Mentor Tales: How Butch Harmon Turned Rickie Fowler Around

You may have noticed a couple of tattoos on the arms of Rickie Fowler. On the inner part of his left bicep, he has his grandfather’s name, Yutaka Tanaka, written in Japanese script. On his left elbow, he has a ‘G’ to honor Georgia Veach, the daughter of a Seattle pastor and friend. He only has one tat on his right arm which features the Olympic symbol.

But there’s a final tattoo that isn’t visible when you watch him on TV. On the inside Fowler’s left wrist, there is a signature of his former coach and other ‘grandfather-figure’, Barry McDonnell.

Fowler’s biological grandfather, Tanka, took him to McDonnell’s driving range at the age of 3. The driving range pro took a liking to Fowler and gave him games he could play while on the range to improve his swing. Over time those games developed into one-on-one lessons. McDonnell saw that Fowler had a natural ability to strike the ball with pureness.

Many lessons were spent under McDonnell’s pepper tree at the range, so the range pro could avoid the sun as he examined Fowler’s swing. You wouldn’t believe this, but Fowler grew up as a quiet and introverted kid. McDonnell was the same way, it wasn’t necessary to teach Fowler after every swing.

McDonnell was able to witness Fowler have an abundance of success when his student turned pro in 2009. Fowler took the Tour by storm, gathering seven Top-10 finishes, PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, and Qualified for the Masters and U.S. Open.

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The sand in McDonnell’s hour glass ran short in 2011 when he suffered a heart attack. The bond they shared was much deeper than simply ‘teacher and student’. Fowler may have won the 2012 Wells Fargo championship at Quail Hollow, but he would fall into a massive slump following the win.

Fowler didn’t have another coach after McDonnell, which led to forming bad habits…and more importantly missed cuts. Now before McDonnell died, he suggested to a friend close to both him and Fowler that his old student would benefit from being taught by Butch Harmon.

The friend, despite his apprehension to say anything, didn’t need to tell Fowler to seek out Harmon. Fowler did it himself.

Harmon was famously known for being Tiger Woods’ Swing coach during his first eight major championship victories between 1997 – 2004. You will notice, while under Harmon, Woods’ swing was controlled and he didn’t bring the club back very far. That is because Harmon teaches consistent contact with the ball, as there is no need to drive it long distances when you can place the ball exactly where you want it.

After missing the cut at the 2013 Open Championship, Fowler went to go hit balls with Harmon. Fowler rebounded in 2014 finishing with 10 Top-10 finishes and finishing in the Top-5 of all four majors championships.

He followed that up with an even stronger 2015 when he won two PGA Tour victories which included The Players championship (some say that’s the ‘Fifth Major’) and a FedEx Cup win at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Harmon lit a fire under his new student prior to the 2017 season saying he needs to focus on golf and stop worrying about “being a Kardashian” on social media. How did Fowler respond? He picked up one win, eight Top-5 finishes, and is currently sixth in the FedEx Cup standings with two events left.

Rickie Fowler will soon achieve a Major championship victory and even though it won’t be under McDonnell’s guidance you have to figure he’d be proud of what Harmon has done for his old pupil.