Coaching Greats: Butch Harmon

Embed from Getty Images

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.

Embed from Getty Images
  • 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.

Coaching Greats: David Leadbetter

Embed from Getty Images

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 trailblazing David Leadbetter.

Golf instruction is as popular as it is because of David Leadbetter.
Golf is taught and learned the way it is because of David Leadbetter.
If you work as a golf coach you probably have a job because of David Leadbetter.

It really is that simple.

No other golf coach, living or dead, has had quite the effect on what we know as golf coaching as David Leadbetter.

An innovator. A risk taker. Often admired. Sometimes ridiculed. Always respected. He has moulded this profession like no other.

The Leadbetter Effect

Embed from Getty Images

Even though we will talk specifically about his coaching, we would be remiss to not point out the significant contribution tht Lead has made to the golf coaching industry as a whole.

The Popularity of the Golf Coach. Although there were of course many well-respected and well-known coaches before him, Leadbetter was really the first one to bring golf coaching to the masses. He was the catalyst for finding new ways of providing golf related information that is still just as prominent in modern day.

Coach as Businessman. A real innovator in this regard. Part Golf Coach. Part Marketing Maestro. Part Media Mogul. Part logo himself. He opened up new possibilities for himself and those that followed him in new ways to make passive income as a golf coach. Buinessman/Business…man! type of thing.

Coaches. Through his LGA Qualification framework he has worked with and guided some of the best in the biz. Chris Como, Robin Symes, Andrew Rice, Adam Young, Laurence Brotheridge, David Bradshaw, Denis Pugh, Stuart Morgan, and Adam Schriber are just some of the names that have one time or another worked at a LGA Academy. Even a little known Anthony McCarthy has worked at an Leadbetter Academy and is LGA qualified. It must be good then.

The Way Golf is Taught. If you were to ask a golfer about David Leadbetter then they would probably mention “technique” and “swing” a lot. For really, that is what he was known for. He was one of the first advocates of using a video camera. His first published book in 1990 was titled The Golf Swing. His most famous success stories with pupils have been with Faldo and Lydia Ko, both of whom he completely remodeled their swings with.  Obviously not all his job but he is admittedly technique heavy. What is the golf industry right now? Technique heavy. He of course isn’t the sole contributor to this but he has certainly played a part.

What Makes David Leadbetter Such A Great Coach?

Here are a few things that we can learn from David Leadbetter, the coach…

  • He does the fundamentals really well. He is brilliant with remembering names. He makes people feel instantly at ease. His ability to get his message across is second to none. Personally, I believe that although he is famed for improving swings and is often seen as a “technical coach” (too technical for some)  his coaching and communication skills are massively underrated.
  • Technical but simple. If you were to watch a Leadbetter lesson you wouldn’t come away from it thinking, “What on earth was he talking about!? I am so confused!” Although technical in nature, the application of his concepts are not particularly confusing or complicated. He does in fact keep things simple.
  • He keeps his players focused on the future. The future brings new hope and new possibilities. Tomorrow everything can be better and tomorrow I can be better. If you keep players in the future then great things can happen. For Lead, there is a sense of building rather than fixing. Normally starting at setup, the foundations are created and then construction begins bit by bit with each passing step ensured to be mastered before moving onto the next. This is a wonderful way of keeping players in the future with the sense of constantly working towards an objective.
  • Branch out. If Lead has taught ourselves anything it is to branch out. To try things. To think of new, innovative ways for coaches to market themselves and make some good money in the process. This really can’t be overlooked.

• • •

It often perplexes me when people heavily criticise David Leadbetter. Whilst it must be acknowledged that his way of working may not be for everyone, his contribution to golf coaching and the game of golf in general is undeniable.

He has been one of the leaders in golf instruction for over 30 years, constantly pushing the envelope and has created thousands of jobs for people just like us in doing so. And even though he is nearing 70 now and he begins to take a backseat more, his philosophies around golf instruction will most likely live forever on. 

We should all tip our straw hat to that.

Recommended Reading:
The Golf Swing (1990)
Faults and Fixes (1994)