Mickelson and Butch Harmon Relax Its OK


There it was. Right in front of God and the affirming eyes of the network television cameras. Phil Mickelson and Butch Harmon. Working together on the range at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. The No. 3 ranked player in the world getting a lesson from the man who helped sculpt Tiger Woods' game into the best on the planet.
What would Tiger think? For that matter, what would Rick Smith, Mickelson's longtime and internationally-known teacher, think? Surely this was delicious scandal. Surely tongues would be wagging in golf's busy halls of gossip for months and months.
Wouldn't they?
The answers, in order, were: 'No,' and 'Not really.'
It turned out that Mickelson/HarmonGate was more visually titillating for the rumor mongers than it was substantive for the fact finders.
It all started when Mickelson, incessantly curious, wanted another set of eyes on his swing. He had been having trouble finding fairways off the tee. And during the week of Buick Invitational Smith had shown up and told him the same thing he had many times before: His swing was too long and his lower body was too unstable. Mickelson wanted distance. Smith told him for the umpteenth time that he must sacrifice a small amount of his prodigious length for a large measure of much needed accuracy.
'I told him he needed to tighten it up,' Smith said Sunday night.
Mickelson politely told Smith he wanted a second opinion. He explained it was similar to the way a medical patient would seek advice from another doctor to confirm or dispute an original diagnosis.
Mickelson went to Harmon. Harmon's immediate reaction was to tell Mickelson he would look at him only if Woods' okayed it, and Mickelson got similar approval from Smith. At the highest level of the game the relationships between players and instructors are extremely proprietary. Harmon knows the unwritten protocol better than most.
Woods told Harmon, who doesn't work as often with Tiger as he once did, he had no problem. Mickelson ran it past Smith.
But the story started to spin out of control was when the cameras caught Mickelson and Harmon together. Too many people jumped too swiftly to too many conclusions.
As it happened, Harmon ended up telling Mickelson most of the same things Smith had been pounding home. 'Sometimes,' Harmon said Sunday, 'a player will respond to the same thing if he hears it put in different words.'
Smith suspected as much and said he welcomed Harmon's input. 'I don't own Phil Mickelson,' he said.
But the genie was out of the bottle on the story and Mickelson, who has struggled this year on a variety of public relations fronts, was frantically trying to find the cap. He apologized to Smith and, according to Smith, admitted that he was 'hard-headed' sometimes.
Smith said no apology was necessary and the two forged plans for Smith to visit Mickelson at his California home for more work on his swing just as soon as Mickelson's wife Amy delivers the couple's third child. This is a delivery, by the way, that is ahead of schedule and due any day now.
For his part Harmon, scotched the notion, budding in certain circles, that he is now Mickelson's full-time teacher. 'I don't need any new students,' Harmon said, taking special delight in updating the progress he is making these days with Darren Clarke and Fred Couples, both of whom have re-dedicated themselves to their games. Harmon is also tickled at the development of young Adam Scott, who took eventual winner Woods to the 19th hole in the match play semi-finals.
Mickelson, Smith said, promises he will now listen to Smith with renewed fervor. Smith can't wait. Meanwhile don't be shocked if you see Mickelson and Harmon together again for brief tune-ups this year. Woods won't be. Neither will Smith.
'Butch and I have a good relationship,' Smith said.