When a victorious Phil Mickelson walked off the final green after winning The Players on Sunday, he threw his arm around new coach and said, “First of many, Butch.” But things weren’t always so warm and fuzzy between instructor Butch Harmon and his new prized pupil. Just four years ago Harmon—who at the time was coaching Tiger Woods—slammed the then-majorless Mickelson, saying he would never win a big title unless he got over his “pathetic” obsession with driving the ball huge distances.
Harmon and Mickelson joined forces just last month and have achieved remarkable success already, capped by Mickelson’s 31st career win last week. But four years ago on the eve of the 2003 British Open Harmon harshly criticized the star. “Phil is obsessed with distance. It’s pathetic. All he thinks about is how far he hits it. He tries to bash it further and further,” Harmon told Britain’s Golf World magazine. “We were having this conversation for two hours and I was telling him that he needed to back off on the distance. I said he would never win a major with the philosophy he had; that he would need to start catching more fairways and more greens.”
The meeting between the two took place in Harmon’s Las Vegas office, its walls festooned with flags from each of the courses where Woods had won a major. At the time Mickelson rebuffed Harmon’s public criticism that a lack of accuracy was costing him majors. “I’ve missed as many fairways with a two-iron as I have with a driver,” he said. Less than a year later Mickelson won the Masters, and added another two majors before finally pairing up with Harmon.
Fresh off his victory at The Players, Mickelson is finally on the same page as Harmon, and both say they are looking forward to making a run at Woods. “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Harmon said. “He’s going to get a lot better. I think he can maybe rival Tiger.”