‘Think of a swing like this: If the house is poorly built, it’ll crum­ble’

The man who fine-tunes the swings of DJ and Koepka has some ad­vice to im­prove your driv­ing

Today's Golfer (UK) - - SUPER COACHES -

s a third-gen­er­a­tion coach, Claude Har­mon has had a hard time liv­ing up to his fam­ily’s name. Much has been made of his dad coach­ing Tiger for 11 years and tak­ing him to World No.1, but less has been said about Claude’s grand­fa­ther win­ning The Masters in 1948. Throw in his three un­cles – Dick, Billy and Craig – who coached or cad­died on the PGA Tour, and you can un­der­stand why the Har­mon name is so revered in golf­ing cir­cles.

A coach­ing em­pire has been forged off the back of their suc­cess, and Claude, like his fa­ther, has now guided sev­eral play­ers to the pin­na­cle of the game – in­clud­ing cur­rent World No.1 Brooks Koepka and the man he re­placed at the top, Dustin Johnson. Iron­i­cally, his big break came at the Butch Har­mon Learn­ing Cen­tre, un­der the guise of di­rec­tor of in­struc­tion at Florid­ian Na­tional, where he started work­ing with Ernie Els and coached him to his fourth Ma­jor ti­tle – and first in eight years – at the 2012 Open. The vic­to­ries have kept flow­ing ever since, first with DJ and, more re­cently, with Koepka, in­clud­ing this year’s back-to-back Ma­jors in the USA. Their suc­cess, he ad­mits, owes a lot to their strength off their tee, which was ranked among the best on the PGA Tour last sea­son. Recog­nis­ing as much, we flew half­way across the world to spend a day with Claude, in the hope that we could de­bunk some of the myths be­hind driv­ing and un­cover the se­crets be­hind DJ and Koepka’s suc­cess. But first, we couldn’t re­sist ask­ing about his dad’s work­ing re­la­tion­ship with Tiger and what it was re­ally like grow­ing up in the Har­mon house­hold…

I was al­ways around golf from an early age. I didn’t re­ally have a choice with my fam­ily. My grand­fa­ther won the Masters in the ’40s; and then my dad and my three un­cles all went into coach­ing, and worked with peo­ple like Greg Nor­man, Cur­tis Strange, Lanny Wad­kins and Ben Cren­shaw. I think I was on Tour two weeks af­ter I was born be­cause my dad was still play­ing then. My un­cle Billy used to be a cad­die on Tour and Bill Haas was named af­ter him. My un­cle Billy’s first child was then named af­ter Jay Haas, so you could say we’ve left a mark on the game.

I didn’t play golf grow­ing up, but I re­mem­ber watch­ing my dad, un­cles and grand­fa­ther give lessons. I spent a sum­mer help­ing out, watch­ing my dad teach, when I was about 16 or 17. That was my first in­tro­duc­tion. I went to the Masters for the first time in 1987 when my grand­fa­ther was still alive. That gave me an in­di­ca­tion as to what my fam­ily was about and what they did. I had break­fast ev­ery morn­ing in the champions’ locker room with my grand­fa­ther and peo­ple like Jack Nick­laus, Arnold Palmer, Gene Sarazen, Seve… the real greats.

I ac­tu­ally videoed the first-ever les­son my dad gave Tiger. That was on Au­gust 23, 1993. At that time, my dad was work­ing with Greg Nor­man, who had just gone back to World No.1 and won The Open at Royal St Ge­orge’s, but I just re­mem­ber how amazed he was. Nei­ther of us had ever seen any­one swing a golf club as fast as Tiger.

Tiger had reg­u­lar shoes on and we had to give him a glove as well. But what stood out was how hon­est and open he was about his abil­ity. My dad asked him about his phi­los­o­phy and how he played, and he said: “Lis­ten, I just hit it as hard as I can on ev­ery shot and go and find it. I don’t re­ally know where it’s go­ing to go ev­ery time, but I’m just so much longer than ev­ery­one I play with.” When my dad asked him to do some­thing he couldn’t do, Tiger would ad­mit that, but would say, “if you teach me how to do that, I’ll try.” For a 16-year-old to be that hon­est about his own abil­ity was unique. Most young ju­niors want to tell you how good they are, but Tiger was dif­fer­ent.

He used to stay at our house some­times. I would pick him up from the air­port and buy him lunch be­cause he didn’t have any money. It was my job to wake him up. I would then go take a shower, and wake him up again! This was be­fore he had the laser surgery, so he had re­ally thick, Urkel-type glasses. He’d al­ways be fum­bling around try­ing to find them. But that was when Tiger was just a nor­mal, 16-year-old kid. I mean, you can’t be­come who he’s be­come and have any sort of life. There’s a point when fame changes that.

As Tiger got older, the cir­cle around him closed. I re­mem­ber how go­ing out to din­ner with him in 2000 was just a grind be­cause you couldn’t get a mo­ment’s peace. I’ve al­ways said Tiger feels most com­fort­able when he’s in­side the ropes. That’s when no one can bother him and the only part of his life when he’s fully in con­trol.

The first player I worked with on my own was Trevor Im­mel­man. At the time I was help­ing Adam Scott, but I got talk­ing to Trevor in the gym in Dubai. We ended up go­ing out to din­ner and two weeks later I started work­ing with him. That was at Paris Na­tional in 2002 and he shot the course record in the first round. He had a chance to win, but fin­ished sec­ond to Mal­colm Macken­zie. Within a year, Trevor won two tour­na­ments, and broke in­side the world’s top 50.

When you’re lucky enough to have a fa­ther like mine and your dad is Butch Har­mon, it’s hard to **** up! He was al­ways there, but to have a player seek me out, on my own, was huge for me. I pur­posely didn’t talk to my dad about what I was work­ing on with Trevor for about a year. I wanted to make sure ev­ery­thing we did was based on my own ideas. We had a great run, but in the end my kind of self-worth and suc­cess were wrapped up in Trevor’s suc­cess. I re­mem­ber stand­ing on the range at the World Cup of Golf in 2004 and quit­ting be­cause I didn’t like how I had be­come.

I didn’t work with Tour pros from 2004 un­til 2010. I just be­came re­ally dis­il­lu­sioned with the pres­sure and travel. When you’re around these guys, it’s a very in­tense re­la­tion­ship. Trevor was a per­fec­tion­ist, so it was tough. I only started feel­ing good about my­self when Trevor was play­ing good, and would be down on my­self when things weren’t go­ing well. Golf was my only iden­tity and I lost who I was. When I re­alised that, I didn’t want to do it any­more.

I got away from tour life and opened a golf school in Dubai in 2008. I was there for three years and it helped me re­dis­cover the joy of teach­ing. It was also a re­ally good learn­ing curve, work­ing with am­a­teur golfers. I al­most quadru­pled the size of the golf school, which just so hap­pened to be at The Els Cub. My dad had been work­ing with Ernie, but they went their sep­a­rate ways and then Ernie asked me to watch him hit some balls at a Race to Dubai tour­na­ment. He played well and, off the back of that, I be­came his full-time coach. It was around the same time I moved back to the US to start at Florid­ian, so it worked well in that sense. Ernie was re­ally down in the dol­drums and had reached the time in his ca­reer when he was won­der­ing how long he could keep play­ing golf for, so to help him win a fourth Ma­jor just a year later was pretty amaz­ing. To then fol­low that suc­cess with DJ and Brooks, who’ve also won Ma­jors, has been re­ally spe­cial.

For Brooks to do what he’s done over this year, and even the last two years, has been amaz­ing. Given how bad his in­jury was, in Fe­bru­ary this year we lit­er­ally didn’t know if he would ever be able to play golf again. We didn’t know if we were go­ing to have to change his grip, change his golf swing or change ev­ery­thing. For golfers, necks, backs and wrists are what break­ing your leg or blow­ing out your ACL (an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment) is to foot­ballers. You just don’t know if you’re able to come back. For some­body like Brooks, whose game is based on speed and power, to have an in­jury to your left wrist is ca­reerthreat­en­ing and cat­a­strophic. For him to come back, win three times in­clud­ing two Ma­jors, be named Player of the Year and get to No.1 in the world is just crazy. It just shows how good he is. I think the sky is the limit for him.

Brooks and DJ both want to hit fades, so the work we do is very sim­i­lar. In Brooks’ case, we try to keep the club­head in front of his body, be­cause he has a ten­dency to pull it too far in­side on the way back. In the down­swing, we try to keep the club­head out­side his hands so he can re­lease the club freely and hit a power fade off the tee.

There are par­al­lels be­tween what I might coach a Tour pro and a mid-to-high hand­i­cap­per. With Brooks, we got to the US PGA and he felt like he’d hit it as well as he’d ever done the week be­fore at the WGC at Fire­stone. On the Tues­day, we were walk­ing around and he said, “I don’t need a lot this week. I’m swing­ing re­ally good. Just make sure my lines are good,” mean­ing his ba­sics. That’s ba­si­cally what we worked on that week. He went on to win his sec­ond Ma­jor of the year and my job was purely down to mak­ing sure his grip, stance, pos­ture and align­ment were good.

Very few golfers pay enough at­ten­tion to the set-up.

It re­ally takes no ath­letic abil­ity – or even golf abil­ity – to get into a good set-up. But most golfers are in such a bad po­si­tion to be­gin with that they re­ally strug­gle as the golf swing gets into mo­tion. If you look at the great driv­ers of a golf ball – peo­ple like DJ, Brooks, Rory and Ja­son Day – they look like they were born with a driver in their hands. It’s very dif­fi­cult to hit con­sis­tent golf shots if the fun­da­men­tals aren’t right. Think of it this way: If the house is poorly built, it will crum­ble.

‘YOU WANT TO SWAP YOUR DRIVER SWING FOR YOUR IRON SWING SO YOU’RE HIT­TING UP ON IT AND NOT TAK­ING A DIVOT’

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, most golfers do slice the ball, and try to fix it with an anti-slice set-up.

They’ve prob­a­bly read that you need a closed stance to hit a draw, but be­cause their ball po­si­tion is too far for­ward, their feet are then point­ing right of the tar­get and their shoul­ders are point­ing to the left. That en­cour­ages an out-to-in swing, which then causes a slice.

The av­er­age golfer has an iron swing with their driver, and a driver swing with their irons.

Mean­ing, when they hit irons, they don’t take div­ots be­cause their an­gle of at­tack is up and they are try­ing to help the ball into the air. If you go to most golf clubs in the UK, look at the tee box on a par 5 and you will see divot marks. Go to a 625-yard par 5 at a PGA Tour event, and there will be no div­ots on the tee. The av­er­age golfer tends to hit down, get steep with their driver and sky it. What you re­ally want is to swap your driver swing for your iron swing, where you’re hit­ting up on it and not tak­ing a divot.

When you go out on the golf course, play golf, not golf swing.

Only work on your swing when you’re on the driv­ing range. Most peo­ple go out to play and try stuff, as op­posed to al­low­ing for their shot shape and work­ing with what they’ve got. So, if you do suf­fer from a slice, aim down the left side of the fair­way to give your­self more room.

If you’re suf­fer­ing from a two-way miss off the tee, get on the driv­ing range, work on hit­ting one shape, and try to feel com­fort­able do­ing it.

Whether it’s a slice, hook, draw or fade, you’ve got to be able to do some­thing con­sis­tently. If you have to play a 15 or 20-yard slice or hook, stand up and do it so you know where to aim when you’re on the golf course.

Most of the tech­nol­ogy we use, like launch mon­i­tors and 3D, is all range based. That’s why I’m such a big fan of Co­bra Con­nect.

Hav­ing sen­sors in your golf club takes away that guess­work and tells you the shapes you’re hit­ting, how far you’re hit­ting and where your miss pat­tern tends to be. A lot of peo­ple hit it great on the range, but that doesn’t re­ally trans­late on the course. Co­bra Con­nect is the first piece of tech­nol­ogy which can be used when you’re play­ing the game, not when you’re prac­tis­ing. As a coach, I’m far more wor­ried about what play­ers are do­ing when they play, not what they are do­ing in their prac­tice.

If you’re a 15 hand­i­cap­per, you’re crazy if you don’t have Co­bra Con­nect in your golf clubs.

I don’t work with any ju­niors who don’t have it. It’s just a pre­req­ui­site, so I can see what they are do­ing when they play. If a player is try­ing to get bet­ter, it’s an easy way to track your progress. If you’ve got a smart­phone, down­load the Ar­c­cos Driver app and it will tell you where you can im­prove and what you need to im­prove. You might think you’re a bad driver, but the tech­nol­ogy could say oth­er­wise and high­light that you’ve got a bad iron game or short game. That makes your prac­tice ses­sions far more valu­able be­cause most peo­ple prac­tise their strengths, but ig­nore their weak­nesses.

Har­mon and Koepka – al­ways look­ing at fun­da­men­tals.

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