Butch Harmon: Is He the Winningest Man on the PGA Tour?

Kathy BissellCorrespondent IFebruary 11, 2014

Butch Harmon with Phil Mickelson
Butch Harmon with Phil MickelsonCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

If Steve Williams can count Adam Scott's victories at the World Series of Golf and at The Masters as wins, how many do you think Butch Harmon can count?  

Butch would probably say one: the 1971 Broome County Open. He is a realist. Yet, looking at the landscape of the PGA Tour, Harmon's name keeps popping up.

You know about Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, never mind Greg Norman, who really got Butch started as a big-name player's teacher. But last week it was Jimmy Walker, who has won three tournaments in the last six months, three of his last eight. Walker, whose wife actually guilted Harmon into returning a phone call. (Good for her. Only a cranky woman will take on a guy as tough as Harmon.)

Walker, up to six months ago, was a 35-year-old journeyman who turned pro in 2001 and took six years to get to the PGA Tour. One victory, OK, a fluke. Two, hey, he's lucky. Three in six months? What the heck is going on with Walker? Oh, Harmon.

How does Harmon turn nearly every student, no matter age and skill set, into a winner?  

If I had read every one of the books and watched every video tape Harmon has produced, I might be able to provide a brief synopsis of what he knows. But it might take 10 to 20 years to explain it because that's probably how long it took Harmon and his brothers to absorb what their father tried to teach them.

He admits it too, saying in one of his books, The Pro, there was nothing he and his brothers would rather do than have a lecture from or demonstration by their dad on golf. And yet, somehow, they utilize at least a good portion of it.

Butch, Craig and Billy are the three living sons of the legendary Claude Harmon who won the 1948 Masters. Claude was also the head professional at Winged Foot and Seminole. With his resume, Claude knew everybody. If there had been a Rolodex or contacts list in 1948, his would have been among the best.

The late Dick Harmon, formerly the head professional at River Oaks in Houston, died in 2006 and he taught players like Craig Stadler, Lanny Wadkins, Jay Haas, Fred Couples, Steve Elkington and Lucas Glover, to name a few. He is the brother they miss.   

Craig Harmon just retired from a near lifetime of being the head professional at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, NY.  

Billy Harmon took some detours for about half of his adult life. He battled drug and alcohol demons but now he's 20 years sober. He has a new career on The Golf Channel and he teaches Bill Haas—yes, the same Bill Haas who won the FedEx Cup $10 million a couple years ago. Billy also caddied for Haas when he was on the PGA Tour.

They have all succeeded in their way. Butch, though, captures most of the spotlight because he teaches stars and makes stars.

Today, the biggest problem for Butch is that he can't clone himself or that there aren't 48 hours in a day instead of 24.

He is being pulled in nearly every direction by his golf schools, his work on Sky Sports, his teaching of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Ernie Els, Stewart Cink, Nick Watney, Gary Woodland, Natalie Gulbis, Couples, Walker, Rickie Fowler and more. What they all want and what they get is the wisdom handed down from Claude Harmon to his sons; what Claude called "pearls." (See The Pro). 

One pearl from The Pro is: "If you aren't out here practicing with a purpose, you might as well be playing bean bag. Everything you do out here has to be for a reason. If you're going through the motions, go do something else because you're wasting your time and taking up a spot on the range that somebody else -- somebody serious -- could be using."

Another is: "You can stand out here all day working on this position or that, but if you aren't working on golf shots, you're wasting your time. I don't work on anything I'm not going to need on the back nine on Sunday."

But different pearls work on different players. Players need different instruction so Butch has to know the player's needs and deliver. He has to know when to talk and when to watch. And he needs to know how to tell top talent that some portion of their carefully honed swing is messed up without getting a glare of daggers in return.  

Butch Harmon once explained at a dinner table of about eight people that his father used to show home movies of great golfers. Sam Snead. Ben Hogan. Byron Nelson. All the legends. Claude had slow motion before there was slow motion. Watching the movies of the greats, it was apparent to anyone that no swing was the same, yet all of them were great champions. Claude would watch them, study them, figure why each swing worked and then he'd explain it to his sons.  

Watching the home movies taught all four sons to have "the eye." They can see what a golf swing is doing and why it's messed up or why it's perfect. A lot of good teaching pros have the eye, but the Harmons apparently have better than 20/20 vision when it comes to looking at golf swings, based on the results of their students.  

If you think it's easy to see what's happening in a golf swing, go to your local range and try it. First you have to be able to see the problem. Can you see what the clubhead is doing at the top of the backswing? Do you know what it means when it's in that position for that golfer? That's just one facet.  

There are as many opportunities for error as there are parts of a golf swing. Maybe it's a posture adjustment. Maybe it's a stance modification. Maybe it's the grip. Maybe it's technique. Maybe it's just being reminded of the fundamentals, which can be slightly different for each golfer. Whatever it is, it's likely Butch can see it. Then he has the challenge of explaining it and hoping his student can do what is needed to improve.    

The eye, the pearls, the memory of hundreds of great but different swings, knowing when to talk and when to listen. It's all knowledge that the Harmons bring. Today, Billy Harmon still teaches. Claude Harmon IV, Butch's son, has taken up the family business and works in his dad's golf schools. And Butch, the star-maker, is still turning PGA Tour winners into major champions and PGA Tour players into winners. Few of them are as surprising as the recent successes of Walker.  

Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.