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Like Father, Like Sons
Michael Bamberger
April 20, 1998
Each in his own way, the Harmon brothers carry on the legacy of their father
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April 20, 1998

Like Father, Like Sons

Each in his own way, the Harmon brothers carry on the legacy of their father

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At the heart of the Harmon family legacy is a heavy wool sport coat, size 42 regular, the color of an overcooked lima bean, with just a single button, wide lapels and an Augusta National Golf Club patch sewn onto the breast pocket. The coat was given to Claude Harmon 50 Aprils ago by Bobby Jones for winning Jones's annual invitational tournament, the Masters. Now the jacket rests on the plastic shoulders of a mannequin in the middle of the pro shop of the Oak Hill Golf Club outside Rochester, N.Y., where Harmon's son Craig is the head pro. One of the other Harmon boys—Butch, Dick or Bill, all golf pros—could just as easily have taken the coat, but Craig slipped it out of the old man's closet first.

Late in his life, his body failing but his mind still sharp, Harmon had said to Craig, "Don't you go anywhere with that jacket." The coat had meaning to E. Claude Harmon. He had golfed his bottom off to win that sport coat and the $2,500 prize that came with it, beating Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead in the process.

"O.K., Dad," said Craig, the second son, the dutiful son. "I won't." But he did.

The third son, Dick, the pro at River Oaks, an old-line Houston club, looks after his late father's backup Augusta coats. They are on display. One is at Lochinvar, Houston's elite all-male club, where his father was pro emeritus in his final years. The oldest son, Claude Jr., better known as Butch, proprietor of the Butch Harmon School of Golf in Las Vegas—his hourly lesson rate is $500—doesn't have a green jacket from his father, but one of his pupils, Tiger Woods, has one of his own, and that brings him much satisfaction. The youngest son, Bill, a teaching pro at the Vintage Club, a posh playground for the rich in Indian Wells, Calif., doesn't have one of his father's green jackets, either, but he has a story about one.

At the Masters one year Bill, who was Jay Haas's caddie, was walking around with his father when he started wiping debris off his dad's coat and chiding his father for eating sloppily while wearing his august member's garb. "You take care of that white tuxedo of yours," Claude said, referring to the overalls Augusta caddies wear. "I'll take care of the jacket." All the brothers know that line, in one form or another.

The lines are right there, at the heart of the legacy, along with the original 42 regular. They live on, reminders of Claude Harmon's severity, his wit, his generosity, his greatness. When Claude was on his deathbed, in 1989, Bill heard his father use a certain profane word he had never heard him say before. "You got a good girl there," Claude said, referring to Bill's wife, Robin. "Don't f—- it up." Bill thinks about that line daily. When Craig, humiliated and despondent, called his father after shooting 89 as host pro in the first round of the 1980 PGA at Oak Hill, Claude said, "Terrific, you made me money. I bet everybody you'd break 90." When Butch, playing the Tour unspectacularly in the late '60s, called home once to tell his father he had missed another cut, Claude said, "Oh, I thought you were leading. Guess I had the newspaper upside down." In 1983, when Dick was about to play Seminole, the Donald Ross monument in South Florida, Claude said, "When you take your 60th stroke, walk in. Let me know what hole you came in from."

That last line makes sense only if you know something about Claude Harmon, about his skill at the game. You have to know that one March day in 1947 he played Seminole in 60 strokes. He was great, all right. From the end of World War II to John Kennedy's election, an era when golfing superiority was measured not only by tournaments won but also by course records set, Harmon was among the five or 10 best players in the world. If he was not in the same class as Hogan, Nelson or Snead, he wasn't far behind them. Harmon shot 61 at Quaker Ridge, an exacting A.W. Tillinghast track in Scarsdale, N.Y. Nobody has beat it yet. He shot 61 on both courses at Winged Foot. Those are still records. (He once broke 70 for 56 consecutive rounds at Winged Foot.) He shot 63 at Fishers Island, a Seth Raynor masterpiece on a spit of land in Long Island Sound. The record stands. His 30 out, 30 in at Seminole—12 under par on a course measuring 6,873 yards—is commemorated by a shot diagram still on display in the locker room. The day somebody shoots 59 there, you'll hear about it. When he won the Masters in 1948, at 31, he shot rounds of 70, 70, 69 and 70. His nine-under 279 tied what was then the record.

Now the astounding part: He won at Augusta as a club pro. In fact, he was the head pro at two clubs. Before the '48 Masters, Harmon had not played in a tournament in more than half a year. He had the game for tournament golf, but neither the time nor the inclination. In spring, summer and fall he was the pro at Winged Foot, in Mamaroneck, N.Y. In winter he was the pro at Seminole, in North Palm Beach. They were two of the best club jobs in the country. He took no time off. He didn't want to play the Tour because he could make more money as a club pro with a busy shop and students lined up on the practice tee. More to the point, he didn't want to be away from his family.

Harmon prepared for the '48 Masters by playing with Hogan almost daily for a month early in the winter at Seminole. They gambled for large sums. If you missed a fairway, it cost you $10. If you missed a green, another $10. For Harmon it was like an education in course management. That he was beating Hogan as often as Hogan was beating him gave Harmon the idea that he could win the Masters. But while Hogan was tuning up for Augusta by playing the winter Tour, Harmon was giving lessons to Henry Ford at Seminole. When Harmon went to Augusta in April, he was literally stopping off, driving north from Seminole to Winged Foot. When he won, it was proof to the world what the golf cognoscenti already knew. Claude Harmon could play.

Today Claude's progeny are everywhere, and the lineage is clearly marked. There are his four sons, his son's students, his former assistants, their students. Among the shop hands who worked for Harmon at Winged Foot are the late Dave Marr, the broadcaster and the winner of the 1965 PGA; Jackie Burke, who won the Masters and the PGA in '56; Dick Mayer, the '57 U.S. Open winner; Mike Souchak, who won 16 Tour events between 1955 and '64; and Jack Lumpkin, director of golf at Sea Island, Ga., and the teacher of Davis Love III, who won the PGA last year at Winged Foot. What Harmon taught Lumpkin about bunker play, Lumpkin taught Love.

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