Claude Harmon III shares his best tips, with inspiration from father, Butch, and grandfather, Claude.
By Clauge Harmon III and with Matthew Rudy; Images by Dom Furore and Golf Digest Resource Center
In a lot of ways, golf has changed since my grandfather, Claude Harmon, was giving lessons in the 1960s and '70s. Equipment is massively different, and athletes playing on the PGA Tour barely resemble the crowd Jack and Arnie were dominating during the Lyndon Johnson administration. But the lessons he shared in magazines such as Golf Digest and Sports Illustrated (that's my grandfather and father, Butch, demonstrating the same tip on past covers of Golf Digest) are proof of an important point: Good fundamentals are timeless. Here are five I'm revisiting from one of my grandfather's other articles, starting with this one (above). He tended to hook the ball, so he liked to feel his hips sliding forward before rotating, which held off the clubface from shutting too quickly. To try it, make a backswing with the club in your lead hand only, and then push your hips with your other hand toward the target as you start the downswing. It's also a great drill if you tend to hit off your back foot, as it trains you to shift forward in the downswing and strike the ball on a good angle of attack.
As these Golf Digest cover stories from 1972 and 1997 show (above), one-arm drills have been a part of the Harmon repertoire for decades. The one I’m demonstrating (top) helps promote a good weight shift in the downswing for better ball-striking.
HOLD THE CLUB IN THE FINGERS
Even back in the '60s while working the range at Winged Foot in New York, my grandfather felt the importance of teaching a good grip was overlooked. Today it seems like nobody talks about it. That's a shame, because it's a crucial fundamental to hitting good shots. It's something I'm always checking—even with my tour players. Like my grandfather said, make sure you're setting the handle across the fingers instead of in the palms. (1) When the club is in the fingers, it's easier to set your wrists and produce more power. (2) As a demo, you can even pre-set your wrist hinge as you grip the club. Then all you have to do is turn your shoulders to take the club back. It's a way to rehearse how to reach the top of the swing in good form.
PLAY FROM A STRONGER POSITION
My grandfather held the club with a weak right-hand position (top), because he fought a hook. For most players, I think it's easier to start with a stronger grip position (above) and work weaker from there if you're hooking the ball. First, remember to get the handle out of those palms! If the club rests predominantly in the palms and the hands are turned toward the target, this weak position will promote an open face at impact. If you're a slicer and your hands aren't in a stronger position with the trail hand feeling more behind and slightly under the handle, you're making it that much tougher to square the face and hit it straight. A strong grip also promotes a more aggressive swing, and that will help anyone hit it more solidly.
SET UP LIKE AN ATHLETE
My grandfather stressed that he wanted all his students to be in an athletic position to start the swing. What did he mean by athletic? Have your body ready to produce some swing speed. (1) Set an athletic posture by standing straight with your feet slightly wider than your shoulders for a driver. Your shoulders should be square and lined up directly over your hips and knees. (2) Tilt your upper body and flex forward, adding a slight knee bend. Your knees should be directly over the balls of your feet, and your arms should hang naturally in front of you. You could draw a straight line down from my shoulders to the balls of my feet. There's no arch, hunch or “S” shape to my torso. It's straight, strong and ready to turn.
CHANGE YOUR FINISH, NOT YOUR SWING
If you want to get better at curving it both ways on command, my grandfather recommended doing it by changing your through-swing. Here you can see the shaft in two different follow-through positions. It's more vertical and has a “held off” look when I want to fade the ball (top). And for a draw, it's more horizontal and fully released (above). In both swings, my body is moving nearly the same way. The shot shape is being controlled by how my arms are moving in the downswing and follow-through. Swing them faster and more around you for the draw, and swing them slower and more up for a fade. Shaping shots this way is a lot easier than making stance and alignment changes and trying to manipulate the clubface.
Poor weight transfer (and how we develop swing flaws)
By Dennis Clark
I recall an old joke about a guy who was lost on a country backroad. He spots a local resident and asks for directions to a certain town. The local responds: “You can’t get there from here.”
Whenever I hear that joke, I think about weight transfer in the golf swing. Yeah, a remote connection, I’m sure, but it works for purposes of today’s story. The analogy is this: A student recently swung to the top of the backswing and asked me how to “transfer his weight to the left foot” (he was right handed). I replied, “you can’t get there from here.”
The reason most players do not properly transfer their weight or “turn through,” is simply because they are not in a position to do so. They literally must move away from the target and head for the trail side.
Here are a few examples of why.
Over the top
As the downswing begins, if the arms and club go out, not down, effectively the player is not swinging at the golf ball. If she keeps going from there, she will not hit the ball, or barely top it at best. This player is swinging at something in front of the ball, or outside of it. Shoulders spin open early, arms/hands go out but stay UP, and now the club head will very likely get to the golf ball LATE. But, and here’s the catch, anyone who plays often attempts to correct this swing bottom problem by reversing course! The body senses the poor sequence and tries the right the ship by quickly backing up. Or casting. So, we get an out-to-in swing direction but a shallow attack angle! What I refer to a “left field from the right foot.’
When you see the flaw from this perspective, it becomes perfectly obvious why. Because, if the player kept going without a mid stream correction, they might top every shot, mo in an effort to get the ball airborne, the player lowers the rear side, raises the front side and swings UP from the outside. So you do bottom out nearer the ball, but you’ve introduced a HOST of other issues. I’m not saying this is a conscious effort in the less than two seconds it takes to swing the club, I’m saying that it develops unconsciously over time. And the more one plays, the more they “perfect” this sequence. In my experience, this is how most, if not all, swing faults begin. Correcting a fault with another fault. It is truly ingenious, really!
If the swing gets to the top and does begin down inside, unlike above where it begins down outside the line, or over the plane, but the club starts down on a very steep incline, it is headed for a crash; keep going from there, and you’re likely to stick it straight into the ground or, at the least, hit it straight off the toe. Again, over time, the player senses this, and develops a motion of “backing up; reversing the upper body to flatten the golf club and get it onto a reasonable incline to strike the ball. I see this day in and day out. The inevitable question is: “Why can’t I get through the shot”? Because…you had to reverse the upper body to avoid an even greater disaster..
These are just two examples involving improper weight transfer. But if we see other swing flaws in this light, I think it explains a lot. For example, “raising the handle,” or “standing the club up,” lower body extension (“humping”), holding on through impact, casting, sending hand path far away from the body (disconnection), all these can can almost always be attributed to something that preceded those flaws. That is, they are rarely the root cause, they are the REACTION to another position or motion. They are “save” attempts.
Here’s another way of describing it: Many, in fact most, steep swings result in a shallowattack angle. Many open club faces at the top of the swing actually hook the ball, many closed faces at the top of the swing hit slices or at least high blocks, and so on. How do I know this? I have stood right next to golfers for almost 40 years and observed it up close and personal on the lesson tee.
If you are serious about long term improvement, real effective change in your game, you will need to work on the fundamentals that will put you in a position from which you do not have to recover, or execute a “fit in” move to survive. Get a good high-definition, slow-motion look at your swing, get your Trackman or Flightscope feedback and take a close look, in terms of what I’m referring to here. It will be eye-opening to say the least.
I would agree that one CAN learn to live with some save moves and achieve a certain level of success, albeit less consistent in my opinion. In fact, when most people hit balls, that is what they are practicing. As always, it’s your call. Enjoy the journey.