It’s timeless golf instruction: pay close attention to the fundamentals. Butch Harmon seems like a guy who takes his own advice.
Though he has other prominent students in his stable, Harmon, 68, is perhaps best known in golf for the decade he spent as swing coach to Tiger Woods, presiding over the first and arguably most spectacular stretch of the former No. 1’s illustrious professional career.
And yet very much like the man himself, Harmon’s new instructional DVD set, “Butch Harmon: About Golf,” resists the temptation to dish about the former star pupil, save for the odd instructional reference — a description of his putting style, for instance, or 2000-era footage of that famous “stinger” 3-wood, to which Harmon clearly still stakes a claim.
Would another instructor be able to resist dropping such a legendary name? Maybe. But Harmon is — understandably — more interested in mentioning his father Claude, the 1948 Masters champion and himself a storied and practiced teacher of the game. Other golf superstars make cameo appearances, too, including Ernie Els, Dustin Johnston and Natalie Gulbis, but the clear focus of “About Golf” is Harmon’s own straightforward brand of no-nonsense instruction.
That instruction begins, as one would expect with Harmon, at the beginning, with a focus on the basics of the grip. the stance, ball position and posture. Harmon’s not married to a particular approach, either — in the case of whether he prefers the Vardon, interlocking or 10-finger grip, “it doesn’t matter to me which of the three you use, because they all work.”
Some of the advice seems a little on the simplistic side — if you hook the ball, practice slicing it, and vice versa — but there’s still a lot here that players of every calibre will find useful.In a discussion about the issue of anger management, for instance, Harmon recommends a variation on Tiger Woods’ 10-second rule, where he suggests giving yourself 10 yards of walking to burn off your rage. Once you’ve covered 10 yards, you’re no longer allowed to be angry.
Struggling with the yips? Try “knee putting,” where you lock your elbows in to your sides and use a rocking motion in your lower body to swing the putter back and forth. Harmon seems to swear by it.
There’s an assortment of interesting additional features included in the two-disc set, including a segment on player fitness with Dr. Greg Rose of the Titleist Performance Institute, and a segment on clubfitting that too often lapses into Titleist infomercial mode. There’s also specialized sections on teaching the game to kids, women and seniors, focusing on their most common faults and fixes. It’s not terribly detailed, and the kids come across as elite junior players rather than run-of-the-mill kids, but it’s nice to see an instructional product trying to do things a little differently and offer a broader spectrum of information.
The strongest moments in “About Golf” come when Harmon spends some topical one-on-one time with his stable of students. Els pulls up a chair and speaks frankly about his recent struggles in the game, and how he’s been able to engineer a reversal of fortune with Harmon’s help. Greg Norman, his right arm in a sling, shows up after shoulder surgery. And Phil Mickelson offers some interesting insights into his own philosophies about the short game and his ever-evolving golf swing, and about the backswing changes Harmon helped to engineer to put Phil’s long game back on track.
“You know, Phil, you like hitting the ball hard and I’m fine with that, now that we’ve stabilized that lower body; it’s given you a good platform to hit from, and you can go ahead and bomb it from there,” Harmon says.
“Your stats may not look like it, but you hit the ball in play so much more; in other words, your misses aren’t all over the place, they’re either on the fairway or just on the edge of the fairway, and that’s why you’ve driven the ball so much better.”
Johnston, meanwhile, wisely keeps his words to a minimum, and instead demonstrates his languid, powerful swing — both with a 54-degree wedge as well as his ever-present driver.
“One of the longest hitters in the world — clubhead speed about 125, 130 miles an hour, ball speed in the 180s, and yet watch how in balance he is,” Harmon notes. “When I walk up and down the driving range, I see people swinging as hard as they can just in case they hit it.”
Then, after Johnston pipes another one to the back of the range: “Just once, I’d like to hit one like that.”
Gulbis, too, shines like a 120-watt bulb during her brief cameo appearance — and even manages to keep a straight face when wielding a cartoonishly oversized iron that Harmon pitches as a legitimate training aid. And Tiger Woods makes a brief appearance, complete with camcorder range footage from his earliest days working with Harmon during that heady stretch of U.S. Amateur wins.
“You can work on something on the range because it looks pretty, it looks great on video, but it doesn’t necessarily equate to good golf shots down the stretch on a Sunday,” Woods offers. “Sometimes, we as players want to have a picture-perfect swing, we want to do things that look good on video, but they don’t necessarily translate to results when it matters the most. Butch was wonderful at that type of perception, how to communicate that, and encouraging us to develop our playing feels.”
Harmon’s not the sort to write a tell-all book about the experience, or to use the cachet of having had Woods in his stable to cash in as quickly as possible. He clearly has a long-standing love and respect for his pupils past and present, and that comes through loud and clear, as does a sensible and practical approach to the way to play better golf. The top-notch gallery of talent that features prominently in “Butch Harmon: About Golf” makes it abundantly clear that the feeling is mutual.