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Butch Harmon Shares Some of His Golf Teaching “Pearls”
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Butch Harmon Shares Some of His Golf Teaching “Pearls”
Episode summary introduction:
Butch Harmon is arguably one of golf’s greatest instructors of all-time. He has worked with countless PGA TOUR greats including Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. He joins our podcast to share some “pearls” of golf from his father Claude, Sr. Among many topics, Butch dives into golf swing theory, the importance of impact, ball-flight and trajectory, the key to repetition, eliminating one side of the target and keeping things simple. He also talks in depth about Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
Introduction with Mark Immelman:
Golf is BACK! We had the TaylorMade Driving Relief skins game last week and I got amped for that! And we’ve got golf coming this week in the match 2.0 Tiger V Phil! Add Tom Brady and Peyton Manning! It promises to be a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to that…as I’m sure you are!
Today we have the legendary Butch Harmon, arguably the greatest instructor of all time, with respect to my mentor David Leadbetter.
Check me out on the Skillest app (available only on the App Store for iPhone and iPad), if you want your golf swing analyzed, you can touch base with me. I’ve been helping folks around the world, tribe members, improve their golf swing. You can find all of our On The Mark Podcasts by going to pgatour.com/podcasts or my personal site, MarkImmelman.com You can check out the pods there, or just subscribe to us wherever you download your podcasts. Just simply search On The Mark Golf!
Speaking of knowledge of insight….couple that with experience I want to introduce Butch Harmon. He has no peer in the industry right now, just the wisdom, the experience, and the contact he’s had with so many greats of the game. Starting with his father, Claude Harmon, Sr. and Ben Hogan. Butch has worked with basically everybody, all of the great players in the game Butch has been involved with them somehow. (Greg Norman in the early 1990’s, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III, Fred Couples, Justin Leonard, Erine Els, Stewart Clink, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Jimmy Walk, Danielle Kang — just to name drop a few!) And he is right here on this On The Mark podcast to help you to play better Golf!
Welcome Butch Harmon [Timestamp: 3:03]:
- Mark: What has Butch Harmon been up to during this COVID-19 pandemic?
- Butch: My wonderful wife, Christy, has had me on house lockdown for the past 2 months. At my age, at 76, she says I’m not allowed to go out in public. Fortunately, our golf course opened up a few weeks ago here in the Las Vegas area. I live on a golf course, Anthem Country Club, and we all have our own golf carts, so I’m able to get out and hit some balls and play with some friends every now and again. At least I’m getting out of the house a little bit, which is nice.
I think I’ve read more books in the last 2 months during the pandemic that I’ve ever read in my life!
- Mark: You speak of books. One of the books I’ve read during this time is called The Pro, written by a dear friend of mine, Steve Eubanks who collaborated with you. Stories about your father, Claude.
Q: [Timestamp: 4:25] The pivot to golf instruction and the ascension to the top of the game in golf instruction. Was this ever planned? Or was this completely natural for you?
Butch: A: I don’t think anything was planned. When you are younger, you aspire to be whatever you aspire to be. Having grown up in our family, I think our father is the greatest golf instructor who has ever lived. We grew up around it as kids, we were always around him and great players. We were able to watch him teach. I know as a Junior Golfer, I used to try (even though I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about but I thought I did) to help my friends with their games. If I saw something, I would really just repeat things that I had heard my dad say.
I played 1969, 70, 71 on the tour full time. For me, my goal was, I was going to play until my oldest child was school aged, and then just to see where I stood. After 3 years, (there was not a lot of money in the game in those days) It was time to get realistic with myself, and so I thought to myself, “I think I’m pretty good, but I’m obviously not as good as these guys”. In ‘71, I thought maybe I need to go in a different direction.
Mark: Maybe going in a different direction wasn’t such a bad idea. You’ve taught guys like Greg Norman, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson! Kind of a who’s who’s of golf!
[Timestamps: 6:33] There’s one story in the book that I think there’s so much to be learned by, and it was the young Harmon boys and Dads on the Range. And there is something about not missing the ball in the left-hand side of the course?….. (laughs) It’s a great story.
*Listen to Butch’s Story in the full Podcast*
Butch: [Timestamp: 8:09] He (Claude, Butch’s father) believed very strongly in club path and club face angle, very similar to the great John Jacobs. What I’ve learned the most of my golf career was from my dad and John Jacobs. He used to talk about the back of a left hand for the right-handed golfer, the bow in the left wrist, keeping the club face square through impact. His line was “When I hit it, I’ve got Bethlehem steel down here in the left wrist, you boys have linguine in there! Coming in here flopping all over the place.”
This is how we grew up. This is what we put up with! When your father’s won the Masters, there’s not a hell of a lot you can do because he’ll just go get his Green Jacket out or something!
Mark: It’s kind of like me with Garry Player. He is always like “You know Mark, I respect you as a golf teacher, but when you can beat me, THEN I will listen to you.”
[Timestamp: 8:57] You have worked with Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, and we are in an era right now where we are in a proliferation where there is a more bowed wrist at the top to create Bethlehem steel through contact, has become a thing. What are your thoughts on that?
Butch: When I first worked with Dustin Johnson, I sat him down in my office and said “Look DJ, the one thing you need to know is the position at the top, your club face is shut, and your left wrist is very bowed, but you don’t have to worry about that. I’m not going to change that. That’s how you swing a golf club. I’ve seen a lot of good players play from there.” Including my dad.
If you have to error, I would rather see someone shut at the top than wide open. Because if you are shut at the top and you have any strength at all, you can hold that off as you go through or you can let it release over if you try to hit a draw. If the club face is wide open at the top, you have to do a look of catching up with your hands and it disrupts the timing of the golf swing.
If you look at the modern golfers (Dustin Johnson, John Robb, Brooks Koepka) a lot of them are playing from that position. I just think there is a talent level with the speed of the people’s bodies, that if you come from a shut position, and you are able to generate the rotation of the body that you get it’s much easier to control the flight of the ball and the shape of the ball.
I’m not saying I would teach everybody to get the club shut at the top, but if you had to error one way or another, I would rather see someone shut than with the club face wide open. People think that just because your left wrist is bowed that that means the club face is going to be shut, but if you think about it, a lot of it depends on your grip.
If you have a fairly neutral grip, and not too strong, the club face is not going to be as shut as you think. But if you have a really strong grip, like Fred Couples does, he couldn’t play from that bowed position. That’s why you see him and his left wrist is more cupped because his grip is so strong. A lot of times a player’s grip helps you understand where they need to be at the top of the swing.
Mark: [Timestamp: 11:42] When you look at a Butch Harmon stable of golfers, it’s not like you see a common thread. But the one common thread I see is one of your dad’s pearls and it says “There’s only one position in the swing that matters, and that is impact. Everything else is window dressing.”
Butch: There’s not a lot of comparison in Butch Harmon’s stable of golfers, the two that there is a comparison is to is Adam Scott and Tiger Woods. And the reason for that is when Adam came to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas when he was 18, he showed up with that swing. He had copied the swing of a young Tiger Woods.
I think in teaching, there are 2 things you can do: You can teach golf to people or you can teach people to play golf. In our family, we believe we are trying to teach people to play golf, we are not trying to teach you a golf swing, we are trying to teach you to PLAY golf, because everybody is different.
I can remember in my 10 year of working with Tiger Woods, everyone came to me and said “Ok, I want to swing like Tiger Woods.” And I said “No kidding!! So do I! Unless I can climb in his body, that’s not possible. I’ve got to make you swing the best YOU can swing.”
The way we were taught by our father, was to never take away what someone does naturally, just make it better. Teach people to play golf, don’t teach golf swing.
Mark: [Timestamp: 13:40] So, I want your commentary here. Your dad says “If someone tells you there is one perfect golf swing, walk away and don’t listen to another word he says.”
**Hear what Butch has to say about that at the full podcast**
Butch: Any one who has the opportunity and has a love for golf, go to St. Augustine, Florida to the World Golf Hall of Fame. There are hundreds of strange looking swings in there, but they all work. The secret to golf is repetition.
Look at Jim Furyk, at 50 years old he still plays on the PGA Tour. His father is his only coach. If his father had changed his swing and made him look perfect, we would have never heard of Jim Furyk! Look at the greats of the world; Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer; they had a lot of strange characteristics in their swings. The common thread is getting the club squared at impact and getting them to repeat it time and time again.
Another Pearl: No one will EVER perfect the game.
You mention repetition. It’s all about repeating something you do naturally and under pressure and not under pressure.
Butch: The key is for tour players under pressure is that you have to create a golf swing “that is going to work on the back 9 on a Sunday.”
Butch: [Timestamp: 16:11] My dad used to have a scenario, this is how simple golf can be: If you have a one shot lead in a golf tournament and you’re standing on the 18th tee at Pebble Beach, if the heal gets to the balls before the toe, you WIN! If the toe gets to the ball before the heel, you LOSE! It’s that simple! That’s the way the old timers thought. They didn’t have all this technology going through their heads.
Mark: Another Pearl from the book: If it seems that simple, don’t over complicate it!
Butch: [Timestamp: 17:45] The story about Butchies’ got a shanker!
If you’re hitting shanks, just look at the divett. You’ve got a long skinny divett because the toe is digging the ground. You’re coming over the top and throwing the club in there. Just put something down there. In teaching, we use club boxes all the time. Instinctively, when you put something in their vision and have them make a few practice swings with no ball, their body reacts to what they see because they know if I come over the top of this thing I’m going to nail this box and I don’t want to be on this video of me hitting this box! Golf is a very difficult game, but young instructors today make it more difficult than it is. We were taught that you need to teach golf at a second grade level. We were taught to pick out, what my dad used to call, the cancer of the golf swing. The one thing in the swing that keeps this person from hitting a good shot; and you fix that and then other things just fall into place. That’s why I believe my brothers and I have always had so much success in teaching, because we make it simple.
*[Timestamp: 21:57] Another amusing story about Butch’s dad
Mark: Pearl: Improvement requires a long term approach
Butch: Change takes time. Bad shots are part of the process of how you are going to get better. I use Tiger Woods as an example. After he won the Masters in 1997, in ‘98 he wanted to change his swing, he didn’t really like the position he was in at the top. He didn’t want to change it a little at the time, he wanted to do it all at one time. So ‘98 was not his best year, but looking at ‘99, 2000, ‘01 some of the best golf we have ever seen consistently. So, if one of the best golfers ever seen takes a year to feel comfortable with a change, how do golfers think they are going to take one 30 minute lesson and take the championship? Change takes time!
I am a great believer in making players hit balls with slow motion swings, because in slow motion you can physically make your body do what you need to make it do. If you tee up a 6 or 7 iron and hit 15-20 balls in slow motion with whatever change the Pro is trying to get you to do it will help you understand your own golf swing.
Mark: I remember the days when I was out there teaching full time on the tour and you’d be with Woods and he was making thousands of those slow mo swings. You had him pausing at the top for a while too!
Butch: Yeah, that was a drill he hated! (**Here is the YouTube video of Tiger Woods and Butch Harmon explain the swing drill that Woods hated! **)
For the average player, it lets them realize how much they throw their hands and arms, and the club to the top, and how much their back shoulder comes out and over it. So, if you let them stop, the first couple their going to hardly hit, but once they feel it, they’ll start to feel the hands and arms dropping, the sequencing of the rotation of the torso and arms and shaft, the club head getting to the ball on the right path and squaring at impact.
Mark: [Timestamp: 26:28] A lesson for the listeners from Tiger. Is it that determination, that resilience or is there something else?
Butch: I think if you look at Tiger Woods, and you look at how many times he changed his swing, he has never been one that just rests on where he is. He always thinks he can be better. That’s what makes him so great. I was of the belief, in Tigers case and with most great players, if it isn’t broken, I don’t think we need to fix it. The ball is the barometer. The ball tells you if you are doing it right. If you understand the golf swing, if you watch where the ball starts, the curvature of the ball, the spin on the ball, the trajectory on the ball, it pretty much tells you the path of the club and the club face angle at impact. You can look at the divot and that will give you a little insight too.
You mentioned the great John Jacobs, he wrote a book back in the ‘70s called Practical Golf, and I think it’s the best instructional book ever written. John was a genius in the way he could describe things. He was such an influence in my teaching.
Mark: [Timestamp: 30:45] We’ve got this match coming up, it’s Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning Verses and Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady . A lesson for the listeners about Phil. You’ve spent so much time with him.
Butch: Phil is a very interesting person. His nickname on the tour is “The Genius”, though I am not too such that Phil didn’t come up with that himself. Phil Mickelson doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves, he has won 44 tournaments and 5 majors in the Tiger Woods era. No one else is remotely close. Phil for me is the modern day, left handed, Arnold Palmer, go for broke kind of guy. I think one of Phil Mickelson’s strengths is his resilience. He has the ability to play like the last shot never happened. All great players have that. That’s something that you can’t really teach.
A lesson from Ben Hogan [Timestamp: 32:49]
Ben Hogan to me was the greatest ball striker I had ever seen. He had the game figured out. Now, his golf swing ruined a lot of players, because they tried to copy it. The thing we didn’t have was the torso rotation was so fast. Until I saw Tiger Woods, I had never seen anyone whose body could rotate as fast as Mr. Hogan’s could. The flight of his golf ball was just phenomenal, the control of the way he played, the way he took apart a golf course and understood where the ball was going to go. He had everything programmed in.
Mark: [Timestamp: 36:45] Parting Question: If you hook the ball, try and fade it and you’ll eventually hit the ball straight and if you fade the ball, try to hook it some and you’ll straighten out the flight. Is that “Hogan-es” and would Butch Harmon ascribe to that sort of recommendation?
Butch: Absolutely! I believe in opposites. If you are hitting slices, I’m going to try and make you hit a hook. If you are hitting a hook, I’m going to try and make you hit a slice. You’ll meet in the middle. You have to understand what they’re doing to cause the path to be out to in or too much in to out, or whatever it is. But if you go to opposites, it is amazing how they meet in the middle.
Wrap up with Mark Immelman:
It’s about playing better golf. In the final analysis, it’s about lowering your golf score. (Check out more articles and insight from Mark at golf.com) Everything you do should end with a club face, because that is the tip of your spear, that is your only way of communicating with a golf ball. So there should be logic involved, and if it doesn’t seem logical, then what you’ve been advised to do or what you are doing, and you can’t see a direct connection to the club face, I would advocate and recommend that perhaps you revisit what you’re doing. The golf club, golf ball interaction is logical and everything else from that should be logical as well. Me mindful of this when you are working on your game.
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