It amazes me that Tiger Woods ever left Butch Harmon. The game that they developed together was possibly the most dominant ever seen in golf. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Hank Haney as an instructor, as well as other coaches Tiger has enlisted, but I can’t help believe that Tiger’s career would have been even more successful if he had simply stayed with Butch.
Below are my top ten reasons why I believe that Tiger made a mistake leaving Harmon. It is not my intention to suggest that I have all the answers for Tiger's game, as I am clearly not in a position to do so. The following are simply my observations and insights pertaining to why I believe if Tiger had stayed with Butch, he would have achieved even greater success and compiled an even more impressive career.
10. Butch works with what you have - Tiger is getting older and he can’t swing the way he used to. His knee cannot handle the torque he likes to create, nor can his back, glutes and other ailing body parts. Tiger needs a coach who can work with his physical capabilities, and he had that with Butch. If you look at different players whom Butch has coached, you can see that many of them have their own unique swings and ways that they play the game. Dustin Johnson likes to keep the club shut at the top, Greg Norman’s tempo was quicker than most and Fred Couples has a swing that is upright and comes outside on the backswing. Tiger needs someone who can work with what he has like Butch has with so many others.
9. Humility - Tiger has never been seen as an individual with strong moral character. It is something that he and agent Mark Steinberg are now working extremely hard to change. It is widely accepted that he and Butch severed ties due to the fact that Tiger never liked the fact that Butch was getting so much attention and credit for his success. This severed relationship has served as a major event in Tiger’s career and has fueled any argument which serves to prove that Tiger’s character is not worth emulating. Now, I realize that staying with Butch would not have completely changed this view, but if Tiger had made himself comfortable with Butch accepting more praise for their work together, it certainly would not have hurt the way many in the media have decided to perceive him. Nor would it have hurt his golf game.
8. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” - When was Tiger’s swing anything but fantastic during his time with Butch? When defending his desire to make swing changes, Tiger has always pointed to when he decided to make changes after his 1997 Masters victory saying, “I thought I could get better”. And yes, he certainly did as a result of the changes he and Harmon made, but at that point there were some aspects which were “broken” in his eyes. He didn’t like his position at the top of his backswing, as the club was pointing a little right of his target line. I can understand the desire to make these changes in 1997, but I don’t see how going from Harmon’s philosophies to Haney’s fixed anything broken.
7. Owning his swing - During his time with Butch, Tiger said that he wanted to build a swing which allowed him to “play his best golf all the time”. He also said he wanted to “own his swing” just like Moe Norman and Ben Hogan had been able to do. Learning to own a swing takes time, practice, and acceptance. Tiger has more than shown that he is willing to put in the time and practice necessary to achieve his goals, but the minute he left Harmon he turned his back on accepting what he had made his own. By continually overhauling his swing he has prevented himself from ever being able to truly own anything related to his golf swing.
6. Short game - Woods’ former caddie, Steve Williams, was with Tiger while he was working with Harmon, as well as Haney. He stated that he felt Tiger’s short game was better during his time with Butch. Harmon himself has said that he feels Tiger has lost his creativity, which was a strength of his short game. Tiger has gone from being respected as one of the best putters and having one of the best overall short games in golf, to being streaky and even displaying significant signs of the yips. I just can’t believe that would have ever happened under Harmon. It happened as a result of buying into philosophies which were not aligned with the way that he had originally learned to score around the greens.
5. Butch knew Tiger’s game - Having a teammate who knows your game just as well as you do, is always a huge positive in any sport, including golf. Harmon started working with Woods in 1993 right before Tiger won his first of three straight U.S. Amateur titles. He coached him through these three events, through his first PGA Tour win (1996 Las Vegas Invitational), and his first 8 major championship wins. He was with Tiger for roughly a decade. He knew Tiger’s game, they were winning together, and winning a lot.
4. Butch knows golf - Tiger has always worked on mechanics, but he has performed his best while playing the game, rather than playing a swing. Butch Harmon’s philosophy on teaching stresses the importance of having feel or rhythm thoughts while working on your swing. He says that if you are going to have mechanical swing thoughts, you should never have more than one, but even that can be too many. As we have been able to watch Tiger work on swing change after swing change over the years, it is clear that he has many mechanical thoughts in his head. Butch has been quoted as saying, “There comes a point where swing changes, no matter how sound and well-intended, can become counterproductive”. He too believes that Tiger has changed his swing so many times that it has become counterproductive. Staying with Butch would have prevented against this.
3. The Tiger factor - Woods was confident in his abilities long before he and Harmon began working together in 1993, but he became that much more so under Butch. He has lost this. Players are not intimidated of him like they once were. He lost this advantage when he started working on too many different swings. While there are certainly other factors which have contributed to the decline in Tiger’s confidence, I argue that the effects would not have been as significant if he had maintained a swing that he had known for many years. This would have given him much less to focus on when working to get his confidence back, and itself would have fueled his confidence knowing that he had a swing he could trust to beat any field in golf.
2. More wins - It is often discussed how Tiger won 33% of his events under Haney, while only 26% with Butch. This is a very convincing stat when discussing Haney’s impact on Tiger’s game. There is no doubt that Haney had a very positive impact, but I’d argue that Tiger very well could have won more overall events if he had simply stayed with Harmon. No one is ever “good” when going through a swing change, and Tiger is no different. Whether it be going from Harmon to Haney, from Haney to Foley, or Foley to Como, Tiger has always had to take significant time to learn the changes in an attempt to make them meaningful for his game. Those periods of time have added up, and I strongly believe that they have cost him wins.
1. 19 majors - Staying with Harmon would have given him his best shot at breaking Jack’s record. This has always been Tiger’s goal, as is evident in the Nicklaus poster he had on his bedroom wall growing up. Foregoing all the swing changes, sticking with what worked and with a coach who is so good at building a swing around your physical capabilities would have given him the best chance to beat the record.
About the Author
This article was written by Jonathan Carr (@jonathanwcarr) as part of our weekly 'Top 10' series. As a scratch golfer himself, Jonathan has a keen eye for what it takes to be successful on and off the golf course. His passion for golf is surpassed only by his passion for his faith and his family.
Read some of Jonathan's other articles here.