From where Butch Harmon stood—on a hillside of trampled grass among hundreds of golf fans—Greg Norman looked about as big as a songbird on a fence post. Even so, the Texas club pro could tell, at a distance of 350 yards, that his famous pupil's tempo was off. Saturday's winds and the U.S. Open pressure had Norman rushing the change of direction at the top of his swing, sending his tee balls off-line. "I don't have to be standing next to Greg to check that," said Harmon, making mental notes for his next practice session with the Shark. "You can tell by the angles in his follow-through what he's doing in the swing."
From where Norman stands—which is near the pinnacle of world golf since Harmon overhauled his swing four years ago—whatever Claude (Butch) Harmon Jr. says is bankable. Norman's confidence was in full retreat when he hooked up with the Houston teaching pro in October 1991. He had fallen from first to 53rd on the PGA Tour money list and couldn't make a golf ball fade or draw with regularity. "I told him he had to go back to being Greg Norman," Harmon recalls. "He had become a mechanical swinger, and by nature he's a freewheeler."
Harmon had his pupil focus on slowing down and "tightening up" his backswing to aid in distance control and to eliminate pushed shots. The payoff came in July 1993 when Norman won the British Open at Royal St. George's. "It took Greg a while to get comfortable with his new mechanics," says Harmon. "But he seldom hits that push shot anymore."
Norman is Harmon's principal client, but Davis Love III, Mark Calcavecchia and U.S. Amateur champion Tiger Woods also count on the Texan's coaching. Like a trainer working with thoroughbreds, Harmon sticks to basics and leaves "swing systems" to the pedagogues. "People ask me if I'm afraid I might screw up one of these fellows," he says with a chuckle. "It never enters my mind."
But then, to be a Harmon is to be a confident teacher of golf. Harmon's three younger brothers—Craig, Dick and Billy—are all noted teaching pros. Their father, the late Claude Harmon, won the 1948 Masters but was a career club pro who worked at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. (A forerunner of today's swing yogis, Harmon Sr. kept his teenage boys' swings "connected" by strapping their arms to their sides with a belt.) Butch played the PGA Tour from 1969 to '71.
"Most of my teaching is with my club members," says Butch, who is director of golf at Houston's Lochinvar Golf Club. "I often tell my members who have very bad swings, 'You probably have more talent than Greg Norman.' And when they ask why, I say, 'Because if I got Greg in the position you're in at the top, he probably couldn't even hit the ball.' "