Welcome to Butch's 'frat house': Tour players enjoying time with legend in Vegas

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  • Butch Harmon
    Butch Harmon
    Professional golfer, golf instructor, author

The best way to describe the hectic comings and goings at Rio Secco Golf Club in Henderson, Nevada, the last two weeks is to compare it to a combine.

Or maybe “mini-camp” would best describe what the PGA Tour’s Las Vegas fortnight has created. For the second consecutive year, thanks to back-to-back events - the Shriners Children’s Open followed by the CJ Cup - the game’s best have converged on the high-desert layout to spend time with Butch Harmon.

However the players view their time with the teaching legend, who began cutting back on his travel to Tour events in 2019 and now works almost exclusively out of his Butch Harmon School of Golf at Rio Secco, Harmon has his own view – frat house.

“We had them all there at one time. It was like a frat house,” Harmon said with a laugh early Monday as he was preparing for another busy week. “We had a good time.”

These aren’t your average golf schools. The list of players who made the trip out to Rio Secco includes world No. 2 Dustin Johnson, Gary Woodland, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler and Nick Watney.

Full-field tee times from the CJ Cup at Summit

Fowler actually made two trips to visit with Harmon last week during the Shriners Children’s Open, but to hear Harmon tell it, this felt more social than work-related.

“A couple came in to work and then a couple just wanted to hang. We just had a lot of fun talking about the success we’ve had,” Harmon said. “I missed them. I don’t miss the travel. We had the best time.”

At 78 years young, Harmon couldn’t be happier with his decision to jump off the Tour merry-go-round, but the idea of retirement was never really going to land with him. After spending nearly five decades on Tour as a player and then swing coach, you can’t simply walk away.

It’s why the Tour’s two weeks in Las Vegas, which again has been necessitated by travel restrictions that kept the CJ Cup from being played in South Korea, have become a highlight for many players.

“It’s mostly just the stories, that's always a good time. You're always laughing a lot and you always have a lot of fun,” Johnson said of his time with Harmon this week. “[We] get a little bit of work done in between.”

Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas co-favorites to win CJ Cup at Summit Club

Most of these sessions are less about specific swing theories or teaching methods than they are about spending time with a legend.

For Johnson, who works full-time with Harmon’s son, Claude, there was some work to go along with the fun, but mostly it was the laughs.

“He was a little concerned about a couple things that he didn’t like. We worked on that double-cross shot, pretty easy fix with some stuff we’ve done in the past,” Harmon said.

The concerns and the answers were likely far more complicated than Harmon makes them sound, but that’s the beauty of Butch. Where lessons start and time spent with a life-long friend begins is intentionally vague when it comes to Harmon.

For Fowler, who is enduring the worst slump of his career, it was likely more of the latter that sent him to Rio Secco. “He came over a couple days really just to hang out, I thought he was swinging fine. Didn’t really help him with his game and we were always so close,” Harmon said.

The second week of the fortnight promised to be even busier with Harmon scheduled to work with Webb Simpson and Harold Varner III and he even had time to take on a new player.

“Lanto Griffin came and saw me for the first ime last week and finished sixth [at the Shriners Children’s Open],” Harmon said. “Nice guy; he’s fun to be around. It’s nice to see him play well right after working together. He’s a good player.”

Harmon, whose list of players he’s taught both past and present reads like a who’s-who of the game’s greats, said he doesn’t miss the road and points out with no small amount of conviction that he hasn’t been on a commercial flight since the start of the pandemic. But there are still some aspects he misses.

“What I miss is Sunday at the majors because I pretty much always had someone in the mix, I miss the rush of it. And the camaraderie,” he said before adding, “I like it the way it is now.”

Combine, mini-camp, frat house, whatever you want to call the last two weeks for the players who are annually drawn into Harmon’s universe, “the way it is now” is still pretty good.