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Brooks Koepka’s coach, Claude Harmon III, on BK’s PGA Championship victory, working with the game’s best, and more

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Coming fresh off the celebration of Brooks Koepka’s fourth major win, Koepka’s long-time coach, Claude Harmon III chatted with Johnny Wunder as he was just about to hop on a plane back to The Floridian.

Here are the highlights of their conversation.

JW: Claude how you doin’?

CH3: Uh, I’m hungover!

JW: Brooks is walking off the 18th green after another major triumph. What is the first thing you guys said to each other?

CH3: Well, obviously there was a lot of emotion in that moment, but he told me it was the happiest he has ever been on the golf course, and after everything he’s done, that’s a big statement.

For him to put in all the hard work and to fight as hard as he did on a golf course that completely changed on the last day and come out on top makes me extremely grateful to be a part of the team that supports that. I believe he will find out more about himself from getting through the final nine holes than he would if he would have had a parade coming in and won by seven.

JW: That’s a great point. It seems like he is more apt to win even more majors based on that back nine than he would have otherwise.

CH3: I don’t think if you were watching it on TV you could have any appreciation for just how difficult it was. What DJ did yesterday was impossible and having that up ahead applies even more pressure to a leader. Ricky Elliott and BK are looking at the scoreboard and seeing DJ and 3 under and having no idea how that’s even possible. It was that tough.

JW: I think Brooks stubbornness is part of his true greatness. Would you agree?

CH3: His perspective constantly was “I’m still in the lead and someone is going to have to catch me and this golf course is extremely difficult.” Even after all the bogeys on the back side, he still controlled the lead and kept that mantra. The crowd yelling “DJ! DJ!” actually didn’t piss him off, it woke him up and made him want to hit a good drive and show the crowd he was still leading.

JW: How did yesterday compare to Shinnecock? 

CH3: At Shinnecock it was an interesting situation because Fleetwood…posted before BK was even off and in that case, Brooks said it was like playing against a ghost. No matter what he does, Tommy isn’t going to make any more mistakes or change in any way. That’s a tough scenario when you are staring at a number that won’t move for 5 1/2 hours.

JW: What do Brooks and DJ have that people can learn from.

CH3: It’s funny because we hear these cliches in sports psychology all the time, but I believe those two are the living embodiment of ONE SHOT AT A TIME. They don’t look back. Ever.

JW: Speaking on DJ. I’m watching the back nine and thinking to myself this guy is playing out of his mind, it was literally a battle of the best.

CH3: We talk about it all the time in golf, what we always want is the two best players in the world going toe to toe. We had that yesterday and I hope as time goes by we can look at this final round as a battle we will be talking about for a long time. Best players in the world on a tough but fair golf course with the ultimate prize on the line. In situations like this when there is this kind of pressure and these stakes you can look at the leaderboard and see the cream rising to the top. Rory, DJ, Jordan all with good rounds on a really tough day.

JW: You met Brooks in 2013, he showed up in his mom’s beat up Explorer and don’t know him at all. What was your first impression?

CH3: I was introduced to him by Pete Uihlein, his old roommate, and at first glance, he had raw talent and a ton of speed, but no plan. At the time he was hitting a draw and was uncomfortable with that. He told me his current coach wanted him to hit draws, and I said well that’s your fault, not your coach’s. It’s the player’s responsibility to manage himself and the information he’s comfortable with. When we worked on him getting into a fade, he started to click and he turned to me and said “it can’t be this easy.” My reply was “it has to be this easy!” At that level, under the gun, it better be easy. [Golf is] tough enough already.

JW: What were his career goals early on?

CH3: Even then, he wanted to be an elite player who won multiple majors. I was coaching Ernie Els at the time who had just won his fourth major and Brooks was on the Challenge Tour. He was committed to getting there but needed guidance, someone with a plan that wasn’t just his golf swing. Obviously, it worked out.

JW: What would you say is the Harmon secret to getting the best players in the world to peak as often as you guys do?

CH3: My dad told me: “What you don’t say is just as important as what you do say.” At the Masters this year Brooks, in practice, was really struggling. Look, it’s Masters week and I’m not going to go in there and start putting thoughts in his head. At that point, if this is a shuttle launch, we are in the cockpit and there is no turning back. My dad always had his guys have a go-to shot that they “knew” they could hit. Brooks calls it his “fairway finder” which is a squeeze off fade with a driver. I told him to hit a couple of those knowing it might spur some confidence. After a few absolutely flushed missiles, his confidence went up and he turned to me and said…”fairway finder all day.” The rest is history.

JW: You coach DJ, Brooks, Jimmy Walker and Rickie. Describe each in one word

JW: DJ
CH3: Natural

JW: Brooks
CH3: Tough MF

JW: Rickie
CH3: Genuine

JW: Jimmy
CH3: Soulful

JW: Thanks old friend
CH3: Talk soon, thanks man.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Boss of the moss

    May 21, 2019 at 5:25 pm

    Best article on here in a while

    Honest and informative

    More interviews with tour players, coaches, tour van equipment interviews as well, less opinion pieces. Thanks

  2. T-Bone

    May 21, 2019 at 2:46 pm

    What DJ did on the final day was impossible? There were 7 other 69’s, along with his. And 2 68’s. Yes, Brooks won. But I don’t see how he can feel that good with 4 over in the final round.

    • Mike Kutilek

      May 22, 2019 at 1:16 pm

      The 7 other 69’s and the 68’s were all earlier in the day before the wind got crazy. Of the last 12 groups only DJ was par or better.

  3. Borat S

    May 21, 2019 at 8:23 am

    Brooks is boring yawnnnnnnnnnnn. Like my sister.

  4. Stephen Peltier

    May 20, 2019 at 7:29 pm

    I was wondering when the Harmons would start getting their due. What do Tiger and Brooks have in common? Harmon.

  5. Benjamin Wright

    May 20, 2019 at 6:49 pm

    must be nice being given that stable of players from your dad

  6. Michael D Christiansen

    May 20, 2019 at 5:53 pm

    Tough MF, I love it. Just going to get tougher.

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Mondays Off

Mondays Off: Golf Hall of Fame resumes—what does it take?

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We are back from last week, and Knudson is finally a father! Steve asks what it takes to get into the Golf Hall of Fame, how much do majors count? Knudson talks about his last round and how much fun he had. Finally, we talk about the Rory and Keopka beef that is starting to play out.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Getting more out of your wedges

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When I started SCOR Golf in 2011 and completely re-engineered the short end of the set, I took on “the establishment” and referred to our line of clubs not as “wedges” but as “scoring clubs”—I felt like the term “wedge” had become over-applied to clubs that really weren’t. While I’ve tempered my “respectful irreverence” a bit since then, I still think we are shackled by the terms applied to those high-loft clubs at the short end of our sets.

Think about this for a moment.

It all started with the invention of the sand wedge back in the late 1930s. This invention is generally credited to Gene Sarazen, who famously had metal welded onto the bottom of a niblick to give it bounce, and introduced the basic “explosion” sand shot. Over the next few decades, the sand wedge “matured” to a loft of 55-56 degrees and was a go-to staple in any serious golfer’s bag. In his 1949 book, “Power Golf”, Ben Hogan described the sand wedge as a very versatile tool “for certain shots” around the greens, and listed his maximum distance with a sand wedge as 55 yards.

Even into the 1970s, the pitching wedge was considered the ‘go-to’ club for short recovery shots around the greens. And because the typical pitching wedge was 50-52 degrees in loft, it was very versatile for that purpose. I remember that even as a scratch player in the 60s and early 70s, I would go days or weeks without pulling the “sand wedge” out of my bag—we didn’t have bunkers on that little 9-hole course so I didn’t feel like I needed one very often.

Fast forward into the 1980s and 1990s, people were hitting sand wedges from everywhere and the wedge makers began to add “lob wedges” in the 60-degree range and then “gap wedges” of 48 degrees or so to fill in for the evolutional strengthening of iron lofts to a point where the set match pitching wedge (or P-club as I call it) was 44-45 degrees typically. Along the way, the designation “G”, “S”, “L” and “P” were dropped and almost all wedges carried the actual loft number of the club. I think this was a positive development, but it seems we cannot get away from the pigeon-holing our wedges into “pitching”, “gap”, “sand” and “lob” nomenclature.

So that history lesson was a set-up for suggesting that you look at all your wedges as just “wedges” with no further limitations as to their use. I think that will free you up to use your creativity with each club to increase your repertoire of shots you have in your bag…more arrows in your quiver, so to speak.

For example, long bunker shots are much easier if you open the face of your 50- 54-degree wedge so you don’t have to swing as hard to get the ball to fly further. You’ll still get plenty of spin, but your results will become much more consistent. Likewise, that super-short delicate bunker shot can be hit more easily with your higher lofted wedge of 58-60 degrees.

When you get out further, and are facing mid-range shots of 40-75 yards, don’t automatically reach for your “sand wedge” out of habit, but think about the trajectory and spin needs for that shot. Very often a softened swing with your “gap” wedge will deliver much more consistent results. You’ll reduce the likelihood of making contact high on the face and coming up short, and you can even open the face a bit to impart additional spin if you need it.

Around the greens, your lower-lofted wedges will allow you to achieve more balance between carry and roll, as almost all instructors encourage you to get the ball on the ground more quickly to improve greenside scoring. For the vast majority of recreational/weekend golfers, simply changing clubs is a lot easier than trying to manipulate technique to hit low shots with clubs designed to hit the ball high.

Finally, on any shots into the wind, you are almost always better off “lofting down” and swinging easier to help make more solid contact and reduce spin that will cause the ball to up-shoot and come up short. Too often I watch my friends try to hit hard full wedge shots into our all-too-common 12-20 mph winds and continually come up short. My preference is to loft down even as much as two clubs, grip down a bit and swing much more easily, which ensures a lower trajectory with less spin…and much more consistent outcomes. It is not uncommon for me to choose a 45-degree wedge for a shot as short as 75-80 yards into a breeze, when my stock distance for that club is about 115. I get consistently positive results doing that.

So, if you can wean yourself from referring to your wedges by their names and zero in on what each can do because of their numbers, you will expand your arsenal of shots you can call on when you are in prime scoring range and hit it close to the flag much more often. And that’s really the goal, isn’t it?

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Opinion & Analysis

Autumn golf is the best golf

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For many, golf euphoria occurs the second weekend of April when the flowers start to bloom, courses begin to open, and the biggest tournament of the year is on television. But I believe the absolute best season for golf is the fall.

Let me explain.

SPRING

Spring is the season of hope and rebirth, and for most golfers, it’s the first opportunity to break out new clubs or take the game you’ve been working on all winter to the course for the first time in many months. Depending on where you are in North America or around the world, golf courses are just opening up and the ground is drying out from a winter filled with snow and ice.

Yes, spring is fantastic, you can shrug off the occasional mud ball since it’s probably your first round in four months and you’re willing to cut “the super” some slack for the slow greens, because you’re just happy to be out on terra firma chasing around a little white ball. Your game is rusty. Courses aren’t quite there yet, but it’s golf outside, and you couldn’t be happier.

SUMMER

The dog days. This time of year is when golf courses are the most busy thanks to the beautiful weather. But high temperatures and humidity can be a real deal-breaker, especially for walkers—throw in the weekly possibility for afternoon “out of the blue” thunderstorms, and now you’re sweating and drenched.

Unless you are a diehard and prefer the dew-sweeping pre-7 a.m. tee time when the sun breaks on the horizon, rounds tend to get longer in the summer as courses get busier. And you’ll often find more corporate outings and casual fairweather golfers out for an afternoon of fun—not a bad thing for the game, but not great for pace of play. Summer makes for fantastic course conditions, and with the sun not setting until after 9 p.m. for almost two months, the after-dinner 9 holes are a treat and you take them while you can.

FALL

As much I love nine holes after dinner with eight clubs in a Sunday bag and a few adult beverages in June, nothing compares to the perfect fall day for golf.

The sun’s orbit, paired with Mother Nature, allows you to stay in your warm bed just that little extra, since you can’t play golf when it’s still dark at 6:30 a.m. The warm, but not too warm, temperatures allow you to pull out your favorite classic cotton golf shirts without fear of the uncomfortable sweaty pits. We can’t forget that it’s also the season for every golfer’s favorite piece of apparel: the quarter zip  (#1/4zipSZN).

Courses in the fall are often in the best shape (or at least they should be), since player traffic and corporate tournaments are done for the season. As long as warm afternoons are still the norm, firm and fast conditions can be expected.

Last but not least, the colors—reds, oranges, and yellows—frame the green fairways and dark sand to make them pop in the landscape. Fall is the final chance to get in those last few rounds and create happy thoughts and mental images before the clubs go away for the inevitably cold, dark days of winter.

Fall is meant for golf! So take pictures, smell the smells, and make great swings, because golf season is quickly coming to a close, and now is the time to savor each moment on the course.

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