by Jeff Skinner
Few golf instructors have the resume or reputation of Butch Harmon. He’s been number one on every list of top coaches for years and has coached more elite players than any other coach. The list of Harmon’s high profile pupils is astounding: Greg Norman, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples, Ernie Els, Davis Love III, Stewart Cink, Justin Leonard, Nick Watney, Dustin Johnson, Gary Woodland and Natalie Gulbis.
So when Harmon speaks, golfers listen. He spoke to Jeff Neuman in the Wall Street Journal and sounded off on fellow instructor Hank Haney and offered ex-client Tiger Woods some advice.
Harmon, like other instructors has taken Haney to task for his insiders book on Woods, “The Big Miss.”
“I’m very surprised that he would write it,” Harmon said this week. “I’d never do that to Tiger or Greg [Norman] or any of the guys I’ve been with. We get to spend a lot of time with these people, sometimes even more time than their own families. Things are said, or you see different things, and it’s just—it is what it is, you just leave it where it belongs. I was really shocked to see him talk about Elin and Tiger’s kids and stuff like that, I don’t think that had any place in it.”
He went on: “It almost seems the way he has everything documented in there—too many times and dates and places that you wouldn’t come up with from memory—it’s like he kept precise notes all along with writing a book in mind.”
Harmon is never one to shy away from giving his opinion and that’s one of the things that may have led to Woods leaving him years ago. Tiger likes to keep a low profile and expects his “people” to do the same. With a personality like Harmon’s that’s hard to do.
For the most part recently Harmon has been respectful of Tiger’s present coach, Sean Foley, but thinks that Woods is now lost in a habit of over thinking everything. Tiger’s strength used to be his ability to feel a shot and use his imagination to execute them. Harmon says he has lost that now.
“For me, and I think we saw this at the Masters, he looks like he’s playing ‘golf- swing’ and not golf,” Harmon said. “In my opinion, he’s very robotic. And you could see that at Augusta with all his practice swings and the double-cross shots when he’s trying to fade it and he hooks it. I think everyone thought because he won at Bay Hill that he was back; well, he didn’t hit it great at Bay Hill, he hit it OK. And Bay Hill’s not a major.”
“When I had him, I’m more of a natural-type teacher, I like to keep what you do naturally and just try to improve on it. I like to let you be creative, which he was good at”.
“Under pressure,” Harmon said, “which swing am I using? What am I thinking? What are my eyes seeing? There’s too much more that goes into it than just the actual swing. He’s changed so many times he may have confused himself. “
Harmon sees more trouble with Woods and what used to be one of his signature strengths, his ability to sink putts seemingly on demand. Tiger was a clutch putter, now he looks lost on the greens. “And for me, I think he’s lost his nerve putting. I think his nerves are bad, and he’s lost his confidence.”
Harmon’s solution for Woods is simple: play golf and stop thinking. “If he ever asked me what I thought he needed to do, I’d tell him, look, go on the practice tee without anybody—without me, without Sean [Foley, his current coach], without Haney, without a camera, and start hitting golf shots. Hit some high draws, some low draws, high fades, low fades, move the ball up and down, move it around; don’t worry about how you do it and go back to feeling it again. Quit playing golf-swing and just hit shots; just say to himself, I’m gonna hit a low fade, and I don’t need anybody to tell me how to do it, I’m just gonna feel it. He’s Tiger Woods, for God’s sake.”
Tiger would do well to heed Harmon’s advice. After all, he was a coach he once respected and Woods ruled the golf world during his time with Harmon. Harmon is right; he’s Tiger Woods for God’s sake. But maybe Woods should be thinking the same thing; he’s Butch Harmon for God’s sake.