At the recent Houston Open, I had an opportunity to spend some quality time with Butch Harmon, who I consider to be a living legend. The Harmon family is well known for its involvement in the world of golf, mainly as golf instructors and club professionals at various clubs. Butch says teaching golf is in his blood and while he’s cut down a little, he’s still very active as swing coach to Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler, among others.
He’s in the record books as being the swing coach to Tiger Woods for a lot of Tiger’s good years and important major victories. Butch’s brother, Dick, sadly passed away from a heart attack at age 57, but his roster included Fred Couples, Craig Stadler, Jay Haas, and Steve Elkington, among others. The patriarch of this amazing golf family, Claude, was the head professional at Winged Foot Golf Club from 1945 to 1978, and eventually landed in Houston, where he passed away at age 73.
Butch Harmon was at the Houston Open as this year’s Tournament Honoree. Butch lived and worked in Houston for the 17 years before moving to Las Vegas, where his academy is now located, and offered the secluded location needed for his sessions with Tiger.
He was very candid with me in disclosing that at one point in his life, partying and gambling were his priority over hard work. When Butch figured out that he had to change his life around, he shared with me that he came to Houston to seek the only kind of loving, but stern help blood relatives can provide. His brother Dick and his father showed Butch a blueprint to turn his life around. He received the impactful advice that he desperately sought and managed to find the guiding light that he desperately needed.
Butch has gone on to be regarded as one of the greatest teachers of the game and can certainly take some small amount of credit for at least part of Tiger’s 81 victories, which include 15 major championships. I’m proud to call Butch Harmon a friend.
Big dreams are a must for anyone looking to make it on the PGA Tour. One of those dreams became a reality at the Houston Open. The story of Lanto Griffin would certainly be turned down by Hollywood as too far-fetched. At a very young age, Griffin’s father, Michael, wanted his son to be involved in golf. Sadly, Michael Griffin passed away when Lanto was only 12 years old. At a time when continuing to pay for his golf at his father’s club would have been more than difficult, Lanto received a call from the head pro, Steve Prater, letting him know that he would always be welcome at the club and he would never have to pay for his golf there.
Prater stepped in to become his mentor, instructor, and father figure and helped young Griffin navigate that difficult time in his life. To this day he is the instructor for Lanto Griffin and an important part of the team.
To say the victory in Houston was a life changer for the now 31-year-old Lanto Griffin is an understatement. Consider this: In 2014 he was down to his last $176 and was on the brink of not realizing his dream. Now Griffin has job security on the PGA Tour for basically three years, he will join me in Maui for the winner’s only event (the Tournament of Champions), and then he will get an invitation to The Masters, The Players, and The PGA Championship just for winning in the Houston Open. His life’s opportunities have changed, but I’m pretty sure his priorities will stay the same.
I have known, and still know, many club professionals in my lifetime and golf career. It’s certainly an honorable, caring profession filled with those who will gladly help anyone who wants to learn this great game. There’s just none any better than a caring club pro who took a grieving 12-year-old boy under his wing and helped guide him to become the man and golfer that he is today . . . a PGA Tour champion.