she was going to say yes,” said Perez. “Like (a good friend) said, ‘Just think if she had said no how hard it would be to hide.’ But it was good, it was fun, some of our friends were there.”
When he said the private party was in an arena where 16,000 can comfortably be seated, Perez knew the next question before it was asked. “Yeah, it’s for all their high-rollers – and me. (They had) $280 million in credit – and my $500.”
Pendley was wearing the impressive diamond at the Sony Open, but Perez, who finished in a logjam for T-8, said “you’re asking the wrong guy,” when he was asked details of the ring. “It’s only 11 carats, not like it’s overdone. It’s strong. It’s up there.”
Asked when the wedding would be, Perez shrugged. November, maybe December: “We’ll see how I play.”
• • •
PANAMA PUSHED BACK: As planned, the 2014 Web.com Tour season will begin outside the borders of the United States. But the locale will be Colombia on Feb. 13-16 and not Panama as originally scheduled Feb. 6-9.
Instead, the Panama Claro Championship will be rescheduled for March 20-23 in Panama City to afford officials more time to get the course in shape. An agronomical issue with several of the greens at Panama Golf Club forced officials to make the move.
• • •
LET’S TALK FOOTBALL: Fitting that a college football enthusiast such as Jason Dufner would draw June Jones as a pro-am partner at the Sony Open.
Jones, head coach at SMU, still has strong ties to the Honolulu area. From 1999-2007, he was head coach at the University of Hawaii; he still spends a lot of time in the area and is a member at Waialae CC.
“Talked a little college football,” said Dufner, who did not follow Jones' lead and play barefoot, which is fairly common in those parts. “My feet are too ugly.”
• • •
DUFNER TO HIT THE ROAD A BIT: There are a few overseas tripped planned by Dufner, starting with the European Tour stop in Qatar in two weeks. It means Dufner will not tee it up at the Farmers Insurance Open.
He’ll also play at the Volvo Open in China in May (opposite the Zurich Classic of New Orleans) and at the BMW International in Germany in late June (instead of the AT&T National).
New Orleans is a tough omission, Dufner conceded, because he earned his first PGA Tour win there, “but sometimes you can’t pass up a great offer.”
He will do the overseas trips without longtime caddie and friend Kevin Baille, who is working with a sore shoulder these days and is intent on getting that squared away.
• • •
DALY KEEPS BUSY: On the matter of schedules, John Daly might not have much status, but he sure keeps his bags packed.
The Sony Open was a medical exemption; he left Honolulu and headed right for the Humana Challenge, then it will be two in a row in the Middle East – Qatar and Dubai – after which he’ll tee it up at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Daly said he had asked for an exemption into the Farmers Insurance Open, but in the meantime was given a spot in Qatar.
• • •
YOU’VE GOT TO FEEL IT: When Zach Johnson shot a 1-over 74 in Round 3 of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and nearly squandered his chance to win, he said his biggest problem that day was not being “athletic” over his putts.
It begged the question: How does one be “athletic” while putting?
Johnson conceded it might sound awkward. While it’s a difficult concept to put into words, it boils down to using feel over mechanics.
“Being athletic is not getting too bogged down with where your feet are or if your putter head is too set into the line,” Johnson said. “You can be too rigid, too analytical, too indecisive.”
All the mechanics, Johnson said, “are relevant when you’re working on your putting, but not as relevant when you’re competing.”
In Johnson’s mind, putting is 70 percent feel, 30 percent technique – and he adheres to the philosophy that “there’s more than one way to make putts.”
• • •
ATTEN-HUT: As Billy Hurley cut across the first fairway at Waialae CC mid-morning of Round 2 to get to the chipping area for some practice, he crossed paths with PGA Tour rookie Peter Malnati coming off the first tee. Malnati stopped and saluted, as did his caddie, and with a wide smile, Hurley returned the salutes.
For all the teenagers turning pro before they can shave and all the talented collegians leaving amateur ranks before they’re ready, it’s worth a reminder that Hurley, 31, has authored one of the more heartwarming routes onto the PGA Tour. After his four years at the U.S. Naval Academy, Hurley served his country for four years, giving his opposition that much of a head start, but not regretting a minute of it.
In many ways, the Sony Open offered a homecoming, for Hurley was stationed two years in Honolulu.
“It has a little home-game feel to it,” he said. “Flying in Sunday night, looking out the airplane window, it felt like coming home, not like going to a random city.”
As he did a year ago, Hurley accepted an invitation to pay a visit to his former ship; he was accompanied by his caddie and a few other players. Hurley also fashioned a Navy golf bag and a Navy golf hat at the Sony, but part of that had to do with a corporate deal being not quite finished. Come the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Hurley will have Secorp Group emblazoned on his bag and hat.
He also hopes for a chance to play at Pebble Beach, where last year he was the victim of an unfortunate situation. Hurley accepted a sponsor exemption and flew cross-country to play – only to find out when he landed that he wasn’t eligible for an exemption and so he went home.
“It is on my calendar. I’m planning on playing. It’s not like I’m going to skip it because I’m mad at them,” Hurley said. “I might skip it because my wife’s due the next week with our third child. Right now I’m planning on playing.”
• • •
GOOD PLACE TO PLAY, OR REST: Maui was a destination point at the first of the year for more than the 30 PGA Tour members who had won tournaments in 2013. The island also appealed to a few who were looking for a convenient vacation spot before teeing it up at the Sony Open.
Retief Goosen, Ryan Palmer, Scott Verplank, and Rory Sabbatini all spent some R&R in Maui before teeing it up in Honolulu.
For Goosen, it was yet another test for his back, which forced him to the sidelines at last year’s Players Championship. He sat out several months, but got back into action in the fall and feels like he’s made some progress. “Obviously, it’s not been great the last four years,” said Goosen, who will be 45 Feb. 3. “Nothing had really helped.”
The veteran from South Africa reported no worries with the back thus far.
Palmer took his wife and two children to Disneyland for a couple of days, then onward to Maui. Great time had by all, he sent the family home before settling down for work at the Sony Open. “I know I need to play good to pay for that trip, I guess,” said Palmer, who did just that.
He shot par or better each day, finished 10 under, and was tied for eighth.
• • •
HE’S GOT A GRIP ON THINGS: In a stretch of impressive play that is entering its fourth year, two things have been present in Adam Scott’s game: His casual peek toward his left hand before he gets into position to swing, and his practice grounds in the Bahamas.
First, it starts with the grip. Feeling his was too strong, Scott and his instructor, Brad Malone, started working a few years ago on weakening it. “But it went back strong,” he said. “So six months into working with Brad, we set up this new routine, to keep (the grip) neutral.”
When you watch Scott, you’ll see him stand behind the ball and glance down at his left hand. It confirms that the grip is proper and sort of kick-starts his pre-shot underway.
As for Albany on New Providence Island in the Bahamas, Scott spends a lot of time there. While the weather, the beach, the food, the accommodations, and the Ernie Els-designed golf course are hard-to-resist attractions, let it be known that the Aussie spends a lot of time at work when he’s there. And with pleasure, too, because he raves about the practice facility.
“Phenomenal. It’s why I’m there. It’s world-class,” said Scott. “It’s no coincidence that since I’ve been spending time there the last 2 1/2 years, my game has elevated. It’s one of those places where you could stand all day and hit balls.”
Since 2011, Scott has made 52 PGA Tour starts: He has has won three times, been second or third six times, inside the top 25 in 33 of them, and in the money 47 times.
• • •
NEED TO FIND THAT SWITCH: For the next two weeks, Scott will do more than put down the clubs; he will try and shut golf completely out of his world. He discovered that after the Australian Open – where he took a one-stroke lead into the last hole but made bogey to Rory McIlroy’s birdie and lost by one – putting down the clubs wasn’t enough.
“I took 10-12 days off golf, (but) I was thinking about it (the whole time). I was mad that I had lost the tournament,” said Scott, “and I was thinking about what I was going to do to get ready for (Hawaii). So I really didn’t switch off (of golf).”
For the first time in his career, Scott said, he’s finding it difficult to shut out the game – for a healthy reason, though. “When you’re playing nicely, as I have been for quite a while now, you want to keep your head in it, because you’re loving it.”
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