If you think playing in Tiger Woods’ shadow is tough, try following Butch Harmon as Tiger’s teacher.
Hank Haney and Sean Foley have taken on that task and, despite great success, found their methods critiqued and criticized to the Nth degree. It seems that no matter what Woods accomplishes, a certain segment of the golf media and public will insist that he was better with Butch.
That’s a testament not only to Woods’ remarkable achievements under Harmon’s tutelage, but to Harmon’s standing among his peers, outside observers and fans.
The Harmon-Woods partnership began in 1993, when the skinny kid from California had already established himself as the world’s best junior golfer. Woods proceeded to win three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles before turning pro and setting the golf world on fire in 1996. He claimed eight major championships and 39 total PGA Tour victories from 1996-2003 – making the first major swing change of his career in 1997 -- then stunned golf by ditching Harmon for Haney in 2004.
In 2010 Woods jumped from Haney to Foley, who continues to coach him as of this writing.
Despite Woods’ success with the latter two coaches, including six more majors and 35 total victories, grumbles persist that his swing peaked under Harmon’s watch. Critics point to Woods’ loss of driving accuracy post-Harmon, as well as controversial swing methods instituted by Haney and Foley, as proof of Harmon’s superiority.
Indeed, Harmon carries a credibility no other modern teacher can match. Consider: He’s been voted by his fellow pros as the game’s No. 1 instructor for 12 consecutive years, boasts a roster of world-class clients, and commands $1,000 an hour for personal lessons.
Harmon’s background certainly prepared him for a career as a golf instructor. His father, Claude Harmon, was the 1948 Masters champ and a renowned teacher himself. Butch’s brothers, Dick, Bill and Craig, followed in their dad’s footsteps as well, earning the Harmons the unofficial title, “First Family of Golf.”
But Butch carries a cache no other teacher can match. Just ask Hank Haney and Sean Foley.
Core philosophy: Harmon harps on the importance of a sound takeaway. A common trait among his students is that the clubhead is “outside the hands” throughout the initial part of the backswing. (Viewed from behind the golfer looking toward the target, the shaft points slightly toward the target line until it reaches about waist height. This prevents the club from getting too far inside the line and off plane or “behind” the golfer at the top.)
Harmon also preaches the benefits of swing “width,” meaning the hands extend well away from the body on the backswing to create a big, powerful arc. This is well illustrated by Davis Love III, another of Harmon’s prize pupils. He’s also helped pros like Woods, Mickelson and Els shorten their swings without sacrificing width and power.
Classic Harmon-style tip: The ideal swing is both wide and short, or compact, meaning the arms stop moving when the shoulders stop rotating on the backswing. Harmon says many amateur golfers break this rule, so their left arm folds and/or the wrists cock too much, dipping the club past parallel. The golfer then casts the club out and across the target line on the downswing, causing a weak slice.
He suggests curing this by imagining the hands pushing away from the head on the backswing, maintaining as much distance (width) as possible between hands and head to the very top. As long as your arms and shoulders stay in sync, you’ll enjoy the benefits of a wider arc – more distance without the slice.