For many years now, Butch Harmon has been considered one of the top teachers in the game, and it would not be difficult to argue that he is in fact the number one golf instructor in the world.
Over his career, Butch has helped some of the best players take their games to the next level. Some of these players include: Phil Mickelson, Nick Watney, Adam Scott, Greg Norman, Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler. No other instructor comes close to matching this resume.
One of the factors which makes Harmon so successful is his ability to take what a player does naturally and make it more effective. Many other swing coaches have a specific swing or philosophy which they teach. Usually these swings are very effective and produce fantastic results, but there is something to be said for being able to stick with the natural movements of the individual. When you do this, the process for improvement can be much quicker and easier to maintain. Below are ten wonderful instructional tips from Butch which serve to improve anyone’s game.
1. Proper Takeaway
A good takeaway is essential for the swing to get started on the right track. If you do not set the club on the correct path as you begin your backswing, then you will have to manipulate the club in one or more ways in order to establish solid contact during impact. Butch teaches that the swing should begin with the club, hands, arms and shoulders all moving back together so that there isn’t any part of the body outracing the others.
2. Proper Posture
An inability to stand correctly over the ball will limit one’s ability to establish a swing plane that is repeatable and efficient. Harmon teaches that a sign of good posture can be found in the arms. A golfer is standing correctly over the ball when they set up at address and then take one hand off of the club and allow it to hang freely from their shoulders. If you are set up correctly, your arm should not move or sway away from the position that it was in when you were actually holding the golf club. If your arm does swing away from the club, this is a sign that you are not standing with a good natural posture over the golf ball. Two other check points are to ensure that your back is straight with your chest out, and your knees slightly bent. This creates a stable base for you to swing around. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3R0r6d4TmyY
3. Get Rid of Chipping Yips
Many golfers struggle with the “yips” when chipping. This is especially the case for short, delicate chips and pitches around the green. Butch has a very simple, yet effective drill for curing such short game woes. When you chip, practice letting go with your bottom hand and allow your top hand to continue naturally through the ball toward the target. He explains that the reason yips occur in the first place is because your lead arm/hand slows down as you come toward the ball, while the arm/hand that follows continues through. This can create a scooping motion which is never conducive to efficient chips and pitches. By practicing the lead arm drill, it provides your body with the proper feeling of extending through the chip and allows for immediate feedback to continue to guide the improvement process.
4. Think Short, Not Long
Since the turn of the century, a much greater focus has been placed on technology and how it can improve a golfer’s distance, both off the tee and in the fairway. Many teachers even teach the importance of improving distance, and while it is important, it can draw our attention away from practicing areas that will provide us with a more well-rounded game. Harmon does not deny the benefit of distance, but he does call golfers to be smart and ensure that they are putting sufficient time into practicing their short games. This is obviously not a new idea, but it is nice to be reminded from one of the top teachers in the game that it is important to “put our egos aside” and stop focusing on distance more than we do shots from 100 yards and in. Harmon stresses the fact that this is the key to lowering scores.
5. Release the Putter
While there are many different methods that players can use to putt effectively, one constant amongst all of them is the fact that good putters get the ball rolling smoothly. According to Harmon, stiff wrists are often what prevent against establishing a smooth roll of the golf ball. In order to combat this, he recommends a very simple drill to allow you to develop the feel of properly releasing the club instead of having wrists that are too firm. The drill consists of simply stroking the ball with your bottom hand. Doing this simple drill will provide you with how it should feel when you properly release the putter through the stroke.
6. Check Your Positions
As mentioned in tip #1 (Proper Takeaway), the first inches of the backswing play a huge role in your golf swing. If you are off plane even a little, you will be required to make some sort of compensation prior to the impact position. This was a major component of what he and Rickie Fowler worked on when they started working together a couple years ago. Since then, Rickie has risen to number five in the Official World Golf Rankings. You will even see Rickie practice this first move prior to most shots. He brings the club back along the line that his club shaft makes at address and sets the toe of the club straight in the air with the club parallel to the ground and his target line. Rickie used to take the club outside of his hands, but placing it consistently in this position has allowed to develop greater consistency in his game. Constantly checking your positions, like Butch has helped Rickie do, is imperative to ensure that you are consistently placing the club on plane early in the swing. It allows you to feel what the proper positions feels like so that you can have confidence when you address the ball to make your shot.
7. To Fix Your Slice, Hit the Inside of the Ball
The average golfer struggles with the slice. Harmon explains that this is due to the fact that their first move is often initiated with the shoulders and arms, rather than the lower body. In order to combat this, Butch recommends that players work on keeping their back shoulder back and behind the ball a little longer than normal when they begin their downswing. This will allow them to feel like they swing into the ball from the inside, and should actually feel like they are hitting the inside of the ball at impact.
8. Set Up Like An Athlete and React to the Ball
In order to develop consistent ball striking, especially with the driver, Harmon teaches that it is important for golfers to address the ball in an athletic manner, and to react to the ball in a similar manner. He explains that the golf swing is an athletic motion, and in order to be able to appropriately react to the golf ball through impact, one must set up in an athletic way (see tip #2 above). Many golfers can fall into the trap of guiding the club through impact. Harmon teaches that in order to develop a powerful swing, once you are set up like an athlete, you need to react to the ball like an athlete. This can be done by allowing your lower body to initiate the downswing. Shift your weight to your front side to start your downswing, and then hit it! One word of caution is to make sure that you do in fact hit through the ball, not at the ball. Doing these things will make your swing more athletic and powerful, instead of a swing which guides the club weakly through the impact position.
9. Tame the Long Bunker Shot
The 30-40 yard bunker shot has often been described as the most difficult shot in golf. Butch offers a very simple way to make these shots much more straightforward. Instead of taking your normal sand wedge and attempting to pick the ball off the sand, he recommends taking a longer club like an 8 or 9 iron and using it to play a normal explosion sand shot. Using a longer club will cause more sand to “explode” the ball out of the bunker. It allows you to put a more traditional bunker swing on the ball instead of having to deal with delicate shots with a sand wedge that leave very little margin for error.
10. Stay Away from Mechanics...Focus on Feel
Back in 2007 I was blessed with the opportunity to meet Butch at Augusta National Golf Club during a tournament practice round where both he and I were spectators. I was more of a spectator than he, as he was following Adam Scott whom he was working with. Butch was incredibly gracious when I met him and even allowed me to ask him a question about the golf swing. The question I asked pertained to swing mechanics and whether or not it was appropriate to have mechanical swing thoughts. He told me that mechanical swing thoughts can be very dangerous. He explained that if you do have any, it is important to limit it to just one. He further explained that when it comes to working on your golf swing, it is best to have tempo thoughts or feel thoughts. When your swing becomes too mechanical it limits fluidity and therefore power. Focusing on feel and tempo combats this.
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.
About Butch Harmon School of Golf
The flagship location of the Butch Harmon School of Golf is located at Rio Secco Golf Club in Las Vegas. But there are now four other locations across the globe where every day golfers can learn the same secrets and philosophies that Harmon and his staff of professionals instill in the world’s greatest players. Among the many things that are consistent at the schools is how much golfers who attend love the experience. Recently, we received these comments from Jon and Tara Darbyshire, who are repeat attendees at the Butch Harmon School of Golf in Las Vegas.
For more information visit: www.butchharmon.com