At the heart of the Harmon family legacy is a heavy wool sport
coat, size 42 regular, the color of an overcooked lima bean,
with just a single button, wide lapels and an Augusta National
Golf Club patch sewn onto the breast pocket. The coat was given
to Claude Harmon 50 Aprils ago by Bobby Jones for winning
Jones's annual invitational tournament, the Masters. Now the
jacket rests on the plastic shoulders of a mannequin in the
middle of the pro shop of the Oak Hill Golf Club outside
Rochester, N.Y., where Harmon's son Craig is the head pro. One
of the other Harmon boys--Butch, Dick or Bill, all golf
pros--could just as easily have taken the coat, but Craig
slipped it out of the old man's closet first.
This is an article from the April 20, 1998 issue
Late in his life, his body failing but his mind still sharp,
Harmon had said to Craig, "Don't you go anywhere with that
jacket." The coat had meaning to E. Claude Harmon. He had golfed
his bottom off to win that sport coat and the $2,500 prize that
came with it, beating Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead in
"O.K., Dad," said Craig, the second son, the dutiful son. "I
won't." But he did.
The third son, Dick, the pro at River Oaks, an old-line Houston
club, looks after his late father's backup Augusta coats. They
are on display. One is at Lochinvar, Houston's elite all-male
club, where his father was pro emeritus in his final years. The
oldest son, Claude Jr., better known as Butch, proprietor of the
Butch Harmon School of Golf in Las Vegas--his hourly lesson rate
is $500--doesn't have a green jacket from his father, but one of
his pupils, Tiger Woods, has one of his own, and that brings him
much satisfaction. The youngest son, Bill, a teaching pro at the
Vintage Club, a posh playground for the rich in Indian Wells,
Calif., doesn't have one of his father's green jackets, either,
but he has a story about one.
At the Masters one year Bill, who was Jay Haas's caddie, was
walking around with his father when he started wiping debris off
his dad's coat and chiding his father for eating sloppily while
wearing his august member's garb. "You take care of that white
tuxedo of yours," Claude said, referring to the overalls Augusta
caddies wear. "I'll take care of the jacket." All the brothers
know that line, in one form or another.
The lines are right there, at the heart of the legacy, along
with the original 42 regular. They live on, reminders of Claude
Harmon's severity, his wit, his generosity, his greatness. When
Claude was on his deathbed, in 1989, Bill heard his father use a
certain profane word he had never heard him say before. "You got
a good girl there," Claude said, referring to Bill's wife,
Robin. "Don't f--- it up." Bill thinks about that line daily.
When Craig, humiliated and despondent, called his father after
shooting 89 as host pro in the first round of the 1980 PGA at
Oak Hill, Claude said, "Terrific, you made me money. I bet
everybody you'd break 90." When Butch, playing the Tour
unspectacularly in the late '60s, called home once to tell his
father he had missed another cut, Claude said, "Oh, I thought
you were leading. Guess I had the newspaper upside down." In
1983, when Dick was about to play Seminole, the Donald Ross
monument in South Florida, Claude said, "When you take your 60th
stroke, walk in. Let me know what hole you came in from."
That last line makes sense only if you know something about
Claude Harmon, about his skill at the game. You have to know
that one March day in 1947 he played Seminole in 60 strokes. He
was great, all right. From the end of World War II to John
Kennedy's election, an era when golfing superiority was measured
not only by tournaments won but also by course records set,
Harmon was among the five or 10 best players in the world. If he
was not in the same class as Hogan, Nelson or Snead, he wasn't
far behind them. Harmon shot 61 at Quaker Ridge, an exacting
A.W. Tillinghast track in Scarsdale, N.Y. Nobody has beat it
yet. He shot 61 on both courses at Winged Foot. Those are still
records. (He once broke 70 for 56 consecutive rounds at Winged
Foot.) He shot 63 at Fishers Island, a Seth Raynor masterpiece
on a spit of land in Long Island Sound. The record stands. His
30 out, 30 in at Seminole--12 under par on a course measuring
6,873 yards--is commemorated by a shot diagram still on display
in the locker room. The day somebody shoots 59 there, you'll
hear about it. When he won the Masters in 1948, at 31, he shot
rounds of 70, 70, 69 and 70. His nine-under 279 tied what was
then the record.
Now the astounding part: He won at Augusta as a club pro. In
fact, he was the head pro at two clubs. Before the '48 Masters,
Harmon had not played in a tournament in more than half a year.
He had the game for tournament golf, but neither the time nor
the inclination. In spring, summer and fall he was the pro at
Winged Foot, in Mamaroneck, N.Y. In winter he was the pro at
Seminole, in North Palm Beach. They were two of the best club
jobs in the country. He took no time off. He didn't want to play
the Tour because he could make more money as a club pro with a
busy shop and students lined up on the practice tee. More to the
point, he didn't want to be away from his family.
Harmon prepared for the '48 Masters by playing with Hogan almost
daily for a month early in the winter at Seminole. They gambled
for large sums. If you missed a fairway, it cost you $10. If you
missed a green, another $10. For Harmon it was like an education
in course management. That he was beating Hogan as often as
Hogan was beating him gave Harmon the idea that he could win the
Masters. But while Hogan was tuning up for Augusta by playing
the winter Tour, Harmon was giving lessons to Henry Ford at
Seminole. When Harmon went to Augusta in April, he was literally
stopping off, driving north from Seminole to Winged Foot. When
he won, it was proof to the world what the golf cognoscenti
already knew. Claude Harmon could play.
Today Claude's progeny are everywhere, and the lineage is
clearly marked. There are his four sons, his son's students, his
former assistants, their students. Among the shop hands who
worked for Harmon at Winged Foot are the late Dave Marr, the
broadcaster and the winner of the 1965 PGA; Jackie Burke, who
won the Masters and the PGA in '56; Dick Mayer, the '57 U.S.
Open winner; Mike Souchak, who won 16 Tour events between 1955
and '64; and Jack Lumpkin, director of golf at Sea Island, Ga.,
and the teacher of Davis Love III, who won the PGA last year at
Winged Foot. What Harmon taught Lumpkin about bunker play,
Lumpkin taught Love.
There are also Jeff Sluman, who since age 19 has been coached by
Craig Harmon; Steve Elkington, who takes lessons from Dick
Harmon; Haas, who works with Bill Harmon; Greg Norman, who left
Butch Harmon in 1996 while ranked No. 1 in the world, and Woods,
who has been taught by Butch since 1993, when Tiger was a
17-year-old amateur. Then there are several of Claude's 15
grandchildren: CH, Butch's son, who teaches with him in Las
Vegas; John, Craig's son, who also works with Butch; Ricky,
Dick's son, who plays golf at Mississippi State; Jay, Bill's
four-year-old son, who is named for Haas and who makes a
handsome swing with a three-ounce plastic club.
The Harmons are the First Family of the PGA of America. They are
to professional golf what the Kennedys are to politics, which
means that along with all the triumphs and success, they have
known heartache too.
Butch, 54, was a rebel and a hothead as a kid, and he and his
father battled endlessly. (He's still a rebel, and a recovering
hothead.) While in high school, Butch fell in love with a
classmate of Mexican descent from a working-class family. Claude
did not approve, so they eventually eloped. Two years later, in
1966, Butch went to Vietnam, an experience so painful he doesn't
talk about it. His first marriage collapsed, and he married a
Moroccan flight attendant. (Butch, like his father, was the
personal golf instructor to the King of Morocco.) When that
marriage broke up, in 1979, Butch and his first wife, Lil,
married again. Now they are going through a second divorce.
Butch is a driven man with an immense capacity for work, like
his father. Unlike his father, he has not known stability in his
personal or professional life. Who knows why, except to say, as
his brothers do, that Butch is complicated. Butch saw his father
both prosper and suffer as a consequence of his two main
devotions, his wife and his job at Winged Foot.
For 28 years Alice Harmon, Claude's wife, kept her family up and
running. The Harmons had wealth and position and staff and club
memberships and big houses, but running the family was not easy.
She had to manage the egos and psyches of four golfing sons,
each trying to outplay the other, each believing the way to win
his father's approval was with low scores. Annually, Alice had
to oversee midyear school transfers as her husband migrated from
Winged Foot to his winter job, first at Seminole and later at
Thunderbird, in Palm Springs, Calif.
After Bill was born in 1950, Alice suffered a series of
miscarriages, four in all, until the Harmons had their first
daughter, Claudia, who was born in January 1959. Less than 12
months later a second daughter, Allyson, was born. Their time
with their mother was brief. Alice died of bone-marrow cancer in
1970, on her 28th wedding anniversary. The family never
recovered from the death, Claude and the girls particularly.
In the aftermath of Alice's death, Claude lost his passion for
his job at Winged Foot, where he had been the head pro since
1946. After work Harmon, once the most social of men, would
return home, have a drink and go to sleep. His friendships with
old guard members remained strong, but he made little effort
with the new members and the younger crowd. At one point a club
officer encouraged Harmon to introduce himself to the new
members while having lunch. "I'm the man with the green jacket,"
he said in response. "I am not the maitre d'. I will not work
For decades everyone had assumed that Winged Foot and Harmon
would take care of one another forever. That didn't happen. In
1977 the 60-year-old Harmon, after 31 years at the club, was let
go. He remained a member, but his contract was not renewed.
Craig and Dick have anchored themselves to one club the way
their father did. Craig, 51, has been the head pro at Oak Hill
since 1972. When he applied for the job, at 25, the club was
worried that he would stay only a few years, that he would
someday succeed his father at Winged Foot. To which Craig said,
"Oak Hill will become my Winged Foot." And that's what it has
been. Harmon has been at Oak Hill for the '80 PGA, the '84
Senior Open, the '89 U.S. Open and the '95 Ryder Cup. This year
the U.S. Amateur will be at Oak Hill. One reason the USGA and
the PGA keep returning to Oak Hill is that Craig knows how to
prepare a club and a course for an important event as well as
any club pro working today. He had good training. When the '59
U.S. Open was at Winged Foot, Claude ran the shop, tended to the
contestants and gave lessons. Oh, and he played. At 42, he
finished tied for third, two strokes behind the winner, Billy
Dick Harmon, 50 and married for 28 years, has been at River Oaks
since 1977. He is an affable man, funny and loose. For instance,
he doesn't let Butch's sudden celebrity as Tiger's teacher
intimidate him. Just after Woods turned pro, Golf magazine asked
Dick how he thought Woods would fare in his first year on Tour.
Dick predicted he would win an event, be a top-30 player, but he
wouldn't win a major. Butch read Dick's remarks and did a slow
burn. When Woods started winning pro tournaments, early and
often, Butch would call Dick after each triumph and say,
resentfully, "How we doin' now?" Dick finds Butch's excitability
amusing, but also foreign. He's as steady as a winter flagstick.
Butch has a much bigger personality. In an odd way, the success
of Butch's relationship with Woods is explained by Butch's ego.
According to Butch, the blame for Woods's dismal performance at
last year's U.S. Open rests totally on his shoulders. "He
listens to me a lot, and I didn't let him hit driver enough,"
Butch says. "We will correct that. He will win the U.S. Open
One thing that impresses Butch most about Woods is how
interested Woods is in the golfers who came before him, Claude
among them. Says Butch, "He'll say, 'Show me again how your
father gripped the club.' 'Show me how he played bunker shots.'
'Tell me about the 60 he shot at Seminole.' He wants to know
As a young man Butch was a spectacular shotmaker, but Bill, 47,
had a more complete game. Bill never made it as a touring pro
for the same reason countless other kids with dazzling games
don't make it. Somehow, deep down, he didn't feel adequate. "Dad
never gave any of us a lot of positive feedback," says Dick,
"but Craig and I took it a little better than Butch and Billy."
(The two girls had their own thing going on with their father.
After the death of their mother, Claude spoiled Claudia at every
turn, but was distant with Allyson. The two girls fought
constantly. Today, although Claudia lives outside Dallas and
Allyson lives in Palm Desert, Calif., they are best friends.)
For a decade, Bill worked as a Tour caddie, and he was immensely
popular. He understood the culture of golf as well as anybody.
"I knew being a caddie wasn't exactly what a Harmon was supposed
to be doing, but I loved it," Bill says. He and Haas, his best
friend, ground out hundreds of cuts and won five events.
Bill left the Tour in 1987 and became an assistant to Craig at
Oak Hill. Later, Bill became the head pro at Newport (R.I.)
Country Club, where, in 1992, the most significant event of his
life took place. One night, two members visited Harmon in the
apartment in the clubhouse where he lived with his family.
"Billy," one member asked, "do you think you have a drinking
It was a question he had been begging for somebody to ask him.
He just didn't know it. "Yeah," he said. "I do."
"We can help," the member said. They took him to an Alcoholics
Anonymous meeting, and Bill has been alcohol-free ever since. He
hasn't revisited his other prime retreats, cocaine or marijuana,
since then either. When he caddied for Haas at the Masters last
week and said, "I just hope I can read greens and figure
yardages straight," he was joking.
Now, like many recovering alcoholics, Bill is a pathological
truth teller, to his students and with his wife and two boys,
about his father and his siblings. He can sum up the Harmon
brothers and their father in a way no one else can. "Butch wants
to be the man," Bill says. "Dick wants to be the man, but he
doesn't want you to know that he wants to be the man. Craig and
I don't give a s--- whether we're the man. Dad definitely wanted
to be the man, and he was."
When Claude died on July 23, 1989, his six children were all
around him. Later, when his estate was divvied up, there were no
fights. He had made a lot of money and spent a lot, too, lived
in high style all the way, and at death there was nothing left.
Craig had already lifted the original 42 regular. Lochinvar
already had the backup coat. Claude's lines were already etched
in the memories of the succeeding generation. In the end, the
most important thing he bequeathed was his name. "When I say I'm
a Harmon, it means something," Craig says. "The Harmons were
taught to do things correctly." All the Harmons say that--the
sisters, too--in one way or another.
"Sometimes I'll watch CH when he's in a golf crowd, hear him
introduce himself," Butch says of his son and namesake. Claude
and Butch and CH are all E. Claude Harmons. "He'll say, 'How do
you do, I'm Claude Harmon.' Everyone's eyebrows will go up,
like, 'Oh, really?' CH is loving it." Butch took a quick look at
CH, who was telling a golf story set in Morocco. It could have
been his story, or his father's or his father's father's. "You
know he's prouder than hell."