With Harmon's help, Pettersen a winner again

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Suzann Pettersen tends to win in bunches.

You can look it up.

When she wins, she can become a raging fire, consuming whatever’s in her path.

Her first victory under her new swing coach, Butch Harmon, couldn’t have come at a better time Sunday at the Manulife LPGA Classic. Pettersen will head to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship this week radiating with confidence. It’s the first of three major championships scheduled over the next eight weeks.

Harmon loved what he saw watching Pettersen end a 19-month winless drought.

“Suzann’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around in the golf business,” Harmon told GolfChannel.com in a telephone interview after her victory. “She’s very conscientious about her work. She puts in the time, and she loves the work. It’s great to see her get the benefit of all that hard work.”

It was Pettersen’s first victory since she went to work with Harmon last December. He watched the new swing they’re building together hold up under final-round pressure on the back nine at Whistle Bear Golf Club. After squandering an early lead, Pettersen eagled the 12th hole and then birdied two of the final three holes to beat Brittany Lang by a shot.

“I think something you’re going to see the rest of the year is that Suzann really believes in herself now,” Harmon said. “She was kind of lost when she came to me in December. She was lost with her golf swing, and she was lost with her confidence. She is 100 percent confident now. She really believes in the things she’s doing, and this win is just going to give her more confidence."

Pettersen made a bold move late last year. Nearing her 34th birthday, she decided to start over.

She left her swing coach, David Leadbetter, who helped her groove a swing that brought her to the brink of one of her dreams, to within hundredths of a point of the Rolex No. 1 world ranking. She won five times with Leadbetter in 2013, including her second major, the Evian Championship. She put on a clinic at Evian, knocking down flagsticks in a brilliant ball-striking performance. As a team, they were on fire together that fall.

There were frustrations, though, trying to follow up in 2014. There were setbacks.

There was Pettersen’s nagging back injury, and there were confidence-jarring final-round failures with chances to win at the Ricoh Women’s British Open and LPGA Championship. She squandered chances to win those majors closing with a 75 and then a 76.

Nearing that 34th birthday, Pettersen knew time was beginning to tick on her desire to finally reach No. 1, to win more majors and to win a gold medal with golf returning to the Olympics next year. She has been No. 2 behind four different players in the Rolex world rankings without being able to reach the top. There was great frustration in that. And while she has won two majors, she has finished second or third in nine others. She burns for a gold medal and knows if she doesn’t win one this next year, she’ll be 39 the next time the Olympics come around.

“She’s on course to accomplish all those things,” Harmon said.

Late last year, Pettersen decided it was “now or never” if she was going to make a big change. She huddled with Greg Norman and Darren Clarke in a pro-am in China in the fall of 2013. She picked their brains about Harmon, and then she asked for his help.

“I’d always been very curious about Butch,” Pettersen said.

Harmon limits his stable, but he welcomed Pettersen aboard.

“I have only good things to say about Butch,” Pettersen said after hoisting the Manulife trophy.  “He's been a great inspiration to me, to take my game to a new level. He definitely has the belief, and he's no sugar coater. He gives me what I need every single time, and what we've done so far is good. This is, hopefully, just a start.”

The KPMG Women’s PGA  will be played at Westchester Country Club in New York. It’s a special place for Harmon. “My old stomping grounds,” Harmon said. His father, Claude, won a bunch of times at Westchester, including nine Westchester Opens and Westchester PGAs.

“It will be a good course for her, the way she’s driving it,” Harmon said. 

When Pettersen wins an event, there’s typically another win right on its heels. She won three times in October of 2007. She won twice in August of 2011. She won in back-to-back weeks in October of 2012, twice in the spring of 2013 and three times in the fall of ’13.

Pettersen says Harmon has made the arc of her swing wider and more shallow. While she fights wanting to be more technical than she should, Harmon says she picked up his changes quickly. Her progress was slowed in the spring, when she battled more back and shoulder issues. She withdrew in the middle of the Lotte Championship with an inflammation of her left shoulder. She WD’d again from the Swinging Skirts Classic with the injury.

Through it all, Harmon said he saw a lot of progress.

“This has been coming for awhile,” he said. “She’s played so much better than her results have shown, even before her shoulder started bothering her.”

Healthy and pain-free again, Pettersen is eager to see what else she can do with this new approach.

“For me, it was a good move, just in time to kind of get going,” she said. “I'm excited to start playing well with a lot of majors lined up for the summer.”