Commentary

Lefty, Watney share coach connection

Originally Published: March 14, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

DORAL, Fla. -- In golf, unlike other sports, a coach does all of his work before the actual competition begins. Once the first tee shot is struck, there is nothing else he can do but hope and pray that all of the preaching and practice is productive between the ropes.

Also in golf, that coach might be in the seemingly awkward position of helping one student beat another.

[+] EnlargeButch Harmon
Harry How/Getty ImagesWhile Phil Mickelson and Nick Watney are both current Butch Harmon students, the likes of Tiger Woods, Greg Norman, Fred Couples and many other major winners have also thrived under Harmon's tutelage.

Welcome, at least this week, to the world of Butch Harmon, who for the second day in a row on Sunday will get to watch two of his prized pupils, Phil Mickelson and Nick Watney, do battle in the final group at the CA Championship.

"I would love to see them both come down the last hole tied for the lead and one of them birdies the last hole to win," Harmon said Saturday after Mickelson and Watney finished atop the leaderboard at the $8.5 million World Golf Championship event.

"That would be my hope. You'll be happy for the one who did win and unhappy for the one who didn't. What I would like to see is for Watney and Mickelson go out and play to the best of their ability and one of them makes the putt at the right time wins the event. That would be wonderful."

Harmon is one of the game's most famous teachers and part of one of its most famous families. His late father, Claude, won the 1948 Masters, and he has two other brothers, Bill and Craig, who are also instructors. (Another golf instructor brother, Dick, passed away in 2006.)

Although Harmon played the PGA Tour briefly -- he won a tournament in the early 1970s and spent time living in Morocco while serving time as a personal instructor to King Hassan II -- the 65-year-old is most known as an instructor to the stars.

Over the years, he has worked with the likes of major championship winners Tiger Woods, Greg Norman, Fred Couples, Davis Love III and Justin Leonard. He now has a thriving golf school in Las Vegas. And he got so busy that he decided he had to pare his list of high-profile clients down to the present group of Mickelson, Watney, Ernie Els, Stewart Cink and Adam Scott.

Watney might seem like the odd man in that group, but the two-time PGA Tour winner who captured the Buick Invitational last month has drawn Harmon's praise as a nice guy but a harder worker.

"I'm definitely honored to be working with him," said Watney, 27, whose 5-under-par 67 helped him make up two strokes on Mickelson, who shot 69. "I talked a little yesterday about his wealth of knowledge, but he is, in my opinion, the best in the world, and I'm glad that I have him on my team."

If there is any strangeness to the situation, none of those affected see it. Mickelson and Watney warmed up on the range Saturday and Harmon spent time with both of them.

"You've pretty much done your work before the tournament gets started," Harmon said. "All five of them have different personalities. You have to know when to kick one of them in the rear end and when to make one laugh. But they're all good guys. We've all been together for awhile. I understand their personalities.

"On a day like today and the same thing tomorrow, I just have to keep them relaxed. You just prepared them to play and hope they go out and play their best."

A friend of Harmon's from Fresno, Calif., where Watney went to Fresno State, helped hook the two up. Watney even moved to Las Vegas so he could work more closely with Harmon.

"We kind of have an idea of what we are doing, and I know that when he comes out on the road, he is in demand," Watney said.

WGC-CA Championship

Watney (-16)
Mickelson (-16)
Singh (-12)
Villegas (-12)
5 tied at -11)
• Complete scores

Mickelson's relationship with Harmon began two years ago here at Doral, and it obviously had far bigger ramifications. Mickelson had worked for years with Rick Smith, and it was seen as a huge change for one of the game's biggest names to be making the switch.

It seemingly paid immediate dividends when Mickelson won the 2007 Players Championship, although it wasn't until recently that Lefty began to really feel comfortable with his swing. He has spoken excitedly this week about the ability to hit his driver without fearing the consequences.

"He's a completely different player than he was then," Harmon said. "His swing was long and across the line; he didn't hit the ball up into the air as well as he does now. He's totally different now.

"If you ask him, he feels like he hits the ball better than he ever has. He's always been a bit wild. He's always been a free swinger. That's just how he plays. But we've really worked hard to try and get his drives more into play so he can still be aggressive. That's how he likes to play. I don't want to take that away from him. Now that his short game is back, he's phenomenal, really."

As if having two clients four shots clear of the field and going head-to-head in the final round of a tournament isn't enough, Harmon also gets a nice front-row seat for the action. He is working this week as an analyst for Sky Sports, a British sports network.

No word on if he'll be taking calls during commercial breaks from Scott, Els and Cink.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com