AUGUSTA, Ga. — The Harmon tradition of winning goes back a long way at Augusta National. Seventy years to be exact, to 1948, when the first Claude Harmon won the Masters by five strokes.
The second Claude Harmon, better known as Butch, famously coached Tiger Woods to three victories here.
The third Claude Harmon aims to continue that winning tradition this year.
CHIII has three of his guys in the field. Rickie Fowler, Jimmy Walker and Dustin Johnson. Johnson has generated surprisingly little buzz this year compared to the hype of 2017, when the hottest player on the planet withdrew minutes before his first round tee time after injuring his back in a fall down the stairs at his rented home.
“It’s great that he’s coming in as the No. 1-ranked player in the world under the radar,” Harmon III said. “People don’t think he’s on the same form as he was last year, but his game’s starting to round into shape. He’s hopefully going to be one of the guys Sunday afternoon who’s in the mix with nine holes to go.”
What will it take to put him there?
“He’s got to drive it good. If he drives good and putts good those are the things he can dominate with,” he said. “He’s been fighting a two-way miss all year. If he can get back to hitting one shape, a little bit of a fade, he’ll be good. He knows how to close.”
Another guy who knows how to close looms large in the lore of both the Harmon family and Augusta National: Woods. Harmon III said he’ll be shocked if the resurgent legend doesn’t have a chance to win a fifth green jacket this weekend.
“Everybody says when Phil comes here he has a reverence for this place, no matter how he’s playing, no matter what age he is,” he said. “He’s won three of these things. Tiger has won four. Other than Jack Nicklaus, who alive has better vibes around this place? Tiger loves everything about this place.”
Woods’ performance in his last three starts offered cause for optimism, according to Harmon III: “If he putts at all at Honda, he has a chance to win. He didn’t make any Sunday at Tampa and finished second. At Bay Hill he put himself right where he needed to be. He’s trending in the right direction.”
Of course, there’s a difference between putting himself in a position to win and actually closing the deal. Woods hasn’t done that at Augusta National for 13 years, or anywhere else for almost five. That’s where the brain’s muscle memory kicks in.
“There are few people who know what it takes to win around here the way that he does. Sometimes it’s less about what you do than what other people do,” he said. “Danny Willett is a great example. He put himself in position and the right things happened. Make pars and birdies on the right holes and then other guys don’t do what you expect them to do. Here you can just hang around and it can be a situation where you’re the last man standing. Everyone else gets wobbly. The great ones keep hanging around.”
Harmon III is standing below the plantation clubhouse, where during every Masters his grandfather ate lunch in the small Champions locker room daily then headed to the range. Not to practice. The old teacher, who was a club professional at famed Winged Foot when he won, just wanted to watch.
“They’d put a chair on the old driving range. That was his chair. He’d just go out and watch guys hit balls,” his grandson remembers. “He loved golf, he loved golfers. He’d be blown away at how good the players are now.”
Harmon the elder won by five at 9-under par, tying the lowest 72-hole total in Masters history. Three score and 10 years later, Harmon the younger still sounds in awe of him. He thinks plenty of guys in the field would take that 279 total.
“If you gave players the option to have 279 as a score for the next five years and not play, I think you’d win at least once, probably twice, and rarely finish outside the top 10,” he said.
Harmon may be greeting a student as champion in a few days, as his father did. But for this family, Augusta National remains Senior’s domain nearly 30 years after he died. The grandson glances over his shoulder at the bustling clubhouse.
“It’s cool to be here 70 years on,” he said quietly.