Butch Harmon's 5 Truths About Learning To Play Better Golf

Butch Harmon wants you and your golf pro to nail down your fundamentals and work on your short game. That was the message he delivered at the Met PGA Educational Forum to a rapt audience of 300 club professionals at the Westchester Broadway Theatre this week. 

“It takes no athletic ability at all to set up right to the golf ball,” according to Harmon, voted the country’s #1 golf instructor for 15 consecutive years in the Golf Digest poll. “Grip, stance, ball position, posture never change. You have no excuse for poor fundamentals.” And, while plenty of things can go wrong with the swing, Harmon says it’s not hard to fix them if your teacher and you keep it simple.

Harmon’s visit with the local pros was a homecoming of sorts. He was born in New Rochelle, grew up in Westchester, and started in the golf profession working for his father, the legendary Claude Harmon, former Masters Champion and head pro at Winged Foot GC in Mamaroneck.  Butch played on the PGA Tour in the 1960s and 70s, but made his principle mark as instructor to many of the top players in the game. Currently, he works with Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedeker, and Jimmie Walker. Past clients include Greg Norman, Fred Couples, Adam Scott, Ernie Els, Davis Love III, and, for ten remarkable years when he was at his peak, Tiger Woods. His students have amassed over 140 tour wins worldwide.

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Even though you’ll find him on the range at every major tournament, Harmon says he spends a huge amount of time teaching—and learning from—high handicappers. His advice to those of us who don’t play golf for a living is simple: stop pursuing distance. “Any given person can basically only hit the ball so far,” he says. If you’re interested in shooting better scores, forget your driver spend your lesson and practice time working on your short game. “At least 65% of the shots on your scorecard come from under 100 yards,” he says. “The scorecard doesn’t have a box for how far you hit your tee shot.”

Harmon says there is no one swing in golf. Every golfer is different physically and mentally and should work with their teaching pro to develop a swing that works for them. He offered some elemental truths and suggestions about the process of becoming a better golfer:

  • Progress comes from perfect practice, not beating balls, so hit each practice shot paying full attention to what you’re doing.

  • Practice to improve what you do poorly, not to perfect what you already do well.

  • Learning takes time. The best players say it takes them six months to effect a small swing change. One lesson and a couple of hours on the range don’t work for them—or for you.

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  • Targets are essential during practice. Use one for every shot, but not the same one for two shots in a row. Go through your pre-shot routine and aim on every swing.

  • To really hone your game, play with seven clubs instead of fourteen. That will force you to learn distance control, work the ball right and left, manage shot trajectory, and play the course, not the driving range.

If you’re still obsessed with how far you hit the golf ball, Harmon points out that there is one sure way to get your ball further down the fairway: move up a set of tees.

Read more from Tee to Green, our guide to Westchester’s golf scene. 

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