Butch Harmon belongs to that elite niche — Tiger Woods’ Former Coaches. Don’t cry for Butch: Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Nick Watney, Natalie Gulbis, and Fred Couples have all sought his help. (And all contribute to the Butch Harmon About Golf DVD soon available.) “Everyone thinks I spent most of my time with the tour pros, but it’s with the everyday golfer,” says Harmon.
“I don’t believe in systems or one swing for everyone. I like to take what someone does naturally and make it better,” he says. “Look at the success I’ve had with great players — they all swing differently. That’s what I was taught by my father.”
The Harmon family is a teaching dynasty. Claude Sr. was the 1948 Masters champion, Butch is Claude Jr., and Claude III heads up the Butch Harmon School of Golf at the Els Club in Dubai. Harmon teaches mainly out of his Las Vegas headquarters on the Rio Secco and Cascata courses, partnering with Caesars Palace and other Harrah’s properties.
“The most common fault of the average golfer, no matter the handicap, is not taking enough club. So the shot into the green has to be the very best shot the player can hit. Amateurs rarely fly the green,” Harmon says. “So my advice is, if you’d normally take a seven iron out for the shot, take a six instead, and swing easy. And when you go to the course, leave your ego in the car. Remember, golf is a game. And have fun.”
Balance is a key concept in the teachings of Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott. These top women teachers — who by no means limit their instruction to women — specialize in possibilities, how to draw out the greatest potential in one’s game — and life, for that matter. Their approach is fittingly named Vision54 — the number referring to what a player would score if shooting a birdie on every hole of a par-72 course.
One of their pupils, Annika Sorenstam, came closest to making the vision reality when she fired a 59 at the 2001 Standard Register Ping LPGA tournament.
The pair now coach many tour players, but maintain a regular schedule of clinics for groups at the Talking Stick Golf Club and Resort in Phoenix ($3,295 for a three-day essential skills program with Nilsson and Marriott).
“We specialize in putting the pieces of a player’s game together and managing it during a round, which is why we mainly teach on the course,” says Nilsson.
The team’s latest book, Play Your Best Golf Now, speaks to their goals: “Whether you’re a tour pro or a high handicapper, we want to see how low you can go and what the possibilities are.”
Nilsson’s best quick tip is to find balance before a round with a warm-up that includes hitting a few shots with one’s feet together, some while standing only on the left leg, some while only on the right leg. “And one other thing to do — try a few shots with your eyes closed.”