LIV Golf players, Butch Harmon says, should stop the “BS” about playing for anything else other than money. And he has no issue where it comes from. And yes, he would take the amounts being offered if he were a player now.
Phil Mickelson, whom Harmon once coached, should be forgiven, he says.
There are things he likes about LIV Golf. And items he doesn’t about the controversial, Saudi-backed series. And he has an idea on what he would tell Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, and Greg Norman, the LIV CEO and another former Harmon pupil, should they ever meet.
Yes, the famed instructor has thoughts on the topic that has dominated pro golf, and he shared a bunch this week on the Son of a Butch podcast, hosted by his son, Claude Harmon, a longtime teacher himself. By now, you’ve heard or read at least some of the story, but should you just be checking in, know that it’s gotten messy; in a sentence, there’s the established PGA Tour, there’s now LIV Golf, which will play its fourth event over Labor Day weekend, LIV has signed Tour stars to guaranteed, multi-million deals to play 54-hole, no-cut events with a team aspect, the Tour has banned those players, and now the sides are going to court. Messy.
And you can’t walk farther than a chip shot until you hear an opinion on it all, though you’d have trouble finding someone with one who’s also more connected to both sides. Harmon played and coached on the Tour. He coached Norman and Mickelson, the faces of LIV. His son currently coaches Dustin Johnson and Pat Perez, both LIV players. But Harmon also didn’t appear conflicted on the podcast, which you can — and should — listen to here.
On LIV’s biggest story, the money, he’s clear. But his take here is both layered and simple:
Just say why you’re taking the millions. He would.
“I think the players that went to the LIV — you’re probably not going to agree with me on this — they created the problem because they went for the money, there’s no doubt about it,” Harmon said on the podcast. “That’s BS about I’m going to play less and I’m going to spend more time at home. No, you went for the money. So just say that. Because the average guy that works — if somebody is in a job and somebody comes up and says I’m going to give you 20 times more money to come over here, they’re going to go over there. And then they’re going to tell their buddies, hey, yeah, they offered me more money and I went. So to me that’s the first problem — I think the PR of the LIV has not been good. The guys should have got together and be honest. …
“This ‘I’m going to grow the game better’ — no, that has nothing to do with it; you’re not growing any game. They’re growing their bank accounts. Which every sportsman has the right to do — to get the best deal you can get. So I have a problem with people complaining about that. But I think they brought that on themselves by coming up with this other stuff.
“Secondly, the thing that really bothers me is that the public — and I’m not going to say I’m pro- or anti-LIV — the public is coming out against these LIV guys because it’s a Saudi-run thing. Our government does business with Saudi Arabia. Every large corporation in the world does business with Saudi Arabia. And so why they’re picking on golfers, I have no idea. Golfers to me have been the most underpaid superstars in all sport. Because they don’t get big contracts. Yes, they make endorsement contracts. But you have to earn those. And as soon as you play bad, those go away. … So why you picking on us? Golfers are nice guys. We don’t bother anybody. We just go play golf. Yeah, the guy had a chance to make $100 million — I tell you what, somebody offered me $100 million, I’m gone, I’m over there. Let’s just tell it like it is.”
That all segues well to Mickelson. You’ve probably heard or read most of this story, too. Should you need a refresher, here’s a longish sentence: Mickelson plotted to leave the PGA Tour, said some R-rated words about the Saudi backers of LIV, apologized, left golf for four months, returned, and he’s playing for the new series, and played the U.S. Open and Open Championship earlier this year.
Harmon knows well how Mickelson speaks; they worked together from 2007 to 2015, winning two majors. On the podcast, Harmon also said “bygones should be bygones.”
“Well, Phil’s very honest,” Harmon said on the podcast. “I mean, he’s got no filter. It’s one of the things I admire about him, one of the reasons we were friends, because I got a lot of that in myself, too. … What we think is what we say. And I think, in all honesty, I’m going to give Phil some credit. People didn’t like it, but a lot of the things he said about the Tour I think were true. And I think the Tour is now seeing that and they’re trying to change a lot of that stuff. So you got to hand it to Phil for that. He has taken a tremendous amount of criticism for it.
“You know there’s things that have come out about him and his personal life that he hasn’t done, and look, hey, we all make mistakes; nobody’s perfect, all right. We all make mistakes; there’s things in our past that I think bygones should be bygones.”
On the subject of the actual golf on the LIV series, Harmon said on the podcast he favored the “more relaxed atmosphere.” And players have sold him on the shotgun starts, though he wondered about a scenario where a player in the lead would have to play a hard hole as their finisher, and a player close behind would have an easy one. But Harmon would also increase the fields to 60 players — they’re currently at 48. And he would play four rounds — LIV currently plays three.
Bigger picture, Harmon also said there’s room for both the PGA Tour and LIV.
Toward the end of the podcast, Claude Harmon asked his dad this:
“All right, so you get in a room right now with Greg Norman and Jay Monahan and someone asks you to be the moderator between the two of them. What advice are you giving to Greg and what advice are you giving to Jay to try and see if there’s a way that this whole thing can be less destructive and less aggressive than it is?”
“First of all, I would say leave your egos at the door,” Butch Harmon said. “Come in with no egos. let’s come in with an open mind and see what we can do to make it better. That would be the first thing. Second thing, I would think that there is a way for the European Tour, the PGA Tour, the LIV Tour, to get together and have four or five huge tournaments a year, where participants from all three get to play. You can make it a 100-man field, you can do it off world rankings, you can do it any way you want to do it, I don’t care. For an amount of money, because that’s what it’s all about. And go to iconic, fabulous golf courses around the world and have this true world event.
“Now, that going to happen? Probably not because I don’t think Jay Monahan would even go to the meeting at the moment. So I think until things calm down — I’ve never talked to Jay about it, so I haven’t had that opportunity. But I would love to see some kind of thing get together where it is a world event, a gigantic world event. Not close to the majors. The majors will always be the majors. They’re there. Ultimate in golf is winning a major. I don’t care if you’ve 25 tournaments in your life; if you’ve never won a major, I’m sorry, you’re not considered a great champion. But there’s got to be a way that they can co-exist. … And I think these two organizations have to get together and do what’s best for golf.”