The guru's secret: swing the thing

Paul Trow explains why the world's best look to Butch Harmon

When it comes to knowing a good thing on the golf course, pundits do not come any cuter than Butch Harmon. The 56-year-old American golf guru may not have an army of high-profile professionals on his books, but the pupils he does instruct are straight out of the top drawer.

When it comes to knowing a good thing on the golf course, pundits do not come any cuter than Butch Harmon. The 56-year-old American golf guru may not have an army of high-profile professionals on his books, but the pupils he does instruct are straight out of the top drawer.

Foremost is the 24-year-old world No 1, Tiger Woods, who looks set to be crowned Open champion today and the youngest winner of a full set of Grand Slam titles. Rapidly climbing the ladder is the current European No 1, Darren Clarke, who demolished Woods 5 and 4 in the Andersen Consulting World Matchplay Championship in California five months ago. And taking his first steps on the foothills of professional stardom is a 20-year-old Australian, Adam Scott, who is attracting an avalanche of plaudits.

An integral part of Harmon's approach to teaching is that he is determined to make his protégés feel good about themselves. "I pride myself that I treat each one of my golfers very much as an individual. I don't believe in imposing straitjacket methods because every golfer has different natural abilities and flexibilities," said Harmon, whose father, Claude, won the 1948 Masters.

Harmon, who was also christened Claude, played on the US PGA Tour from 1969-71, "but I wasn't very successful so I became a club pro in Houston". From this unpromising beginning, he blossomed as a teacher as did his three younger brothers - "we're all rated in the top 100 teachers in the United States."

The turning point in his career came in the early 1990s when he remodelled Greg Norman's swing to such devastating effect that the Australian won the 1993 Open at Sandwich. Soon afterwards, he met Woods, who was then aged 17.

"Tiger had been knocked out in the second round of the US Amateur Championship and his father brought him over for the weekend because he was impressed with what I had done with Greg.

"We hit it off straight away - I liked what he had to say and admired his appetite for hard work. He does a lot on his own. A lot of his practice is in seclusion, so no one really knows how much he puts into his game. He has an inward desire to be the best player the planet has ever seen."

Three US Amateur Championship victories later, Woods was ready to turn pro in the autumn of 1996 and he went on to annex the Masters the following spring by 12 shots. None the less, Woods, with Harmon in agreement, felt he needed to change his swing if he was to enjoy golfing longevity.

A year ago, the new method fell into place. Woods was on the practice range at his home in Orlando where he had spent many long, lonely hours working on the refinements. "I can't hit a shot," Woods would say sarcastically. Harmon was not unduly alarmed and one day Woods called his mobile phone for a conversation that the teacher will always remember. "I got it, Butchy," Woods told him. "I got it."

"There was total joy in his voice," said Harmon. "It was like the light went on. Everything we had been doing, all the changes, felt natural. He had gotten his confidence back. He was at the point where he knew he could not be beaten if he played his game."

The last 14 months spawned one of the most prolific spells in golf history with Woods winning no fewer than 16 times, culminating in his astonishing 15-shot procession in the US Open at Pebble Beach last month. "I take tremendous satisfaction out of this," Harmon said. "We built this golf swing together."

Harmon resides in his golf school in Las Vegas and also spends time at a similar one on the Algarve, in Portugal. Surprisingly, given the obvious affection in which Woods is held by our golfing public, there are no plans for Harmon to expand his operation into Britain in the same way that David Leadbetter did a few years ago.

However, if Clarke continues to improve at the rate he has since coming under Harmon's aegis 18 months ago, he may have to review that decision. "Darren outplayed Tiger in the matchplay final - it was a great victory and has given him great confidence. He is getting much better and is learning a lot more shots."

If confidence is the key to the 31-year-old Ulsterman's game, it is even more so for Scott, who missed the cut by three shots this week. "Adam is the best young player to come along since Tiger. Indeed, his game is better than Tiger's at the same age." The same generosity of spirit which Harmon extends to his pupils is seen in his assessment of other players, most notably Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie. Like many others, he is baffled by Faldo's recent demise and feels the six-times major winner will rise again.

"I really believe Nick can win another major. His game suits big tournaments and he has everything a champion needs. He has determination and nerves to handle the pressure. I disagree with those people who don't believe he can win another Open. He can if he can sort out his putting.

"His ball striking is always great and it has been encouraging to see his form in recent weeks. I was delighted to see him do so well in the US Open."

For Montgomerie, Harmon has advice as well as encouragement. "To my mind he is the world's No 2 player, but I feel he should come to play more in America. He has handled our public well but even Tiger still gets the occasional racist remark because there are always one or two people who want to have a go."

It is self-evident that Harmon knows what he is talking about when discussing golf. So his blunt response when informed yesterday by the chairman of the R & A's championship committee, Hugh Campbell, that a couple of tabloids were to carry stories about him wagering £1,000 on a Woods victory and that betting was not allowed on the course, should not really have come as a surprise. "What I do is my business," he said.

News
peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
Voices
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
News
people
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album