LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA | He doesn’t teach many. When you’ve taken so many players to No.1 in the world, you can be selective. That’s what makes Danielle Kang’s relationship with Butch Harmon so special.
Harmon is considered the top coach in the game for good reason. He coached Greg Norman when the Shark was atop the game. Harmon coached Tiger Woods from teen phenom to arguably the greatest player of all time. He coached Adam Scott to No. 1. He resurrected Fred Couples’ career, turned Jimmy Walker into a major champion, squeezed the last ounces of life out of Justin Leonard’s game and kept Phil Mickelson relevant longer than anyone could have imagined. Now, he coaches Dustin Johnson, whom he also took to No. 1 in the world. And Harmon also has a hand in the game of Rolex Ranking No. 4 Danielle Kang.
Before the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, Harmon posted videos of Kang rolling putts, one after another, through a pair of tees just wider than the golf ball on the high side of a hole at his practice facility in Las Vegas, Nev. It’s a drill Butch used with Tiger before the Hello World moment nearly a quarter century ago. Harmon also keeps Kang grounded, just as he did with a young Tiger. After a round last season when Kang didn’t hit her 3-wood very well, Harmon told her, “Well, don’t hit it. Hit something else. We’re not going to change anything in your swing for one club.”
The relationship has paid off. Kang is ranked higher than at any point in her career and playing better than ever. Her opening 63 at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions was a near flawless display of ball striking.
As she put it, “To be honest, to shoot 8 under, every aspect of the game has to kind of click in. I hit pretty good drives out there. My wedges were good. I rolled in some putts, some putts. I saved a couple of the shots that I needed to. To be honest, my caddie (Olly Brett) kept telling me to enjoy it, and I honestly had a lot of fun playing with Lee (Brice) and Cole (Swindell) like last year. It was a cruising round, and they were fist pumping for me.”
While the hard work with Harmon appears to be paying off, Kang admitted to having almost no offseason. She played in pro-, played in the California desert, and played and practiced a lot in Vegas where she lives and where Harmon teaches. “I've been working with Butch quite a bit,” she said. “It's kind of a rollover season is how I look at it. And it's been a good start.”
Kang doesn’t talk about the specifics of her work with Harmon. “You’ll have to ask Butch,” she said. But she does love to spend time with him. “We go practice at Rio Secco quite a bit,” she said. “Butch designed the practice range and it's a beautiful practice facility. The way he managed to put all the wedge numbers and the chipping green, the way it slopes right to left -- everything that Butch made, kind of fits a golfer's style. Mav (McNealy) and I go out there and practice quite a bit and sometimes joke around.”
Joking around is a classic Harmon tactic. He has a blooper reel of swings he’s recorded over the years. In one, a man skies a tee shot so severely that the ball doesn’t make it out of the hitting bay and takes out a few ceiling tiles. In another, a shanked shot hits the indoor corner of the building and ricochets through the bay, sending student and teacher dodging.
He shows those videos to everyone. Then he takes you out to hits some shots. After a few minutes of instruction, he tells another joke or two. Finally, as the session is winding down, Butch puts an arm around his student and says, “You’re the best I’ve ever seen.”
The lesson lies in that last line. Harmon’s gift is not his methodology; it’s his motivation. He makes his students believe.
So far, you can add Danielle Kang to that list.