In a lot of ways, golf has changed since my grandfather, Claude Harmon, was giving lessons in the 1960s and ’70s. Equipment is massively different, and athletes playing on the PGA Tour barely resemble the crowd Jack and Arnie were dominating during the Lyndon Johnson administration. But the lessons he shared in magazines such as Golf Digest and Sports Illustrated (that’s my grandfather and father, Butch, demonstrating the same tip on past covers of Golf Digest) are proof of an important point: Good fundamentals are timeless. Here are five I’m revisiting from one of my grandfather’s other articles, starting with this one (above). He tended to hook the ball, so he liked to feel his hips sliding forward before rotating, which held off the clubface from shutting too quickly. To try it, make a backswing with the club in your lead hand only, and then push your hips with your other hand toward the target as you start the downswing. It’s also a great drill if you tend to hit off your back foot, as it trains you to shift forward in the downswing and strike the ball on a good angle of attack.
As these Golf Digest cover stories from 1972 and 1997 show (above), one-arm drills have been a part of the Harmon repertoire for decades. The one I’m demonstrating (top) helps promote a good weight shift in the downswing for better ball-striking.
HOLD THE CLUB IN THE FINGERS
Even back in the ’60s while working the range at Winged Foot in New York, my grandfather felt the importance of teaching a good grip was overlooked. Today it seems like nobody talks about it. That’s a shame, because it’s a crucial fundamental to hitting good shots. It’s something I’m always checking—even with my tour players. Like my grandfather said, make sure you’re setting the handle across the fingers instead of in the palms. (1) When the club is in the fingers, it’s easier to set your wrists and produce more power. (2) As a demo, you can even pre-set your wrist hinge as you grip the club. Then all you have to do is turn your shoulders to take the club back. It’s a way to rehearse how to reach the top of the swing in good form.
PLAY FROM A STRONGER POSITION
My grandfather held the club with a weak right-hand position (top), because he fought a hook. For most players, I think it’s easier to start with a stronger grip position (above) and work weaker from there if you’re hooking the ball. First, remember to get the handle out of those palms! If the club rests predominantly in the palms and the hands are turned toward the target, this weak position will promote an open face at impact. If you’re a slicer and your hands aren’t in a stronger position with the trail hand feeling more behind and slightly under the handle, you’re making it that much tougher to square the face and hit it straight. A strong grip also promotes a more aggressive swing, and that will help anyone hit it more solidly.
SET UP LIKE AN ATHLETE
My grandfather stressed that he wanted all his students to be in an athletic position to start the swing. What did he mean by athletic? Have your body ready to produce some swing speed. (1) Set an athletic posture by standing straight with your feet slightly wider than your shoulders for a driver. Your shoulders should be square and lined up directly over your hips and knees. (2) Tilt your upper body and flex forward, adding a slight knee bend. Your knees should be directly over the balls of your feet, and your arms should hang naturally in front of you. You could draw a straight line down from my shoulders to the balls of my feet. There’s no arch, hunch or “S” shape to my torso. It’s straight, strong and ready to turn.
CHANGE YOUR FINISH, NOT YOUR SWING
If you want to get better at curving it both ways on command, my grandfather recommended doing it by changing your through-swing. Here you can see the shaft in two different follow-through positions. It’s more vertical and has a “held off” look when I want to fade the ball (top). And for a draw, it’s more horizontal and fully released (above). In both swings, my body is moving nearly the same way. The shot shape is being controlled by how my arms are moving in the downswing and follow-through. Swing them faster and more around you for the draw, and swing them slower and more up for a fade. Shaping shots this way is a lot easier than making stance and alignment changes and trying to manipulate the clubface.