Butch and Claude Harmon relive the day President Obama played golf with Tiger Woods
The pair enjoyed a round behind closed doors at The Floridian resort in February
Butch was Woods' coach for nine years during which time he won eight major titles
Claude Harmon Snr. won the Masters in 1948 and started golf coaching dynasty
Butch Harmon could hardly believe what he was seeing.
Two of the most recognizable faces on the planet were casually shooting the breeze as they swept down the fairway in Florida.
While the White House press pack fumed outside the gates, President Obama enjoyed a leisurely 18 holes with the world’s number one golfer Tiger Woods.
If ever there was a powerhouse pairing, this was it.
“It was really amazing,” renowned golf coach Harmon told CNN’s Living Golf show about that momentous February day when he had a greenside view.
“If you’d have told me 20 years ago that a black man would be the President of the United States I would have said you’re crazy.
“And if you’d have told me 20 years ago that a black golfer was going to be the greatest golfer that ever walked the planet I’d say you’re crazy, and there they go.”
Harmon is already more than familiar with Woods, having played an influential role in his formative years, sculpting the swing that would capture eight major championships by the age of 26.
He has also coached other stellar names in the world of golf, such as fellow American Phil Mickelson and South African Ernie Els – both with four majors to their name – as well as Australians Greg Norman and Adam Scott, the current Masters champion.
But never before in his illustrious career had he been afforded the chance to offer a few tips to the leader of the free world – himself a golf fanatic.
The U.S. President spent hours in a teaching studio at The Floridian resort, alongside Butch’s son Claude – also a coach to some of the game’s leading lights – as they fine-tuned a swing that by Harmon’s evaluation needed some work.
“President Obama loves golf,” he explained. “He’s not very good, he’s probably an 18 or 20 handicap, plays left-handed, didn’t hit the ball very far with a weak fade but we got him where he could draw and hit about 250, 260.
“When he gets out of office in another three years and he has a chance to play, he could probably get down to a 10 or 12 handicap – but he loves to play and he knows so much about everything. He loved the place. He said ‘Man, I’m coming back here.’
“We’d love to (have kept) the film of the lesson we gave him but as soon as he walked out the secret service took everything and they had to watch us delete it all from the computers.
“In this day and age with the multimedia stuff all over the world, he didn’t want it to show up on YouTube.
“I said to this one secret service guy, ‘I actually went on YouTube to look at the president’s swing and it was terrible, you actually might want some of these shots because they’re better than the ones you have. These look pretty good!’ “
The President and a clutch of his closest friends bunkered down at The Floridian for a weekend’s vacation – his erstwhile secret service detail, naturally, in tow – on the invitation of the resort’s owner, Jim Crane.
Crane, owner of the Houston Astros baseball team, and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk joined Obama for one of his two rounds on the Sunday, and making up the numbers just happened to be a 14-time major winner.
Not that Woods is a stranger to the President. The 37-year-old delivered a speech at Obama’s inauguration back in 2009, though he has always tried to stay away from politics throughout his career.
But whether Woods is a Democrat, Republican, or apolitical, the invitation to play with the President is not one to be ignored, according to Harmon.
“In all honesty it doesn’t matter what your politics are, if you get the chance to play golf with the President – which is the highest honor in our country – whether you voted for him or not or agree with the politics, it’s a great honor.
“When the President drove up and he instantly went right over and said, ‘Tiger it was great to see how well you played at Torrey Pines when you won the (Farmers Insurance Open) tournament.’
“He was into it, he wanted to play with Tiger, he was asking about his swing. It was great, it was fun to watch, and it was fun to see it and fun to be part of it.”
The Harmons have a rich history of rubbing shoulders with Washington power brokers.
Claude Snr. was the last club professional to win a major championship when he secured the Masters title in 1948.
His four sons Butch, Craig, Bill, and Dick all became golf professionals and had a keen eye for teaching, just like their father.
And from a young age they knew that Claude’s golfing prowess opened some pretty special doors.
“My father played with so many presidents himself,” Harmon explained. “He played with Eisenhower and he played with Ford, Nixon, and I got to play with a lot of them too when I was younger.
“I think if my father was still alive he’d be very proud of all of us. He’d be proud of the four sons, he’d be proud of his grandson because in reality we’re just carrying on what he taught us and what he did and we’re a very proud family.
“He had the greatest eye I think of anyone that’s ever taught and he saw things that other people didn’t see and quickly, he knew how to fix them, he’d watch you hit five or six balls and he’d know exactly what you were doing wrong.”
It was that wisdom passed down from father to son that led Harmon to believe that the 13-year-old kid presented to him in 1993 could go on to be one of the greatest players the game had ever seen.
Woods’ father Earl had noted the work Harmon had done with Greg Norman and asked if he could bring his son over to hit some balls. The session was filmed by Butch’s young son Claude.
“You’ve seen the footage, he’s a tall skinny kid in tennis shoes hitting balls and you just saw this natural talent that this kid had,” Butch said.
“I asked him so many different kinds of questions about how do you do this? Why do you do that? He didn’t know it at the time but I was giving him an examination, trying to find out really what ticked in his head, what he knew about golf.
“The kid was special, he was just a special person you could see it. It was no surprise to me that he turned out to be who he was.”