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Big event coming up? What you can learn from how Butch Harmon prepped his players for majors

Butch Harmon at Rio Secco Golf Club in Henderson, NV on Tuesday April 26, 2022. (Photo by J.D. Cuban)

Most competitive golfers want to have their swing mechanics nailed down before an important tournament week, but no one is immune to the occasional swing glitch that can show up at any time.

Try not to let a minor problem have a huge impact on your game. Butch Harmon talks a lot about helping players get ready for major championships, including adjustments to shot shape and trajectory to fit the course they’ll be playing. But on those occasions when an old habit or fault crept back in, their final preps together required a swing tweak.

You might not have the same issues as the game’s top players, but the lesson here is that last-minute changes should be tweaks rather than major swing changes. The key is getting back to where you were, not introducing new ideas.

Here’s how Harmon helped a few of his top players fine-tune their swings in the weeks, days—even hours—before some of the biggest moments of their careers. In each case, they went on to win major championships.

Get better sequencing for a free release

After Saturday’s round at the 2002 U.S. Open, Harmon says that Tiger Woods’ swing was slightly out of sync. The unwinding of his lower body on his downswing was too fast, an issue they had worked on many times before.

Harmon says that when the lower body races ahead, the club drops behind the body, so the player has to “catch up” the clubface at impact. Misses can go right or left, depending on how well the player times the hand action through impact.

Woods didn’t want to rely on timing during the final round, so Harmon had him practice slow-motion swings, keeping his back foot down longer on the downswing. That slows down the hips for a better delivery into the ball.

As you do this drill, Harmon says to let the momentum of the follow-through pull you off your back foot.

These slow-motion swings helped Woods get his arms back in front of his body on the downswing, finish more forward and release the club freely, Harmon says. Try this drill out for yourself and see the difference it makes in your swing.

Hit a controlled fade

Dustin Johnson now favors a fade, but running up to the 2016 U.S. Open, Harmon helped Johnson harness his signature shot with two setup keys that can help you, too.

“I wanted him to hit a fade because you can control the ball much better with a fade,” Harmon says.

A common issue golfers face when playing a fade is opening up too much, making them cut across the ball from out to in, Harmon says. This creates a big banana slice, but if you do it the way Harmon taught Johnson, you can hit a controlled shot that starts left and just falls slightly to the right.

Here’s the method Harmon uses. First, aim the clubhead where you want the ball to come down. Then, align your body about 20 yards left of where your clubface is aimed.

These setup keys create an open clubface relative to where the body is aimed, Harmon says. From there, you’ll take the club back on the line of your feet and hit a fade with your normal swing, Harmon says.

Try out these keys on the range to increase your consistency and control off the tee—and hit more fairways.

Add width to your backswing

During the 2009 Open Championship, Harmon says that Stewart Cink had slipped into a previous pattern of not turning his shoulders enough in the backswing.

For Cink and many other golfers, this causes the swing to get too narrow on the downswing, forcing them to lean back to shallow out the swing and get the clubface square through impact.

Surprisingly, Harmon made only one change to Cink’s swing before capturing his lone major title: a bigger upper-body rotation in his backswing.

According to Harmon, there are three ways to achieve a proper backswing rotation: (1) feel like you’re turning your lead shoulder behind the ball, (2) feel like you’re pulling your trail shoulder back, or (3) turn your chest over your trail knee as you swing back.

Try all three to figure out what swing thought works best for you.

To unlock more of Butch Harmon’s tour-tested tips, check out “My Major Champions,” his latest series in Golf Digest Schools. You’ll find out how the teaching legend helped top tour players tweak their swings and win major championships.

“My Major Champions” is one of more than 150 video programs in Golf Digest Schools. Take your game to the next level with instruction from the top teachers and players. And with the new Golf Digest Schools app, you can bring it all with you anywhere you go.