Rubenstein: Teaching’s in Butch Harmon’s blood
By Lorne Rubenstein
ORLANDO – Forty-five pounds lighter, Claude (Butch) Harmon walks into a private dining room at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Orlando. Harmon, who coached Tiger Woods from 1993 through 2004 and who works with Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott and Natalie Gulbis, stops to inspect the wines on offer. He makes his suggestions and then sits down in the middle of a long dining table, ready to talk golf with a small group of media.
The wine is poured and the conversation begins. It continues for 3 1/2 hours.
Harmon, 68, grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y., and comes from golfing royalty. His father, Claude, won the 1948 Masters, was a semi-finalist in the 1945, 1948, and 1953 PGA Championships (then a match-play event) and tied for third place in the 1959 U.S. Open. He was the head pro at the renowned Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., and, for years, the winter pro at the equally renowned Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla. Harmon and Ben Hogan were close friends as well as fellow competitors. Harmon, born in 1916, died in 1989 of heart failure.
During dinner, Harmon speaks often of his father and his three golf professional brothers: Craig, Bill, and Dick, who died six years ago this month. Hogan came to their home for barbecues, and wanted his steak cooked just so; in fact, he grilled his own.
“Hogan’s drink was Chivas on the rocks,” Harmon recalls. “He was an introvert. He’d sit at the table and not say much. But he was always great to us. When my dad died, Mr. Hogan was the first person I called.”