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.