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Butch Harmon Goes Home

When I traipsed through the mens grill at my dads club as a kid, Id bump into guys like Hank Penso, Sam Briskin and Lenny Abrams, nice men all, but their golf resumes included at best a third-place finish in the spring ABCD. Actually my pop used to joke that he was an R player and the R stood for rotten.
Butch Harmons experience at Winged Foot was decidedly different. When we were kids wed walk through the grill room, he remembered as he prepared for the clubs Boys and Girls Club fundraiser earlier this week. And there having lunch were Tommy Armour and Craig Wood. They did a little better than the ABCD.
Butchs dad, Claude, was head professional at Winged Foot, which is a bit like saying Joe Paterno is a football coach at Penn State. You cant mention one without the other. Claude was a pros pro, from the mid 40s through the 70s, in a time when a job at a club like Winged Foot held as much or more esteem as that of touring professional.
The legend he left Butch said, letting the thought trail off, the meaning easily understood. I mean look at the guys who were his assistants. He had Jackie Burke, Mike Souchak, Dave Marr and Dick Mayer. Butch held the job, too, for a year in the late 1960s.
Claude won the 1948 Masters, the last club professional to win a major. The final member of an extinct breed: the workingman champion, the playing club pro, writes Butch in his new book, The Pro: Lessons from My Father About Golf and Life.
The Harmon brothers, Butch and Craig and Billy and Dick, who unexpectedly passed away several months ago, would make their own marks as teachers to the gifted and club professionals to the fortunate. Billy is a teaching pro at Tuscana in Palm Desert, instructor and part-time caddie for Jay Haas. Craig is well into his fourth decade as head professional at fabled Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y. Theyre all graduates of The Old School. Their father was headmaster. He taught in an era when methods didnt need to be psychoanalyzed on Dr. Phil.
I dont remember the first time I heard it: that booming voice erupting from the barrel-chested, bigger-than-life man who dominated my life, said Butch in an excerpt from the book reprinted in the May issue of Golf Digest.
Claude was as skilled at deflating young egos as he was at lacing a 2-wood. During an unsuccessful stint on The PGA TOUR in the late 60s, Butch remembers missing a cut and calling his dad.
I need to see you, he recalls telling the pro.
You missed the cut?
Yes, I missed another cut.
I thought you were leading, said Claude. I must have had the newspaper upside down.
There were playful jabs and then there were important messages, like, dont ever mix your ego and ignorance. There were more pearls. Thats how Claude described his life lessons.
When Dick was head pro at River Oaks in Texas, Claude would walk through the shop grabbing pairs of cashmere socks. After Claude passed away in the late 80s, Dick went through his dads closet and found the socks unopened. Butch later told his brother, He only took them because he knew it bugged you. It was his way of telling you not to sweat the small stuff. Thats your final lesson from Dad: stop worrying about the socks.
The memories of his father and brother came rushing back this week with his return to Winged Foot. Butch and his brothers are dues paying members, one of several clubs to which they belong. Still, hes unflinching in his assessment.
Its the greatest club in the world, he said. Winged Foot has the two best 18 holes in one place. Its all about golf and its the membership we cherish the most.
Butch played in an outing and issued a simple declaration for those competing in the upcoming U.S. Open. If you dont drive your ball in the fairway, you have no chance.
For the first time, the USGA will prepare three layers of rough, so that the further off line a player hits it the deeper the hay. From the first cut you can get a club on the ball, explained Butch. The next two are iffy.
I asked Butch if he missed working with Tiger. No I do not, he said without hesitation. We had a good ten years.
As for Phil Mickelson, Butch thinks hes taken a page out of Tigers book. The gap has closed because Phils learned to play smarter.'
Now 62, Butch continues to work with Adam Scott, Fred Couples, Jose Maria Olazabal, Stewart Cink and Justin Leonard.
Hes reached the top of his field, but theres one pro who will forever be untouchable in Butchs heart.
I dont think I can hold my dads shag bag as a teacher, he said. He was an incredible man.
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