Butch Harmon is one of the biggest names in golf. He has been Golf Digest's top-ranked golf coach every year since 2003, and he is the mastermind behind Tiger's early career swing. He has coached some of the biggest names in golf, including Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Adam Scott, and Natalie Gulbis.
You may know Butch from his many media appearances, his 2006 book, The Pro, his PGA Tour win (the Broome County Open in 1971), or his monthly column for Golf Digest. The son of 1948 Masters winner Claude Harmon, Butch teaches amateurs and professionals primarily out of Las Vegas, Nevada, and has been in golf for over 40 years.
Butch is back, and this time with an all-inclusive DVD, Butch Harmon About Golf. The two-disc set of instruction contain about four hours of golf, with 57 chapters including the full swing, the mental game, and fitness. It even includes interviews and conversations with some of Butch's most famous pupils. Is it worth the $80 USD plus $10 shipping and handling? Read on to find out.
I want to start by first and foremost praising the production and editing team behind this DVD set. The main menu is well-designed and snappy, and it is ordered in a logical manner. Each disc has five sections. "Ball Striking and Basic Fundamentals," "Faults, Cures, & Drills," "Specialty Shots," "Short Game," and "Sand Play" are on the first disc, while the second disc contains "Putting," "From Good to Great," "Selecting Correct Clubs," "Fitness in Golf," and "Kids/Women/Seniors." Navigation is top-notch, and when you choose a video it is displayed very quickly.
Between videos, a Harmon-themed animation is played. It's long enough that you get a few seconds to collect your thoughts between lessons, yet short enough that you don't feel the need to grab a remote. The lessons can be played either continuously or chapter by chapter (I've listed the time intervals below). Product placement for Titleist and Winn is prevalent, but except for one section, you never get the sense that the brands are being overtly pushed on you.
Some parts could be better, of course. Many of the slow-motion videos are displayed at a low frame rate, and slow-motion playback is blurry. The videos are fragmented as a result, and the club is often not visible. This is not a huge issue, but if I can create 240-fps video with a camera I bought for $90, it would have been nice to see all of the videos as high-quality as they could be.
This solid interface is continued once a video begins playing. It was directed by seven-time Emmy-winner Terry Jastrow, but if there's one member of the team I want to give a shout-out to it's whoever was in charge of eliminating wind noise. Golf courses are often windy, and if you have ever listened to a golf tip on YouTube, or even on some DVDs, you know how annoying wind noise can be. As you will see from the rustling of trees in the background, the filming was apparently not phased by weather. Thankfully, Butch's voice comes through loud and clear (in any of six different languages), with no background noise to speak of. That's what you get from an $80 DVD.
The set is available on DVD format only, and in this increasingly high-definition world, it is a bit odd to to not have a Blu-Ray option. The Sean Foley instruction set that Erik reviewed a few years ago came with DVD and Blu-Ray versions, which would have been a welcome inclusion (and the entire four hours could have been fit on one Blu-Ray disc). You do, however, get a handy booklet that summarizes Butch's teachings, perfect for use at the driving range.
When Erik reviewed Sean Foley's most recent DVD a few years ago, Foley's inability to communicate was one of his major downfalls. A quick search on our forum will show some of Foley's most infamous speech gaffes, and a trip to YouTube will reveal that Foley tends to throw in mis-used technical words that only obfuscate his points.
Butch Harmon, on the other hand, is very well spoken. While Foley's DVD seemed a bit rushed, Butch Harmon About Golf is anything but. Butch probably doesn't have the mental power or the cutting-edge technology of Sean Foley, but he's on a different level when it comes to communication. Butch masterfully toes the line between getting his point across quickly and explaining it fully, a sentiment Tiger Woods echoes in his short segment of the DVD.
Another of Foley's shortcomings was his occasional failure to illustrate his points - Erik even included a shot of Foley nearly shanking a ball during a demonstration. While Butch never does that, he's surely not the most athletic golfer to watch demonstrate the golf swing. Though Butch does claim that he recently lost 35 pounds adhering to Weight Watchers and the advice in the "Fitness" section (and good on him for that), he's still rather large, and he's 68 years of age. I appreciate the fact that he didn't rely on Natalie Gulbis or Nick Watney to demonstrate everything, but there there is a small something lost watching Butch swing the golf club.
Section 1: Ball Striking, Basic Fundamentals
Introduction 0:00 Set Up 2:31 Grip 5:25 Grip Pressure 9:57 Stance 12:33 Ball Position 16:09 Pre-swing Posture 18:08 Waggle 20:55 Takeaway 22:54 Backswing 25:46 Head Position 29:30 Downswing 31:37 Impact 33:18 Follow Through 35:50 Pretty vs. Efficient 37:33
Though it's the most repetitive section of the DVD and much of the information is rehashed from Butch's Golf Digest columns, Butch begins the DVD set with a lengthy section on his swing philosophy.
First up is the static setup, and because it's relatively easy to write about, there's not much new here. Your stance should be athletic, 50-50 in weight, and square to the target, says Harmon. That's nothing groundbreaking, but instruction on the setup rarely has to be.
Butch then moves to the grip, where he says, "It doesn't matter to me which one of the three you use, because they all work" and he goes on to describe the Vardon grip, the interlocking grip, and the 10-finger grip. Thankfully, Butch also goes on to describe which grip is best for which player, something that is usually skipped over.
After a few more pre-swing checks, Butch moves to the waggle, and then to the takeaway. Harmon puts a lot of importance on the takeaway, saying "The direction this clubs starts really dictates everything else you're going to do in the golf swing," and "A good takeaway is a takeaway that starts everything together." In the rest of the backswing, Butch emphasizes width, getting the hands away from the body to create the largest arc possible. Butch is a proponent of getting the weight to the inside of the right foot at the top of the backswing, and letting the head move slightly away from the target.
As we transition to the downswing, the weight moves forward, starting with a lateral slide of the hips, and as he makes his way to impact, Butch emphasizes getting your body and the club "over the ball," hitting down. In the follow through, Butch says that 90 percent of the weight should be on the front foot.
Golf swing theory and instruction is a highly contentious field, and I'm obviously not one to say Butch is right or wrong. Butch doesn't claim to be reinventing the golf swing here, but he does offer a solid, time-tested golf swing that has obviously produced good results for some of the game's best players.
Section Two: Faults, Cures, and Drills
Swing Too Fast 39:24 Topped Shot 43:25 Hitting it Fat 45:06 Dreaded Hook 47:24 Slive 49:05 Hook & Slice Drill 52:26 The Shank 53:15 Hitting from the Top 55:15 Reverse Pivot 57:09 Taking a Divot 58:48 Anger Management 1:00:17
Pretty much everyone knows how to swing well in theory. We've all been told where our weight should be, what positions our hands should be in, and how to move our feet. A 30 handicapper can tell you that. But what only a good instructor can teach you is how to get into those positions.
Though Butch does provide the cures to many faults, the title of this section is somewhat misleading. He doesn't tell you to put a towel somewhere and hold it or stand on an exercise ball, it's more about on-course practicing. You aren't going to many actual drills in this section, and that's a bit of a let down.
On the plus side, Butch has devised one of the best mental game tips I've ever heard, the 10-yard rule. Essentially, without breaching etiquette or making yourself the most hated golfer in the group, do whatever you need to do to get our your frustration within 10 yards of your last shot. After you walk those 10 yards though, forget the last shot completely. Focus entirely on the next shot. Don't accept that bad shot, but don't let it get under your skin. Like a closer in baseball has to be able to leave a blown save in the past, Butch argues that the golfer should leave a slice into the trees on the tee box. Tiger's talked about this rule and despite throwing some epic tantrums, his disgust comes to an end within ten yards.
Section Three: Specialty Shots
Long Drive 1:01:41 Draw/Hook Shot 1:03:53 Fade/Slight Shot 1:05:29 Low/Punch Shot 1:06:56 High Shot 1:08:36 Ball Above Feet 1:10:26 Ball Below Feet 1:12:05 Uphill Lie 1:13:40 Downhill Lie 1:15:22 The Stinger 1:16:51 Fairway Bunkers 1:18:31 Hard Pan 1:21:20
Section three is by far the most fun part of the set. Specialty shots often do not get written about much because, quite frankly, they don't come up all that much. If you're looking to go from a 30-handicapper to a 20, sidehill lies aren't going to make or break you. From a downhill lie you don't expect to hit the green all that often anyway. But if you're already a five-handicapper, you will need to make good from some wonky lies.
Butch goes into hitting long balls, cut shots, draws, balls above and below the feet, different lie conditions, and the famed Tiger stinger, a particularly enlightening segment (just try to overlook his slightly odd line at the end of that segment: "Woo, stinger baby, you'll love it").
Section Four: Short Game
Basic Wedge Shot 1:24:12 Pitching 1:26:46 Chipping 1:36:25
Butch starts off the short game segment with one of the more awkward shots in golf: the long wedge shot. It's not a pitch, but it's also not a normal, full iron shot. The key tip? Keep it controlled, and don't help the ball in the air. He then moves to pitching and chipping.
His pitching advice is fairly common, but the chipping segment is a little bit more unorthodox. He includes a segment on chipping with a fairway wood or a hybrid, something people who struggle from short distances should try a bit more often, as well as some valuable instruction on bump-and-runs.
Section Five: Sand Play
Short Bunker Shot 1:46:46 Long Bunker Shot 1:49:19 Buried Lie 1:52:00 Uphill Lie 1:54:41 Downhill Lie 1:56:49
Playing from the beach is up next. Butch gives instruction on normal shots (use that bounce!), long bunker shots, buried lies, as well as uphill and downhill lies. The long bunker shot video is particularly valuable, though he doesn't show any of those in-between shots. That is, non-greenside shots that aren't exactly fairway bunker shots. In our forum, every now and then we get a thread asking for our most feared shots in golf, and those 50-yard bunker shots are consistently near the top.
Again, Butch isn't reinventing sand play like Stan Utley or Dave Pelz when it comes to the sand, but he offers good instruction on how to excavate your golf ball from the beach.
Section Six: Putting
Introduction 0:00 Putting Fundamentals 0:09 Reading the Break 8:26 Putting Drills 10:35 Practice Routine 18:26
The second DVD starts with some time on the green. Butch proposes nothing extraordinary when it comes to the flatstick, but he does espouse valuable information for those who are either just starting out or who need a serious return to the basics. His most important tip is to treat every putt like a straight one. That is, pick your spot to aim to, and putt directly to that, irrespective of where the actual hole is.
The next section is about reading the greens, and while Butch doesn't go as in depth as an AimPoint instructor would, it is a valuable segment. Butch advises looking for the high and low points as well as where the water would collect after a rainy day, and he says to use your feet to feel the break.
After that Butch does get into some actual drills, including the two-tee drill that you'll often see Tiger Woods and others doing on the practice green. He also demonstrates drills to cure the dreaded yips.
Section Seven: From Good to Great
Fred Couples 21:09 Ernie Es 23:54 Natalie Gulbis 30:06 Dustin Johnson 35:17 Phil Mickelson 40:37 Greg Norman 48:13 Adam Scott 1:01:21 Nick Watney 1:05:46 Tiger Woods 1:10:12
Section seven is all about interviews with Butch's current and former players, namely Fred Couples, Ernie Els, Natalie Gulbis, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman, Adam Scott, Nick Watney, and Tiger Woods.
Several of the segments are one-on-one interviews (Couples, Woods, Els, Norman), and some are on-course illustrations of Butch's teaching (Gulbis, Scott, Johnson, Mickelson, Watney), and both are valuable.
The interviews tend to be more about Butch's method specifically, though they do reveal some nice tidbits of insight. The Greg Norman one was specifically great, including his use of a wet-grip drill to practice good pressure, as well as his pre-round drill of hitting three high cuts, three low cuts, three high draws, and three low draws. The Tiger Woods segment, which, judging by the logos on his hat appears to have been recorded recently, features some cool swing videos of Tiger from 1993.
Section Eight: Selecting Correct Clubs
Irons 1:11:50 Drivers 1:16:30 Grips 1:20:45
I have several friends who play golf only a handful of times a year, and while their swings are poor, their club selection is even worse. When you don't play that often you don't know exactly how far you hit each club, and that leads to a lot of golf balls screaming over the green and stopping short. Because of that, I actually had high hopes for this section. 10 minutes on picking clubs for each shot would have been a great segment, but this section is more of an advertisement for Titleist and Winn than anything.
Butch, joined by Brett Porath from Titleist, starts by discussing the differences between the Titleist CB and AP1 irons. They talk about the contrasting top lines and blade lengths, and they move to shafts and the importance of getting fit for your golf clubs. The discussion on kickpoint and tip softness is a nice inclusion, as is the talk about shaft weight.
Butch and Brett then move onto drivers, where they mention the Titleist D2 and D3 drives. The few sentences on the merits of titanium (drivers have been mostly titanium for at least a decade now) was a few sentences too many, and the marketing talk about the uniqueness of Titleist's fitting cart was simply inaccurate.
The segment on grips was less of an advertisement than the clubs segment, as it presented some key information on picking a grip size.
Section Nine: Fitness in Golf
Fitness in Golf 1:22:36
In the penultimate section, Butch is joined by Dr. Greg Rose of the Titleist Performance Institute. If you have ever seen the TPI show on Golf Channel or read the TPI website, you probably recognize Dr. Rose. He brings an enthusiasm to the section that is great in a fitness segment.
Section Ten: Kids/Women/Seniors
Kids/Women/Seniors 1:34:45 Closing 2:02:44
In the last segment, Butch focuses on the unique swing tendencies of juniors, women, and seniors. Parents who are trying to introduce their kids to golf should find the segment useful, as should beginners who are picking up the game later in life.
If you're looking to be blown away with facts, figures, graphs, and data, look elsewhere. Butch Harmon isn't going to wow anyone with his computational power, but his experience teaching the golf swing speaks for itself. Butch isn't trying to reinvent the golf swing with this this set of DVDs, but he is looking to reinvent your game, and it shows. Though some things could be better (the club selection segment, more drills, slow-motion videos), this is one of the best produced golf instruction DVDs I've ever seen, and Butch offers insight in the game that is arguable unmatched.
Whether you are a beginner looking to learn the basics, a high-handicapper trying to improve your game, a low-handicapper trying to pull off those once-in-a-round recovery shots, or a huge golf fan that just wants to hear some awesome interviews with the game's best players, this set of DVDs has got something for you.