JOHNS CREEK, GEORGIA | “Oh, that’s pitiful.”
If you’ve ever been around Butch Harmon or watched him work from a distance, you can hear him saying that. The first time Harmon spent time on the range with Lee Janzen, the two-time U.S. Open champion flared a 3-iron short and right and said, “That wasn’t too bad.” Harmon replied, “We’ve got to set some ground rules. There are plenty of teachers who’ll tell you what you want to hear. I’m not that guy. That (shot) was terrible.”
This time Harmon’s “pitiful” comment was aimed at his only active LPGA Tour player, Danielle Kang. It would have been easy to assume that Harmon was talking about Kang’s golf swing, which had been 1 degree north of stinky in her past couple of outings, despite a T5 finish at the Mediheal Classic.
“I was hitting it really bad in San Francisco,” said Kang about both the Mediheal and the week before at the U.S. Women’s Open where she had a 77-75 weekend to finish T35. “My putting and short game saved me.”
But that’s not what Harmon was talking about at all. After a bad shot on the range, Kang had thrown a club into the ground in frustration. Harmon marched forward and said, “Oh, that’s pitiful. If you’re going to throw it, throw it.” He grabbed Kang’s club and gave it an underhanded helicopter hurl, zipping it downrange like a combination of an Olympian javelin toss and a guy on Venice Beach throwing a frisbee to his dog.
“Yeah, my throw is pitiful,” Kang said. “I throw it overhand. I got kind of mad and just chucked it and he just showed off. He’s really good at throwing the club.”
Harmon is also really good at teaching. No other instructor has shepherded more major championship winners. And no one has developed stronger connections with a more diverse group of players. It’s hard to imagine bonding with Steve Elkington, Greg Norman, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson, Justin Leonard, Jimmy Walker, Fred Couples, Suzann Pettersen and now Kang, who has become Harmon’s retirement project.
“I think having a coach that gives you 150 percent really helps,” Kang said when describing her relationship with Harmon and why it works. “I will give 110 percent, and I just want my teammates to give 100 percent back. Having a caddie that gives me over 110 percent, having a coach that’s there for 150 percent makes me work harder, makes me want to be better. And it drives me to be a better golfer, better role model, better player.
“With all of that said, I do give him a lot of credit because there are people that you meet in your life – and there are those key moments, like the KPMG 2017 when I met him, that’s when things shifted. I missed eight out of nine cuts before I went to him. Then I finished third, first, sixth and 12th. Whatever it is that he’s doing has helped magnify what I’m good at. He just focuses on a lot of positives. As a golfer, that’s really hard to do.
“I give him a lot of credit for where I am now. I think he expedited my journey. If I can just keep my end of the bargain up, I think we can do really great things because I always want to be better.”
How, exactly, has Harmon gotten so much from such a diverse group of players? It may be one of the game’s enduring mysteries. But Kang has a theory.
“I say that Butch is a polyglot because he speaks so many languages in golf,” she said at the Atlanta Athletic Club before the start of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. “That’s why, when you ask me what I’m working on, it’s hard to explain. You could ask him. It is really hard to explain. I ask so many weird things. He did say there are no stupid questions until he told me that I ask the stupidest questions.
“But, no, Butch says one thing, and then I say I don’t like it but there are 10 different ways of saying the same thing. It’s just what language speaks to you and clicks in your head. I can’t speak for him on how he teaches other people. But I believe he makes whatever you have better.
“For example, I have a tendency to take (the club) really far in and drop it underneath. I still take it in and drop it underneath but (now) I know how to control it from there. That’s (Butch) teaching you control and accuracy from your natural habits. I think that’s what he’s really good at.”
The other thing Harmon is really good at is rallying people around big things. He is a Vietnam veteran who works tirelessly in support of troops, and it’s no surprise that he shares a similar view with Kang when it comes to playing for flag and country. That’s why, when asked about locking up her Olympic qualification before taking a shot at the KPMG, Kang laid down a marker for all athletes.
“Ever since I trained in taekwondo to be an Olympian, the Olympics have been my dream. It has always been my goal to be an Olympic athlete.” – Danielle Kang
“I do not know why some men (golfers) don’t want to play,” she said emphatically. “Maybe they are preparing for other tournaments. Maybe they want to be prepared for whatever their goals are. I don’t know. I can’t speak for what the Olympics mean to a lot of people.
“But for me, it’s everything.
“Ever since I trained in taekwondo to be an Olympian, the Olympics have been my dream. It has always been my goal to be an Olympic athlete. I know that the LPGA has set the stage for us to compete week in and week out with all the sponsors. But that said, the Olympics have been available to us since 2016. And that’s something I’ve wanted to achieve all my life.
“When the Olympic qualification got extended an extra 15 months, I cried and panicked because I qualified back then. I felt that if I didn’t qualify again for some reason, I couldn’t call it an accomplishment. I couldn’t stop worrying about what other people did up until this week, (now that I’m) secured.”
Harmon won’t go to Tokyo. Part of being retired is that he’s never far from his wife, dog and swimming pool in Las Vegas. But he will talk to Kang daily. And you can bet the polyglot will say all the right things when it comes time for the golfer to don the red, white and blue.
“I finally feel like myself because the one thing that was the pinnacle was to just hit that mark that I qualified for the Olympics as a USA athlete,” Kang said. “All I can tell you is that I’m just so happy to be a part of that. I can’t wait to compete in the Olympics.
“How other people perceive the Olympics, I can’t speak for them.”
© 2021 Global Golf Post LLC
Top: Danielle Kang Photo: Robert Beck, USGA
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