FURMAN BISHER COLUMN: The days of the teaching game might well be over

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Furman Bisher

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Furman Bisher

Have you forgotten? The guy who created Tiger Woods? Or did you think that Tiger created himself? Remember when he swarmed the game there always seemed to be Butch Harmon at his side? Or behind him?

Or helping him relocate his grip?

Without Butch there would be no Tiger. Or so it seemed.

Then they split. It got as many headlines as a Hollywood divorce.

Not quite as many as the Mr. and Mrs. Tiger divorce, but man, did it ever rip the profession of golf teaching. There had been golf instructors before, but it seemed that when Butch showed Tiger how you were supposed to swing at a golf ball, a new profession had swooped down on the game.

But just look at it this way. Who was Arnold Palmer’s teacher?


He didn’t have one. Gene Sarazen’s? He didn’t either. And of course, the Greatest of Them All, Bobby Jones? Wee Bobby learned just by watching.

Never had a lesson in his life.

That was before the surge struck. I can’t exactly remember the first time the Professoring of Golf really struck the game full blast.

Usually, guys just picked up the game nosing around the country club shop.

The club pro would walk around the practice range, watch some poor, wretched member try to get a ball aloft, then decide that he could help.

It was mostly informal stuff — until the teaching pro came along.

Now, we had ourselves a new industry.

But it dawdled in the cradle of the game until Tiger began to ring a bell, and somebody decided there had to be some genius of the swing behind him. Ergo, Butch Harmon — though Butch had never been much of a player himself. His daddy had been, Claude Harmon, who just dropped in on the Masters in 1948 — on the way from Florida to his summer job at Winged Foot and won the danged thing.

Oh, ol’ dad won a few other tournaments, but this one is the one that always pops into the mind — for some oddball reason or another.

Claude was such a teacher and had such a reputation for taking some kid just learning the game, and training him. A bunch of fine players came out of his shop at Winged Foot it almost developed a reputation as an academy. But we were talking about the rise of the golfing professors who turned many a rough-hewn swinger into a player, and about Tiger. As long as he had Butch Harmon on his team, he ruled the world.

Then Butch took his leave, his (Tiger’s) marriage broke up, and it was at Pebble Beach last weekend that his game found bottom.

Naturally, most critics wondered if he isn’t in need of a return to ”school.” He has had a string of alleged teachers since Butch, but somehow, there seems to be a special kind of relationship that develops between a man and the guy who warms his bottle. Just a passing thought.