TIGER WOODS | BUTCH HARMON
“I've learned a great deal from him in our eight years together. It's just that at the moment I need to hear new ideas from a different perspective.”
With that, Phil Mickelson and Butch Harmon’s player/coach relationship ended yesterday.
Almost as suddenly, rumours began to circulate that the latter’s long-mooted reconciliation with former pupil Tiger Woods could be closer than ever.
Harmon and Woods previously worked together from 1993 until 2003, during which time Tiger won eight majors in 24 starts and 34 PGA Tour events in 127 starts. It is widely considered to have been the most successful spell of Woods’ career.
The swing they built is also generally regarded as the most efficient, simple and reliable of the many different ways that Woods has wielded the club in close to 20 years as a professional.
Now on swing coach No.4 of his career - he’s arrived at Chris Como by way of Hank Haney and Sean Foley - Woods’ game is in sharp decline. At this moment, he is ranked 362nd on the Official World Golf Rankings and, bedridden following yet more back surgery last week, there’s nothing he’ll be able to do to arrest that slide any time soon. The best guess is that he’ll return in late January or early February, by which time he’ll be 40.
Let’s be honest: Tiger’s chances of matching, never mind passing, Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major wins ended long ago. Now, the record he has the most realistic chance of breaking is Sam Snead’s haul of 82 PGA Tour wins. He’s currently three short and, unless he makes some radical changes, he’s going to stay that way for a while longer. His most recent win, after all, came more than two years ago.
Call Butch? He’d be mad not to.
Now that he is no longer working with Mickelson – for so long the 'ying' to Tiger’s 'yang' – Harmon would appear to be available when previously he wasn’t. The story goes that Harmon couldn’t take on a new player to teach without Mickelson’s approval. Reunite with Tiger? As if Mickelson would have signed off on that.
That being said, Harmon is now 72 and has a nice stable of players that includes Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker. He also started working with Suzann Pettersen this summer. Does Tiger need him more than he needs Tiger? Absolutely – but, still, the opportunity to work with Tiger one final time, help arguably his most famous student rediscover at least some of his lost talent, must be tempting
Harmon hinted at the prospect of a reunion earlier this year when, watching Tiger’s early-season struggles, he said: “If he wanted, I’d be more than happy to spend a couple hours and give him my opinion.” He added, however, that Tiger would need to ask him.
That’s as compared to his reaction to Woods splitting with Foley in August last year when he said: “I don’t think he needs a swing coach. If I were advising Tiger I’d tell him, ‘You’re the greatest player that ever lived, just go to the range and hit shots.’”
I interviewed Harmon around five years ago, around the time that Woods’ ill-fated Foley experiment was kicking off. We chatted for around an hour, covering a range of subjects and players. When he spoke about Tiger, however, his tone was different. He was more excitable, more interested.
“He’s the best player ever to have played golf,” Harmon told me. “There’s never been anybody better. I’ve seen them all, so I should know.”
The pair reuniting for one last hurrah (Harmon consulting with his son, Claude, doing the bulk of the coaching, perhaps? There’s a thought…) would be a fantastic story. There’s not a golf fan out there who wouldn’t love to see that happen. It would be golf’s equivalent of Pink Floyd reforming.
Will it happen? That’s a different matter altogether. The general consensus is that it's unlikely - but so was the prospect of Europe winning the Ryder Cup on the Sunday morning of the 2012 match. Look how that turned out.
First things first, however, Tiger needs to get himself fit. Not even Butch Harmon can teach a guy who’s confined to his bed.