FAMOUS GOLF INSTRUCTORS: EUGENE CLAUDE HARMON SR. “The Sand Shot Technician”
By The Golf Fiend
Known as the father of the immensely respected and famous golf instructor Claude “Butch” Harmon, Claude Sr.’s………
legacy is not near the mark his son Butch has achieved, but he definitely deserves to be categorized as a Celebrity Golf Pro. His commitment to Golf as his Profession sparked a long line of successful Golf Teaching “Harmons” including Butch of course, Craig, and Bill the 3 Golf Instructor gurus recognized as Golf Digest’s popular “Top 50 Teachers” list. Not to mention, Claude’s 2nd oldest son Dick Harmon, was also an elite golf instructor with students such as Jay Haas and Fred Couples. Sadly and abruptly, Dick passed away from Pneumonia in 2006 at the age of 56.
So you see, the “Harmon” name is forever embedded in the history of Golf Instruction because of the over achieving and well respected legacies that Claude Sr and his sons have created over the years. Apparently, he has an uncanny ability for raising children to become golf greats in the capacity of a “teachers”role. A truly remarkable feat by any father’s standards who desire their children to follow their footsteps in life.
CLAUDE HARMON SR. BIO
Born on July 14, 1916 in Savannah, Georgia, Claude Sr. became involved with golf as a boy and showed his golfing talent as a player qualifying for the U.S. Amateur Championship at the tender age of 15. He even challenged Golf legends Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen at an exhibition match in Orlando at Dubs Dread and shot a 63 at the age of 13! Showing that he had the potential of being a golfing “prodigy,” Claude Sr. developed his own swing from the dirt as they say, and was relentless at perfecting his golf shots. He became the quality consistent golfer that he was by trial and error and built his game through fundamentals and a solid learning foundation.
His love for Golf eventually transformed him in to a part time club professional/tour player which was very common back in the early days of a golf instructor’s path in life. With less events than current tournament offerings and low purses for winning an event, Tour players were often known to be club professionals when they were not competing in tournaments so they could supplement their income.
Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, NY. and Seminole in Juno Beach, Fl. were lucky enough to be adorned by Claude Sr.’s guidance and instructional soundness where he served as head professional. His post as Golf Instructor extraordinaire lasted during playing months from 1945-1978 at Winged Foot and winter professional during the off-season at Seminole for numerous years.
Both of these elite country clubs are highly regarded in the golf world and Claude Sr. took advantage of this by appealing to very high profile clientele through his golf instruction. His students included Bing Crosby, Johnny Carson Henry Ford, and Howard Hughes. He also catered to many heads of state and dignitaries such as Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, and Ford, the Duke of Windsor, and King Hassan II of Morocco who awarded him the honorary Medal of Honor of Morocco. Claude Sr. definitely made an indelible impression on his students and one may confidently say he was one of the first Golf Instructors to cater to Celebrities, CEOs, and Political leaders. Throughout his trials and appointment books of students, Claude Sr. developed a knack for sand shot techniques to the tune that touring pros would seek him out for his latest sand shot tip.
Another testament that raised Craig Sr.’s fame and popularity was his relationship with the Pro Tour superstar, Ben Hogan. During, the winter months in the late 1940’s and 1950’s Hogan would live in Palm Beach and practice at Seminole to prepare for the Masters in April. This is where Hogan and Harmon played countless rounds competing against each other and their peers. For more info on Hogan’s relationship with Seminole, click here.
Claude Sr. possessed an edge that most of his Golf Instructing peers didn’t. His skills as a golfer to excel in Tournament play at a high level propelled him to win numerous events including the Havana open twice, the Westchester open 3 times, and the National Championship of Club Professionals to name a few.
He was very successful in his efforts at Major Championships including finishing in the top 25 8 times, top 10 4 times, and he reached his best achievement as a player by winning the 1948 Masters at Augusta National. Not only did he win, but he decidedly set the 72 hole tournament record at -9 beating his nearest competitor by 5 strokes.
In fact, Claude Sr. was the last golf club professional to win a major, an accomplishment that still stands today! One may honestly say that Claude Harmon was the last man of his era with dual success in the instruction side of golf serving famous players and high profile students and as an individual tournament player winning a total of 14 events worldwide.
This lineage of the player/club pro combination of talents dates back to Old Tom Morris who won 4 Open championships beginning in the 1860s. Tom was also known for being the head professional and greens keeper at St. Andrews Links in St. Andrews Scotland, the home of golf and Old Tom’s birthplace.
If there were two men who could be attributed as Claude Sr.’s mentors and golfing knowledge Superiors, it would have to be golfing greats Harry Cooper and Craig Wood. These like-minded golf pros were also winners of major championships and possessed an other-worldly skill of simplicity and effectiveness while they navigated and picked-a-part every hole they encountered on the golf course.
Claude Sr. would later pass down his swing and playing philosophies to his Assistant Pros including Dave Marr, Mike Souchak, Rod Funseth, Shelly Mayfield, and his most prized protege Jackie Burke Jr. who proved to be a World Golf Hall of Fame worthy player by winning a total 19 events world wide
including the 1956 Masters and PGA Championship and the 1955 US Open. It seemed whoever was fortunate enough to receive golfing advice and guidance from Claude Sr. would themselves evolve into the player they envision as a winning Championship caliber golfer who is capable of going low and putting pressure on the world’s best players at any given moment during the course of a tournament. Just because Claude Sr. represented the “working man’s” golf professional didn’t mean he couldn’t go toe-to-toe with golf’s elite players. He proved that by winning the 1948 Masters and reaching the mountaintop of competition in golf. A perch that he would undoubtedly never step down from by continuing his legacy through instruction until his death in 1989 at the age of 73. For more information on Claude Harmon Sr.’s golf instruction and swing philosophy please click HERE.
By The “Golf Fiend”
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Information used to write this article was obtained online and from “The Pro, Lessons about Golf and Life from My Father, Claude Harmon Sr.,” By Butch Harmon