When Butch Harmon was a young man working for his father, Claude, at Winged Foot, a member with a case of the shanks came in for a lesson. Butch took him to the tee and tried every trick he knew. But the member still shanked one shot after another.
“I talked to him about setup and weight transfer, about spine angle and about the role of the arms in relation to the shoulders and torso,” Butch told me a few years ago. “We talked about wrist-cock, hinge, lag, and the position of the chin at impact. And he still shanked every shot.
“A half-hour into the lesson I decided I couldn’t help the guy. So I went into the shop and said ‘Dad, I need your help. My lesson’s got the shanks and I’ve got no idea what to do.’ ”
Claude stood and in his booming voice said, “Soooo, Butchie’s got a shanker and can’t get him squared up, huh? Need me to come bail you out, huh?”
“Dad, could you just help the guy,” Butch said. “He’s about to quit and so am I.”
Claude watched the student take one swing and said, “To stop shanking, you’ve got to understand what causes a shank in the first place. Most people assume that the clubface is open and that the hands are in front of the ball. They think that causes you to make contact where the clubface meets the hosel. In fact, the opposite is true. A shank is caused by a closed clubface. You release the club early, throwing it at the ball on the way down. This shuts the clubface and traps the ball between the hosel and the ground, causing it to shoot to the right – a shank. Because people think they have the clubface open, they work hard to close it, which only exacerbates the problem.”
Within 10 minutes, Claude had the student hitting one solid shot after another. As they walked back to the clubhouse Butch said, “I didn’t know you shanked it because of a closed clubface.”
Without breaking stride, Claude said, “That’s because you’ve never had to figure it out for yourself to keep from starving to death.”
Which brings us to Tiger Woods, or any of the current crop of young players who can’t take a headcover off without a helicopter instructor hovering nearby.
The big question in the game now is: Who will be Tiger’s next coach? A generation ago, such a question never would have come up. Who was Lee Trevino’s coach? Who coached Byron Nelson? Did Hale Irwin have a coach outside of football?
Those questions are rhetorical, of course. Old pros dug their games out of the dirt without video or TrackMan or swing coaches, mental coaches, life coaches and managers surrounding them like the entourage at a Muhammad Ali fight. Today’s pros would be well served if they did likewise.
Tiger is in no danger of starving to death. But if he wants to get back to his winning ways, he should take a lesson from a Harmon that he never met. Figure it out for yourself. You’ll remember it better that way.