10 Dec 2022

Claude Harmon III: Next year’s Ryder Cup might have an asterisk

World-renowned golf coach Claude Harmon II spoke exclusively to Worldwide Golf to give his thoughts on what he calls the ‘golden era’ of golf. The American explains a ‘worrying’ trend in the sport, while also revealing his favourite swing and early thoughts on the upcoming Ryder Cup.

Your academy at the Els Club is well established now – you must feel proud of what you’ve built in Dubai?
Yeah. I first came and looked at the Els Club properly in 2007. Back then there was nothing here. When you’re a part of what’s going on in Dubai, if you’ve spent any time here, it can all seem really normal. Back then, the clubhouse wasn’t even here. We were standing in the middle of the desert. To see what it’s become and the academy become, it’s quite remarkable. We now have seven instructors and two full-time fitness guys. I’m really proud of that.

Do you think the introduction of launch monitor technology has made golf too complicated for the average amateur player?
In 2022, golf is in the information age in being able to understand what you do and measure what you do. We are in a fascinating time in golf instruction. This technology is readily available, but it’s what you do with that information which is really important. What we try and do from an instruction standpoint is use all the technology that is available today, but then say ‘okay, this is what you do, we know this, here is the plan of the attack to help you get better’. That’s the art of the coaching and instruction.

Do you think there will come a time when we have to start limiting the golf ball?
I know there is a segment of the population that thinks that, but I don’t see the average golfer getting any better. I’ve been teaching golf for half my life. The average golfer isn’t hitting it any further. We tend to look at golf from a distance standpoint. We tend to focus on less than one percent. If technology was really making golf easier as the distance nay-sayers say, then everybody in golf would be hitting it the same distance. In my opinion, there is a worrying trend in golf that – for some reason – people want golf to be the only thing in life that doesn’t evolve. We want it be the way it was when Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus played. I don’t know any other sport that spends so much time looking backwards, constantly talking about what people did in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s. The golden era of golf is today in watching Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and this younger generation. This to me is such an amazing era in life. I don’t want to be a part of a sport that is constantly trying to look backwards.

Do you think Rory McIlroy will win a Major in 2023?
You would think every time Rory tees it up in a Major Championship he should win. He is just that good of a player. His last Major win was in 2014 and at that point you would have thought he would have got to 10 Majors. It’s because he is such a great player. In 2022, when he is on, when he is playing ‘Rory McIlroy’ golf, he is almost impossible to beat. I have so much respect for Rory as a player, and off the golf course I like Rory as a person. Rory used to come to the academy at the Els Club and practice, and I remember watching him win his first event at the Dubai Desert Classic. I’ve known him a long time and I’m a huge fan. I think he is one of the most curious, inquisitive and smart people the way he gives interviews. He’s a thinker, and I like that about him. When you look at him play golf, he’s basically the favourite to win every tournament he tees it up in.

What is the most common mistake high handicap golfers make?
I think the biggest single difference between good players and bad players is that the average golfer is obsessed with the direction and the curvature of the golf ball. They’re obsessed with the way the golf ball is moving, whether it’s hitting snap hooks or slices. They don’t really worry about the contact and strike. I don’t really care which direction players hit the golf ball. Whether you hook it, fade it or draw it – it doesn’t make a difference. To me the most important thing is the quality of the strike and how the club interacts with the ball. I work with guys that draw it on Tour, fade it, lower ball flight, some higher… To me it doesn’t matter. But for the average golfer the single most important thing is quality of the strike. I think most recreational golfers should focus more on hitting the golf ball solid consistently day in day out, as opposed to trying to hit draws or fades. I think if most golfers focused on consistent contact they would play better.

Early thoughts on next year’s Ryder Cup?
It all depends on the Tours and governing bodies with the whole LIV question. It’s been refreshing to hear Jon Rahm’s and Matt Fitzpatrick’s comments saying the best players should be on each team. Everybody says the Ryder Cup is bigger than LIV, bigger than money. If that’s the case, regardless of where you play and what Tour you play on, the Ryder Cup should have the best American team and best European team. I think it’s crazy that on both sides that everybody can’t find a solution at the moment. I think it will have an asterisk next year if the Ryder Cup is played and players that are good enough to be on either team aren’t able to qualify or chosen, I think it will have an asterisk. I think it would be terrible for the Ryder Cup to not have the best players playing in it.

What are your thoughts on the growth of the women’s game with increased prize purses?
What LIV Golf has come in and done in 2022… There’s a lot of people who say it has fractured professional golf. There are a lot of people that think the influx of money from LIV is bad, but I would argue why has the PGA Tour made all the changes they’ve made? The women’s tournament in Saudi next year will have the exact same prize fund as the men – when did we think that would ever be happening? I do think that the women’s game is getting stronger. There are so many great players playing in women’s golf in the professional level from all different nationalities. It’s unbelievable the way Nelly Korda swings the golf club. I think Park Sung-hyun has one of the best golf swings I’ve ever seen. I think the LPGA Tour, they have some of the best golf swings technically anywhere in the world.

 

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