News & Opinion

English cages golf’s rarest bird

Harris English, Arnold Palmer Invitational,
Harris English (USA) drains his putt on 1 during round 3 of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Golf Club, Bay Hill, Florida. 3/9/2019

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – I don’t have any quotes from the guy who made the first albatross – or double eagle, to those of you intent on ruining golf – in a major championship.

That’s because it was Young Tom Morris, in the 1870 British Open. Curiously, Young Tom didn’t make a 2. He made the rarer-than-Civil-War-gold albatross 3. The opening hole at Prestwick then was a par 6. (Which is good news. That means the only time I played it, I made par.) I am sure that Young Tom didn’t high-five or knuckle-bump his caddie. Something with his kilt? Probably not.

Harris English

Thursday, I got to enjoy golf’s rarest moment thanks to video replay. Harris English holed his second shot from the fairway as nice as you please on the par-5 11th hole at TPC Sawgrass' Stadium Course in the Players Championship. His birdies versus albatrosses total for the day was 1-1. He joined Hunter Mahan as the only players to make 2s at the 11th during the Players Championship.

I do have quotes from English, a University of Georgia alumnus. PGA Tour players often are pretty ho-hum about shots that amateurs would die for. A hole-in-one is the Holy Grail for some ams who never have had one.

Are shots like those a big deal to Tour players or just part of the daily grind? Andy North, a two-time U.S. Open champion, was doing some TV homework in the media center when I tried to ask him that question. I didn’t even finish it before he scoffed and gave me a hearty, “No.” Yeah, I get that it’s just one shot among thousands that a player hits each year.

Still, it was nice to see English, who shot an opening 2-under 70, seem fairly excited about his small historic moment (scores).

“I’ve never had a 2 in my life except on a par 3 or a par 4,” English said.

So, this was his first albatross. His yardage was 236.

“I have a Ping i500 3-iron that goes pretty far, and I flushed it,” he said. “Really, I was playing at that little pot bunker left of the green and letting the wind bring it back. The wind was into and off the left. I hit it perfect, it rode the wind a little bit and I saw it land past the bunker. I couldn’t really see it roll in.”

He knew that he had holed the shot when he heard the gallery behind the green “go crazy.”

His first thought? “I finally made a 2.”

His second thought? He quoted “Happy Gilmore,” the movie. “I told my caddie, ‘That is so much easier than putting. Why don’t we just do that every hole?’ ”

The crowd behind the green consisted of 100 fans, maybe 200, English estimated. Because it was Thursday, the cheer didn’t get the full Englishmania effect.

“It wasn’t the crowd that’ll be out here Sunday,” he said with a smile, “but I’ll take it.”

The Masters Tournament awards crystal to players who make an eagle or albatross or shoot the low round of the day. What’s English going to get for this? The Players doesn’t offer a similar program.

“I don’t know if they’ll give me something,” he said. “I’ll do something with the ball, maybe put it in a shadow box in my office. I’ve been playing golf for 24 years, and I haven’t done this before. I haven’t even seen one made.

“Obviously, a hole-in-one seems like a bigger deal because it happens more often. It’s one shot on a hole. To make a 2 on a par 5 is way harder. You don’t hear about it happening very often. You see it at Augusta sometimes, because the greens funnel toward certain pins.”

There have been only 18 albatrosses made in major-championship competition. Young Tom holed the first one. Nick Watney made the most recent, in 2012 at the U.S. Open at Olympic Club. Only four have been made at the Masters, on each of the par 5s: Louis Oosthuizen at No. 2; Bruce Devlin at No. 8; Jeff Maggert at No. 13 and Gene Sarazen at No. 15.

I’m not trying to compare English’s shot and suggest that the Players is a major. I’m just making a point about how rare it is to play one hole in 3 under par.

The names of the albatross-makers in major-championship history vary wildly, from stars such as Johnny Miller (1972 British Open, Muirfield), Bill Rogers (1983 British Open, Royal Birkdale) and Paul Lawrie (2009 British Open, Turnberry) to lesser-known names such as Manny Zerman (2000 Open, Royal Lytham & St. Annes), club professional Darrell Kestner (1993 PGA, Inverness) and T.C. Chen (1985 U.S. Open, Oakland Hills).

I asked North if Chen is likely the only player to make a double eagle and suffer a double-chip in the same major championship.

“Probably so,” he said. “The odds of doing either one are about the same.”

English has made four aces, but only one in competition, last year in the Dominican Republic. His best ace came at the 12th hole at Augusta National, in a practice round on Sunday before his first Masters.

“I was playing with Brandt Snedeker,” English said. “Ben Crenshaw was teeing off on 13. He saw my ball go in the hole, and he ran around the lake to congratulate me. That made it even more special.”

You should call Crenshaw tonight, I suggested. “That’d be cool,” he said. “I could ask him if he was out behind the 11th green today. I love talking to that guy.”

Nobody ever talks about the shot after the ace or the albatross, when the adrenaline buzz is at its highest. English conceded to being nervous on the 12th tee. “I was like, This is too easy,” he said.

The 12th played 317 yards Thursday and was easily drivable. He went at it with a 3-wood because driver was too much. A strange thought crossed English’s mind as he teed up. “I thought, What if I go double eagle, double eagle?” he said. “Then I made par. It was anticlimactic.”

He once holed out on back-to-back par 4s with wedges in the Tennessee high school championship, which his team won.

“That was pretty cool,” English said. “But making an albatross probably trumps that.”

It is golf’s rarest bird.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email:; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle