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Opinion & Analysis

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: How is the new PGA schedule looking? Gross golf bag cleaning story!

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The new PGA schedule is out and how will so much major golf look in the fall. What golf gear would you buy with your stimulus check if you could blow it all on golf? Knudson has a gross story about cleaning out a golf bag.

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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19th Hole

Tiger at the Masters: The 3 that got away

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This time last year, Tiger Woods earned his fifth green jacket at the 2019 Masters, breaking a 14-year drought at Augusta National and completing a storybook career comeback (see Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters WITB here).

Between his 2005 and 2019 victories, Woods gave himself several chances to reclaim the green jacket, but for one reason or another, the championship continuously eluded the 15-time major winner.

Looking back on that drought, three years in particular stick out in my mind where Woods (being the ruthless closer that he is) could, and maybe should, have capitalized on massive opportunities.

2007 Masters

A unique tournament broke out at the 2007 Masters with chilly and windy conditions meaning we would see an over-par score winning the event for the first time in a generation.

Unusually however was the fact that Tiger Woods had got himself into a fantastic position heading into the final day’s play—one stroke back of the lead and in the final group.

By the first hole on Sunday, Woods had a share of the lead. A couple of holes later, and he was the sole leader. But instead of the game’s greatest ever closer doing what he does best, we saw the first small chink in Tiger’s major armor.

Unable to keep up with the improved scoring on Sunday, Woods finished the championship two strokes behind Zach Johnson. It was the first time Woods lost a major in which he held the lead at some point in the final round.

11th hole Sunday. Woods saved par.

Summing up after the round why things hadn’t turned out the way the entire golf world expected, Woods said

“Looking back over the week I basically blew this tournament with two rounds where I had bogey, bogey finishes. That’s 4-over in two holes. The last two holes, you just can’t afford to do that and win major championships.”

2011 Masters

In one of the most exciting final rounds in Masters history, an electric front-nine charge from Woods coupled with a Rory McIlroy collapse saw the then 35-year-old tied for the lead heading into the back nine.

After back-to-back pars on the challenging 10th and 11th holes, Woods found the green on the 12th before it all slipped away. A disastrous three-putt was followed by a deflating five on the par-5 13th and an agonizing near-miss for birdie on 14.

In typical defiant fashion, Woods then flushed a long iron on the par-5 15th to give him five feet for eagle and what would have been the outright lead. But he couldn’t find the cup.

Directly following his round, a visibly miffed Woods said

“I should have shot an easy 3- or 4-under on the back nine and I only posted even. But I’m right there in the thick of it and a bunch of guys have a chance. We’ll see what happens.”

What happened was eventual champion Charl Schwartzel did what Woods said he should have done—shooting 4 under on the back to win his first major.

2013 Masters

Luck, or lack of, is a contentious topic when it comes to sports fans, but at the 2013 Masters, Woods’ shocking fate played out as if those on Mount Olympus were orchestrating the tournament.

Woods entered the 2013 Masters as the World Number One, brimming with confidence having won three out of his first five tournaments to start the year.

By Friday afternoon, Woods had cruised into a share of the lead, before crisply striking a wedge on the par-5 15th as he hunted for another birdie.

In a cruel twist of fate, Woods’ ball struck the pin and ricocheted back into the water. “Royally cheated!” shouted on-course announcer David Feherty. Nobody could argue otherwise.

A subsequent “bad drop” turned a probable birdie into a triple-bogey placing Woods behind the proverbial 8-ball for the rest of the tournament. The game’s ultimate closer should have been in the lead with two rounds to play on a front-runner’s paradise of a course; instead, he was in chase-mode. (From 1991-2012, 19 of the 22 winners came from the final group).

Woods tried to rally over the weekend, but if he didn’t think the 2013 Masters was ill-fated for himself by Friday evening, then he would have been excused to do so on the eighth hole on Saturday.

 

Had Woods’ golf ball missed the pin at 15 on that hot and humid Spring afternoon in 2013, then he not only wins, but he likely wins going away.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Power Leak No. 1: Your grip

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One of the things I like the best is when a friend or stranger asks me to take a look at their swing to see if I can help them. I never get into the “lesson” business, because that is the domain of our golf staff at the club. But I have spent a lifetime in this game, and have studied the golf swing pretty relentlessly. I also have been blessed with a pretty good eye.

So, the other day, I was out hitting some balls in the afternoon, and a good friend from the club asked if I’d take a look at where he is losing power. Darrell is a big guy and a good player, but not nearly as long as you would think he’d be. He plays with the “big dog” money game, which has a few really big hitters that can be quite intimidating.

I’ve played with Darrell enough to know exactly where his power leaks were, so when he came out to the range, I watched him hit a few and dropped the first one on him.

“It’s your grip!”

He, like so many amateur golfers, was holding the club too far out on the end, and much too high in his palms — not low in the fingers like you should. I’ve always been of the opinion that the grip is the most important fundamental in the entire golf swing. Without a solid and fundamentally sound hold on the golf club, the rest of the swing cannot function at its best. Hogan thought it was so important, he dedicated a whole chapter of “Five Lessons” to the subject.

You’ll see the occasional pretty good scorer at the club with a funky grip, but you never see a bad grip on tour. The golfer who has mastered a great grip is the most teachable there is.

In my opinion, the grip is only ‘personal’ to a small degree. Whether you like to overlap, interlock or use the full finger grip (not baseball)…whether you like to rotate your hands a little stronger or weaker . . . the fundamentals are the same, and they aren’t negotiable.

The club has to be in your fingers to allow the “lag” that builds power, and to allow or even force the optimum release of the club through impact. The last three fingers of the left hand have to control the club so that it can be pulled through the impact zone. The right hand hold is limited to the curling of the two middle fingers around the grip, and neither set of forefingers and thumbs should be engaged much at all. One of the best drills for any golfer is to hit balls with the right forefinger and thumb totally disengaged from the grip. Google “Hogan grip photos” and study them!!!!!!

So, with the changes in the grip I had Darrell make, he immediately began ripping drivers 15-20 yards further downrange than he had. The ball flight and even sound of the ball off the driver was more impressive. So we went out to play a few holes to see what happened.

Historically, Darrell is only 5-10 yards longer than me at best, and sometimes I outdrive him. But not anymore!! On those five holes we played late that afternoon, he consistently flew it out there 20-25 yards past my best drives.

And that made us both really happy!

Next Tuesday, I’ll talk about the second in this series on Power Leaks.

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