I Think, I Saw, I HeardAugust 21, 2017

The Thomas Family comes down from PGA high, Butch Harmon puts on a new hat, and tributes to Phil Ritson

Mike Thomas, Justin Thomas
Stuart FranklinJustin Thomas hugs his father Mike Thomas after finishing winning the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club.

I Think …

Jordan Spieth said it best last week, describing Justin Thomas’ win in the PGA Championship as “knowing to the core” who his family is and how they brought him up. To that point, Mike Thomas was back to work as head professional at Harmony Landing Country Club in the Louisville suburb of Goshen, Ky., last Monday, just a day after his son’s victory at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte. The Master Professional had lessons to reschedule and a life to return to. When I caught up with him Sunday, a week after Justin’s first major victory, he was just getting out of the range picker. “I do whatever needs done,” he said. At 57, in his 28th year at Harmony Landing, Mike took it seriously when I asked, off the cuff, if he upped his hourly rate for lessons now that Justin was a major champion. “I charge less than anyone in town,” he quickly responded. “I’m not a marketer.” Going out for a quiet dinner the first night home wasn’t the smartest move, especially when the billboards are up across town, celebrating Justin’s victory.

Another sign on a Presbyterian church makes sure to point out, “Pride of Goshen. It’s in Kentucky.” The highlight for Mike and the members was putting one of the balls Justin used to win the PGA in the victory ball rack of his pro shop. Father and son will reunite this week at Glen Oaks Club on Long Island for the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs. Mike has only spoken to Justin once all week and looks forward to the first coach-to-son talk about his emotions, how he felt in different situations on Sunday at Quail. But they have spoken about the importance of the playoffs. “He’s focused on what’s in front of him,” Mike says. “You don’t get this opportunity all the time.” Those opportunities include the FedEx Cup title, the $10 million bonus that goes with it, along with Player-of-the-Year honors. All of that may seem like a long way from Harmony Landing, but they’re not for the son of a club pro who once picked the range himself. OK, maybe just once. As Mike playfully responded, “His employment was short-lived here.”

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I Saw …

Photographs emailed to me of Butch Harmon wearing in shorts and playing a different role than noted instructor. Ranked No. 1 in Golf Digest’s list of best teachers, Harmon knows the meaning of digging it out of the dirt. That’s literally what he did following the Open Championship in a stopover at Floridian National Golf Club in Palm City, Fla. With one of his learning centers located at The Floridian, and with son Claude based there, Harmon went to oversee construction on The Harmon Course, a nine-hole par-3 layout on the water that features a linksy feel, sod-wall bunkers and a tabletop green. Harmon told me at Quail Hollow about the design work he did with Dave Marr and Jay Riviere when he was based in Houston during the 1980s. “I did a lot of construction work, a lot of shaping,” Harmon said. “Yeah, I’d get on a bulldozer, a little box blade.”  Harmon admits that Marr and Riviere gave him a chance when I needed it. Now he’s just dabbling in it on a project scheduled to open at the beginning of the year. “When we do the pro-member, it’ll be nice to take the guys down there, have some drinks and fool around,” Harmon said. “It’s going to be fun.”

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I Heard …

Among the tour pros and celebrities that Ritson worked with was a young Andre Agassi.

The quiet passing of Phil Ritson didn’t go unnoticed in the world of golf instruction and among Hall of Fame golfers. Nick Price called the 87-year-old Ritson “one of the best teachers to come out of South Africa,” while acknowledging, “He helped so many of us over the years.” Former disciple David Leadbetter considered Ritson “the pioneer” of modern instruction who was “very advanced and underrated.” Former U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Danny Yates described how Ritson had “slow motion eyes,” in that he could watch one swing and pretty much figure out what the student needed to do during his years as director of golf at Disney World. His students included Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros and Ian Woosnam. Among other achievements Ritson was famous for: Being inducted into the South African Golf Hall of Fame in 2010 and having a street named after him at the Orange County National golf complex he co-founded outside of Orlando. “Phil was committed to the dreams he had and producing them at his facility was an example of his creativeness and his pride,” said Dr. Gary Wiren. “Put it all together, and he had not only imagination but also the drive to get it done.”


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