Coaching Greats: Butch Harmon

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Coaching Greats looks to shine a light on those coaches the world over who have left and indelible mark on coaching as we know it. These pieces are not biographies but rather they look to explore what makes these coaches so revered. In this edition we’ll consider the remarkable Butch Harmon.

Butch Harmon. The Godfather of golf coaching. Or at least the fun uncle who comes to Thanksgiving dinner and tells dirty jokes.

For so many of us the truest example of what a golf coach is. The shining light in our industry for over three decades and as much built to coach golf as his biggest success story TW was built to play it. 

When you grew up loving golf between 1995 and 2005, you have images of Butch Harmon permanently etched into the memory. The stills of him working with Tiger. The vintage Titleist and Nike garb. The glasses on a string (do you call it a string?) The old instructional VHS tapes with the last line of each segment being…”and if you can do this then there’s no doubt that it will shave shots off your score” followed by the perennial disarming smile. 

The re-runs of him on Golf Academy Live with Tiger and presenter Peter Kessler.

The successes with some players.

The jokes.

But you’re not really aware of his true greatness and his place in the game.

It’s only when you take a deeper dive that you begin to truly value him and see, behind the joviality, that this is a man obsessed with coaching and deadly serious about the job that we can offer.

Here we take a closer look as to what makes Butch such a wonderful coach.

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  • The Player Whisperer – An advocate of using motivational techniques in his player’s development, Butch can get into their heads like no other. He finds out what makes them tick and then dials in on that. His words, carefully selected, cut through to the core of his players and incite a reaction that contributes towards top performance. His players, in turn, show great loyalty and would run through brick walls for him. A brilliant combo.
  • Simplicity – Often cited as trying to “teach golf at a 2nd grade level”, you could never accuse Butch of overcomplicating things. Topics? 1 or 2 tops. Concepts? Simple. Vocabulary? Basic (to the sometimes profane!). Short, sharp bursts of instruction and then it’s leave the player to it. Great stuff.
  • Funny/Authentic – “I’m just trying to relax my players” says Butch. And he does. Often funny and quintessentially Butch, he does his best to take the pressure off his players and let them be them.
  • Learns From His Predecessors – His father was the 1948 Masters champion and Head Pro at Winged Foot. He played with Hogan and would watch him up close when the great man would visit his father. A lifelong John Jacobs fan. When you listen to Butch and the stories he tells it is clear that he has been shaped from some of the best in the game. The past offers all of us experiences to learn from and Butch certainly has.

• • •

As alluded to earlier, if you asked 100 people who the best golf coaches in the world were, the name Butch Harmon would come up a lot. But I fear that a lot of people just say his name because  he has coached Tiger and Norman.

It’s only once you take a deeper look that you begin to understand his true greatness and how misunderstood he often is.

His simplicity often deemed as ignorance? His genius.
His throwaway lines? Perfectly aimed arrows.

Far from being “out of touch” as some have foolishly put forward online, he “gets it” probably more than anyone else on this planet. He is quite simply a walking, talking coaching machine honing in on the sole target of getting each player better through any means necessary. If that doesn’t demand our respect then I don’t know what will.

Not that he cares. He’s too busy still being the best. Probably smiling at how complicated we make it all.

And now as he begins to travel less his presence globally is felt through the coaches that follow him, most notably the brilliant trio of Claude, Justin Parsons and Jamie McConnell. 

Butch stays at home. But he’s still out there on the lesson tee, though. Working with anyone who wants to take steps forward in this game. Doing the work. The truest coach.

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