Butch Harmon is convinced it's only a matter of time before Phil Mickelson supplants Tiger Woods as the world's top golfer.
Mere months after being hired to revamp Lefty's swing, the world's top-rated teaching pro told the Calgary Sun yesterday he believes his new star student is now armed with the tools needed to beat his former disciple on a regular basis.
"Tiger's got a big lead as No. 1 in the world so it'll take a couple of years but I think he can and I think he will, actually," said Harmon, 63, who will be in Calgary Saturday for a golf symposium open to the public.
"He's going to have to really work hard and change a lot more things but he's willing to do that and wants to do it. He has the desire to try and rival Tiger."
It was just four years ago Harmon -- then longtime coach of Woods -- criticized Mickelson for his "pathetic" obsession with the long ball that prohibited him from winning a major. However, Harmon has since ended his ten-year relationship with Woods and was receptive to Mickelson when the three-time major winner sought help to finally challenge Woods as the game's best.
And now that he's had a chance to work with Mickelson, Harmon may shock many by suggesting his new prized pupil is every bit as gifted as Woods.
"I would say they're very similar to be honest with you," said Harmon, who works with a stable of top touring pros at his Las Vegas golf school, including Adam Scott, Stewart Cink and Fred Couples.
"Both have a tremendous amount of natural talent. They both have unbelievable short games. I think Tiger may be a little better putter under pressure but I think Phil's short game around the green is a little bit better than Tiger's. In general, they're similar."
The difference, he intonates, has been their mental approach to the game. Mickelson has long bombed his way around courses with reckless abandon, while Woods learned long ago to temper his power and think his way around every course. Harmon said Mickelson's old mindset is no longer an issue, which he proved with his recent win at the Players Championship.
"He's realized his accuracy is the most important thing," said Harmon, whose dad won the Masters.
"He's such a great player -- he knows if he can play from the short grass more often. he has a better chance at shooting low scores."
Harmon said he's "halfway through" revamping Mickelson's swing, which is now more compact at the top and balanced at the finish.
"I think we've still got a pretty good ways to go but he's adapted very well in a pretty short period of time and we're both very encouraged," said Harmon, who anticipates next week's U.S. Open will provide the biggest test for Mickelson's new swing if his injured wrist is ready for action as anticipated.
"If in fact Phil is healthy and he can play the way he's capable of playing I think it should be a fabulous week and fun summer in terms of all tournaments."
Harmon laughs off being put in the U.S. Open spotlight as the media plays up the obvious battle between his old and new stud students.
"I understand the hype around it but that has nothing to do with what we're doing -- I'm just trying to help Phil Mickelson become the best player he can become. It has nothing to do with trying to rival Tiger Woods. Tiger is the No. 1 player in the world and Phil would like to be the No. 1 player in the world."
As for his acrimonious split from Woods a few years back, Harmon insists it's all water under the bridge.
"We're not going to dinner together because we don't live in the same town but we get along fine," he said. "We have fun and good banter back and forth between the two of us. At the Players Championship, he was teasing me pretty hard about teaching Phil. We've had a lot of fun with it."