The curious case of Harris English’s flapping putter and its diminishing returns

The 32-year-old enjoyed a superb 2020/21 season, but he has not enjoyed so much fun in 2021/22.

"Get a grip," might be old-fashioned words of advice for a golfer struggling for form, but they might not be the wisest ones to utter in Harris English's direction.

The 32-year-old, who tees it up in this week's Sony Open at Waialae Country Club, enjoyed a superb 2020/21 season that included two victories (in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and Travelers Championship), two top four finishes in Major Championships, and another six top 10s.

When he won one, and narrowly lost another, of his Friday and Saturday matches at the Ryder Cup all looked well with the world.

Whereupon everything changed in an extremely unlikely manner.

Back in early October, the Georgia native revealed all on the 'Fore the People' podcast alongside presenters John Peterson and J.J. Killeen.

He explained that on arrival at Whistling Straits for the Sunday singles he took a call from US team captain Steve Stricker.

"I had no idea what he was calling me about," English said. "He hadn't called me the whole week and he says, 'Hey Harry, I've got some bad news. We've got the Head Rules Official here and he wants to take a look at your putter grip.'

"I'm like, 'Shit'. I've been putting with it for 8, 9, 10 years. have no idea how long."

The issue was that his favourite short stick had an ancient grip, one that flapped around the shaft like the leg of an ill-fitting pair of trousers.

"I guess somebody had called in. They saw it on television or whatever."

The grip failed to pass the test, deemed non-conforming owing to its frayed nature.

The solution to the problem was quirky.

"I thought I'd have to put a new grip on which I was not pumped about. But Davis (Love III, one of the vice-captains), the savvy deer hunter and knifesman he is, he had a knife and cut the (flapping) part off. We gauzed it so it would be flush."

English would lose his singles match to Lee Westwood and concluded: "I'll probably have to put a new grip on (the putter) pretty soon."

To this point the tale is peculiar, but not much more than an oddity.

Except English's putting - one of the key components of his superb form last season - has since then deserted him.

Consider his victory at last year's Tournament of Champions. He led the field for Strokes Gained Putting and said: "It just takes one putt to go in and then you feel like you can make every putt. I felt like all week I was putting really well, I leaned on it a lot and made some really good putts."

Or the second win at TPC River Highlands, when he holed a series of outrageous putts to stay in, and then win, a sensational eight-hole play-off against Kramer Hickok.

"I felt really good all day about my putting," he said afterwards. "In the play-off I had some knee-knockers out there and holed some great putts. When that last one went in it was awesome."

And consider what has come next. In the 2021/22 season he's missed two cuts, withdrawn from the CJ CUP and last week, on defence of the Tournament of Champions, he finished T30th in a 38-man field.

With the flapping putter grip in 2020/21 he ranked 12th for SG Putting (+0.544), since the Ryder Cup he ranks 190th (-0.724).

It's a similar picture in other categories: his Putt Average ranking has dropped from 9th (1.718) to 110th (1.746), his Three-putt Avoidance rank from 87th (2.78%) to 151st (3.03%), and Putts per Round from 14th (28.29) to 79th (28.64).

It would only be fair to point out that his work from the tee has also lurched backwards recently (he ranked 91st for SG Off the Tee last season and is 210th this season), but SG Approach (86th/72nd) and SG Around the Green (31st/36th) are similar.

Having lost strokes to the field on the greens in three of his four starts this season he'll be hoping that a return to Waialae can reverse that trend.

In nine previous visits to the course, he has eight times gained strokes on the field. If he fails to do this week a short-term pattern might start to look very worrying.

READ MORE: The X Factor: Digging deep to find three player performance indicators at the Sony Open

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