In a recent conference call with Butch Harmon (regarding his new DVD -
Butch Harmon About Golf), LinksNation.com participated in a 45 minute
Q & A with the games most accomplished and honest instructor. Butch
talks about his life teaching, and many players on tour, from Luke Donald,
Adam Scott, Nick Watney, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman.
The session started out with questions regarding the instructional DVD that
was being introduced, which by the way, is by far the most comprehensive
of it's kind (we highly recommend it).Once the golf writers covered the business
at hand, it was off to the juicy questions and Butch's take on many things golf
. . . and if You've ever met Butch, then you know he does not lack opinions and
is not stingy with doling them out.
Q: Butch you've talked about the things that you've learned from guys that
you've worked with, can you give a few examples?
BH: Sure, the things I taught Tiger early on in the shortgame were things I
learned from Seve and Greg Norman.The time I spent with both of them through
the years . . . talking with them and asking them how they did things.When I
first started with a young Tiger Woods when he was 17, he couldn't spin the
ball very well, and I tried to explain to him how to hit shots and how to do it
. . . I would use Seve and Greg as examples, and Jose Maria Olazabal also.At
major championships when Tiger was an amateur, or just turned pro, I would
make sure I have him play with the great major champions so he could pick
their brains, alot of what I taught Tiger in the shortgame came from Seve and
Q:Are there two or three guys that seem to have a comprehensive
understanding of their swing above and beyond the others?
BH:Well, Tiger Woods I think has a great understanding of the golf swing in
general, but you'd say that's a little crazy because he's changed it 4 times
. . . but that's his desire to get better, he always feels that he can get better.
I think what we've found with the average golf pro, is that they only know
how they do it . . . sometimes what they think they're doing they're not really
doing.Greg Norman had a great understanding of the mechanics of golf, that's
why I enjoyed my years with Greg so much.Alot of times a great player will
explain how they do it, when in reality they don't really do it that way.I thought
Tom Watson had a great grasp of the golf swing, and a nice way of explaining
it.In general, most good players sometimes don't even know how they do it,
they just know that they do it this way and they perceive that this is what
Q:Is there a common strength or trait with the players you have coached?
BH: For me I think work ethic was always a big thing, I'm a workaholic and I
put my heart and soul into it with these guys.Obviously when your workin with
a tour player versus the average player, with the average player you can
experiment.If you have an 18 handicap, if this doesn't work you can try this,
you can try that . . . with a tour player you're dealing with how they make a
living, so you have to be more precise in what you're doing with them.If you look
at all of the guys that I've ever taught, they all work real hard and if they don't I
don't stay with them for very long because then I think we're both wasting each
others time.The other thing is I'm brutally honest to a fault sometimes, I'm just
gonna tell it the way it is and I figure they're paying me for the information and if
they don't wanna hear it, that's fine they can go elsewhere . . . my job is to make
them better and that's why I try to be so honest with them.
Q:Can you talk about the evolution of the game and how it's being taught today,
what you like and don't like as far dealing with the average guy more than as it
relates to the tour pros?
BH:The game has changed completely, equipment has changed the game,
agronomy has changed the game, the conditioning, fitness and flexibility is so
much more important today than it was, and the way we teach has changed.The
way I teach today is different than the way I taught ten years ago.We evolve
through time in what we believe, the big difference between modern teachers
and the way that I grew up with my father and all of the great teachers of his
time, is that today everybody teaches systems now . . . where everybody needs
to this and everybody do that, I don't buy into it at all.If we went out right now
(with a large group of people) to play golf, we would see ten or fifteen different
golf swings, different flexibilities, different strengths, so I don't think that you
can teach everyone the same way, if we did that, everybody's swing would look
the same.Our belief is there are two ways to teach golf, you can teach golf to
people, or you can teach people to play golf and we choose to teach people to
Q:With all of the different swings, do the fundamentals stay the same?
BH:Basic fundamentals never change, grip, posture, ball position, alignment,
they're gonna stay the same, I don't care what area you're talking about.If
you set up poorly and your aim is wrong, if your ball position is wrong, if your
posture is wrong, then now you have to do something in that golf swing to
overcome that or compensate for that . . . so basic fundamentals have always
been important and they still are today.
Q:Can you identify two or three players who's swings are most mechanically
sound right now?
BH:I think Adam Scott probably has the best swing in golf, mechanically. If you
look at his positions throughout his swing they're perfect.Adam when he was
younger and worked with me, when he started here as a teenager with me in Las
Vegas he played alot with Tiger. Adam on his computer to this day has pictures
and video that we took from the 2000 British Open at St.Andrews after Tiger
had just won the U.S Open by 15 (strokes) and the British by 8.For me, I thought
it was the best positions I had ever seen anybody get a golf club into, and Adam
has used that as a barometer for himself . . . I think Adam Scott has fundamentally
the best swing in the game.
Q:Have you covered in the new video (DVD - Butch Harmon About Golf) playing
in bad weather, specifically rain ?
BH:The dvd covers playing in high winds, but in rain I think you have to show
a tremendous amount of patience, because the tendency is run out from under
the umbrella and hit the shot and run back underneath the umbrella.Earl Woods
used to make Tiger as a very young man go out and practice in the rain, because
he knew Tiger would have to play in the rain.To give you a comparison, my brothers
and I used go to Europe to do a thing for Red Bull, and we would go to Scotland,
and we'd get the 30 best juniors (15 girls/15 boys), and then we'd go to Ireland for
4 days and we'd get the best 30 best from there . . . we actually had Rory McIlroy
when he was 14 years old in one of our sessions.The things my brothers and I
remarked about was that the weather was so bad, it was awful, it was cold & rainy,
conditions were terrible, and these kids never once complained . . . all they wanted
to do was get better.So when you play in poor conditions, especially rain, you have
show alot of patience, you have to actually do things a little slower and take more
time because of the weather conditions.The tendency is to get the shot over with
because you just want to stay dry, well if that's the case you probably shouldn't be
out there, second of all you have to keep your equipment dry, your grips have to stay
as dry as possible, whether you're wearing an all weather glove or you have alot of
towels, you just have to get into the flow of being more patient.
Q:What players do you think will have a stand out season this year?
BH:I think Nick Watney should have a fantastic year, last year he was 3rd on the
money list, unfortunately he didn't play as well in the majors.I thought he put too
much pressure on himself in the majors because he knows that everything you do is
geared on how you do in majors, so this year we talked alot in the off season about
approaching things differently in the majors, I talked about how I just want him to
relax and just play golf.
I'm really jacked up about taking on Gary woodland, this kid is a natural talent, he's
unbelievable, his desire to get better is phenomenal so it's gonna be fun. I really do
believe once Phil gets his confidence going with the putter, he is going to have a
wonderful year (just 10 days after this Q&A, Phil would win at Pebble Beach).I think
he'll win a major, and a bunch of tournaments, but he has to get his confidence
Q:How much more does the physical fitness aspect figure into your teachings now ?
BH:It figures in a lot, one of the changes we've seen at the professional level, is that
if you think back to the players from my era or the players from my fathers era, all of
the golfers like Hogan, Player, Trevino and these guys they were 5'7"/5'8"/5'9", 5'10"
would have been a tall guy. You look at these players today, they're 6'1"/6'2"/6'3" big
strong kids who generate a tremendous amount of speed, so physical fitness is a big
part of that, even at the higher handicap level we see people more involved in taking
care of their body.Flexibility is maybe even more important than strength.So (as a
teacher) you have to change the way you approach the swing.The other thing that
we found out, is that through testing at the Titleist Performance Institute, testing
on all of our students for flexibility, we found out why some people cant do the
things that we want them to do because maybe they're locked up in the shoulders,
and that's why they don't make a good shoulder turn, I have problems with my left
hip, I have really bad arthritis.
In the past when you tried to help somebody rotate one way or another, they
physically weren't capable of doing that, well now with these various tests that we
can give students, with stretching and exercises that are prescribed, no matter what
their problem is, it allows them to do things that in the past I wasn't aware that
their body wouldn't allow them to do it because it wasn't anything that we worked
on . . . so that has helped tremendously with everybody that teaches.
Q:When you meet an average golfer on an airplane once they recognize you, do they
ever try to have you do an instant diagnosis of their swing?
BH: Yeah, only every time I get on an airplane.Golfers wanna get better, we all want
to play better.Everybody is so wrapped up in distance these days, that's all we hear
about on tv, that's all manufacturers talk about.I'll give you an instance: I was on a
plane, sitting in first class, this guy recognizes me (on his way to Doral), He says,
You have the secret to distance, You have to help me hit it further.I said, why would
You say that I have the secret to distance?He said, everybody You teach hits it far.
I said, sir in reality all of these kids out there hit it far.He says, look you have the
secret to distance and I need to hit it further.So I said you have to swing it more in
balance and all the normal stuff, like hit it more in the center of the clubface, and he
says, no YOU have the secret to distance and I need 20 more yards.So, I say alright
I'll tell you what I'll do, I'm going to guarantee you that I'll get you to hit the ball 20
more yards further.His ears and eyes perked up, and he says, how are you going to
do that?I said, just move up to the next of tees will ya!
Q:You were working a little with Mike Weir, can you tell us about those sessions?
BH:I was working a little with Mike, my goal was to help him get back to being Mike
Weir, then he had to have surgery which derailed him.I've always admired Mike, Mike
was kind of a middle of the road guy in terms of how far he hit it, and an intense
competitor.A good golfer with a desire to compete, which you can't teach . . . the
game in a way passed him by (distance wise), because everybody started hitting it
farther and farther and he didn't.I was trying to help Michael get better as Mike Weir
the golfer, for good players as well as amateurs, you have to know what your
capabilities are, you have to recognize what can do and what you can't do and
sometimes guys get so wrapped up that don't hit very far and they end up ruining
the things that made them so good.We are actually neighbors where I own a house
in Park City, Utah . . . my house is about 25 yards from his place.Now that he's had
the surgery, I wish him nothing but the best with his recovery, and hope he can get
back to being Mike Weir.
Q:Your philosophy is to enhance a players natural ability, what does Nick Watney do
well (that you've tried to enhance)?
BH:I saw Nick first when he was a senior at Fresno State, he was a friend of one
of my closest friends Sam Reeves, I saw him play as an amateur . . . then when he
turned pro he came and started working with me.Nick was a very natural type of golfer.
I would say, he really didn't have any idea how he was doing it, but he knew he
could shoot low.He had the ability to shoot really low numbers, which is an ability
that not alot of people have.He's big strong kid who had a lot to learn, and I like the
fact that he wanted to learn.If you look at his swing as a college senior, and as a
tour veteran, there are some differences in the swing that you may not notice
so much.His footwork and lower body movement is a little different, the pace of his
swing is a little smoother, but in general it looks very similar to what it used to be . .
. we just tried to improve on it.
Q:Can you talk about Luke Donald's swing and how he's been able to maintain it
during his career?
BH:Luke for a guy who has been so consistent for the last 18 months, he did it in a
strange way because he's not the longest hitter, and he hasn't been a very accurate
driver which is surprising when you look at his stats.He is one of the best iron players
in the game and has phenomenal a short game and just putts wonderfully.I think the
thing that impressed me about Luke Donald is, and I have to call myself out on this
. . . I was not a big fan of Luke Donald being the best player in the world because he
didn't win alot, and he really proved me wrong.He is very consistent and very rarely
finishes out of the top ten, obviously he hasn't won a major, but you have to think
that's on the horizon.I have been very impressed with Luke Donald, I think it's a big
year for Luke Donald because he has to validate what he did last year (Luke Donald
actually won the Transitions Championship about 6 weeks after this Q&A) there will
be alot of pressure on him.Rory McIlroy is the same way, he has to validate what he
did in 2011 (Rory won the Honda a week before Donald won in Tampa) and Webb
Simpson is another one who is going to have to prove to the golf world that they
really are this good.In Luke Donald's case, he really is that good.
Q:There were 4 different winners of the majors last year, which one surprised you
BH:Probably Charl Schwartzel at Augusta, when Adam Scott made that 10 or 12
footer on 17 I thought he'd just won the Masters.I thought that was going to bring
him his first major championship and then Charl birdied the last four holes which was
Everybody would think I'd say Keegan Bradley, but Keegan Bradley is a good player
and we were all surprised that Jason Dufner didn't win that one, that would have
been the most surprising.Keegan is a pretty steady player, but the way that
Schwartzel won the Masters surprised me the most.The one we may have all enjoyed
the most was Darren Clark.I couldn't have been happier for Darren, although I had
two of my players finish second, in Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson.I worked with
Darren alot in the past, his win at the Open Championship at Royal St.Georges was
probably received the best by the players.
Q:What did Phil do differently that week (2011 British Open) than in the past at the
BH:He played under control, the same thing that I've tried to talk to him about this
season, which he hasn't been able to bring to the course yet this season (Phil won
just weeks after this Q&A at Pebble Beach), not swing out of control, to control his
ball flight . . . I finally taught him how to hit the ball low into the wind and I really
think the little putt he missed on the eleventh hole derailed the momentum he had,
but that's golf.It was the first time in his career that he really played 72 holes in
control as far as his golf swing, didn't try to overpower things, swung more in control
. . . that's something I've been trying to beat into his head for 5 or 6 years.When he
does that he plays so much better, that was our goal this year, to control it like that.
Q:What's your motivation to keep going out and doing what you do ?
BH:First of all, I've taught my whole life, even as a youngster playing in junior
tournaments, I always loved to help the guys I was playing with.I've just been
around it my whole life, it's just what I do, it's my passion, my mission in life
so to speak.I don't think I'll ever stop teaching people, our 16 year old is a
junior in high school now . . . so we've got about a year and half till he's off to
college, and my wife and I will be able to do a few more things and I won't travel or
spend as much time on the road as I do now, but I'll always teach.I get people that
say to me, you must get so much more satisfaction from Phil Mickelson winning his
third Masters, I said not really, you probably make more money for it, and get more
recognition for it because of your contacts with a certain player, but in reality I get
as much satisfaction or more from someone who's never broken 90 who shoots 87 for
the first time.It's a great rush to know that you could help someone get better, and
that's what teaching is all about.It doesn't matter if you're a professor or a grade
school teacher, if the people you're teaching always improved and get better and
they get to enjoy the game of golf . . . that's really what pushes me, it's just my
passion to help people.If they outlawed golf, I'd have to rob 7 Eleven's, I don't know
what I'd do.