Back to the future: How Harris English’s old swing helped him win again
August 02, 2021
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
Breakdown of Harris English’s swing
Golf is an unpredictable game. The eight years between Harris English’s victory at TPC Southwind and his return for this week’s World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational are proof.
English earned his first PGA TOUR title at TPC Southwind. When he won again months later, big things were expected from the lanky Georgian. He was considered one of the United States’ next stars. He and Rory McIlroy were the only players under the age of 25 with multiple TOUR wins.
English had to wait seven years for his next win, however. He fell outside the top 300 in the world ranking and to a career-worst 149th in the FedExCup in 2019.
Despite having just conditional status on TOUR, his career quickly turned around. He had four finishes of sixth or better in the fall of 2019 and qualified for the TOUR Championship for the first time in five years, finishing a career-best 12th in the FedExCup.
In January, he ended his victory drought at the Sentry Tournament of Champions – because of COVID-19, the previous year’s TOUR Championship qualifiers gained entry into the field – and added another win at the Travelers Championship. English has finished fourth or better in the past two U.S. Opens, as well.
He arrives at TPC Southwind ranked fifth in the FedExCup and a career-best 10th in the world.
How did English turn his career around? By returning to the swing that helped him have so much success earlier in his career. English started working with swing coach Justin Parsons in the spring of 2019.
“He just kind of brought me back from getting lost in this whirlwind of different swings and different mechanics and swing positions,” English said. “He simplified it so much that I can know what I’m doing. (Golf) is actually a game now. I’m not worried about how my swing looks.”
Below, Parsons explains how English unlocked his old swing and returned to the game’s elite:
BACK TO BASICS
It’s difficult to hit your target if you’re not aimed at it. Parsons described English’s alignment as “erratic” in their first session together. “I asked Harris to hit an 8-iron to five or six different targets and it was clear that he did not aim at the changing targets in the same way,” Parsons said. “As we discussed his desire to be a more consistent ball-striker, we agreed that without the process and execution of good alignment being in place, the golf swing was never going to be consistent.”
Like many pros, English used alignment rods on the ground to aid during his practice sessions. Having a visual reference point made him more aware of his alignment tendencies. He also instituted a pre-shot routine to make sure he was approaching the ball the same way each time. To achieve a more consistent address position, he would set up to the ball while holding the club in only his right hand.
REVIEWING THE TAPE
Looking back at video from English’s best days helped Parsons determine what changes should be made. “Harris had been a very successful player at every level and I was fortunate to have access to video and information from what feels and visuals worked in the past,” Parsons said. The beginning of his backswing was a move that had always been important to English. Unfortunately, that portion of his swing had changed over the years.
English, who stands 6-foot-3, has always had a wide swing. His tendency, however, was to keep the clubhead too low for too long in the takeaway. This resulted in his club and hands swinging too far to the inside. “We wanted to see the clubhead remaining in front of his hands when the shaft was parallel to the ground,” Parsons said. This position helped English return to the left-to-right fade shot that he prefers to see with his irons.
“My takeaway was getting a little inside and I was getting lifty," English said. "Every day, I’m working on keeping it wide and keeping the clubhead a little outside my hands. That gets me in a good position at the top where I can hit my little fade.”
Putting pressure into the grip with his right thumb at the start of his swing helped him achieve the proper takeaway. He also used drills to ingrain the change. Sticking an alignment rod into the ground at a 45-degree angle prevents English from taking the club too far inside. The club will strike the stick if English takes it too far inside. One-handed swings, which English did before every shot in his Travelers win, also achieve this goal. When swinging with just the left hand, the weight of the club helps it travel down the correct path.
“This has given him consistency and a shot pattern that increases his confidence,” Parsons said.
An improper takeaway had ramifications throughout English’s swing. But as it improved, his backswing became a bit shorter as he moved the club back with his turn instead of his arm swing. His upper body leaned less to the left at the top of his swing, as well. This allowed him to better maintain the width of his swing in the downswing. That helped him with distance control, especially on in-between shots with longer clubs.
When English was leaned too far to the left at the top of his backswing, he would either hit a low pull shot or compensate at the last-minute and hit a high, weak shot to the right. The proper backswing also helped English have the desired timing and tempo in his transition to his downswing. That proper timing extended into other parts of his game, increasing his confidence and even changing how he carried himself between shots.
“One of the areas I admire most about Harris’ swing is his rhythm,” Parsons said. “When he completes his backswing correctly, the change in direction has an authentic, athletic flow to it.
“As his confidence returned, his rhythm improved, and it helped him walk in good rhythm, walk into the ball in a poised and purposeful way and swing in great tempo. Zeroing in on the start of his backswing had impacts throughout his game.”
And helped him return to the winner’s circle.
Harris English reflects on his first career win at TPC Southwind