Tiger Woods’ for­mer coach talks can­didly about his time with the 14-time ma­jor cham­pion, why the game is tougher for to­day’s club golfers, re­veals the player he ad­mires most to­day, and why he owes his ca­reer suc­cess to Mark O’Meara.

Golf World (UK) - - Contents -

Tiger’s for­mer coach opens up about life with Woods, the chal­lenges of the mod­ern era... and why he owes it all to Mark O’Meara.

His ad­vice guided Tiger Woods to all four ma­jor ti­tles dur­ing the for­mer world No.1’s most pro­lific pe­riod. But then came the split, af­ter six years of al­most con­tin­ual suc­cess. And then came the book, de­tail­ing his time work­ing with ar­guably the most tal­ented player in the game’s his­tory. Hank Haney was inside the ropes when Woods took golf to a new level, and also took Mark O’Meara from jour­ney­man to two-time ma­jor cham­pion. Now he shaves shots off the hand­i­caps of club golfers, and that’s where Golf World started our chat...

Now that you are not teach­ing full time, what are you up to th­ese days?

I’m do­ing a lot of ra­dio shows. I did 275 shows for Sir­ius XM PGA Tour ra­dio last year. I en­joy that a lot. My ca­reer has re­ally gone full-cir­cle. First I helped av­er­age play­ers. Then I helped tour pros. Then I worked with Tiger. Now I’m back help­ing the av­er­age player. Last year I also did clin­ics for over 15,000 peo­ple. But I don’t touch pri­vate lessons. My last one-on-one les­son was with Tiger at the 2010 Masters.

Do you miss any­thing about your for­mer life?

I re­ally don’t. I’d al­ways said Tiger would be my last stu­dent. I mean, where do you go af­ter Tiger Woods? I coached ar­guably the great­est player in his­tory dur­ing the most pro­lific time of his ca­reer. Noth­ing can beat that. Any­thing else would pale in com­par­i­son to that.

Throw in all the years I had with Mark O’Meara and I had a pretty good run.

When I teach clin­ics I’m with big groups so I reach a lot of peo­ple. I’m on Twit­ter, where I have al­most 150,000 fol­low­ers. I have 250,000 peo­ple lis­ten­ing to me on the ra­dio ev­ery day. So I feel I am reach­ing the masses at this point in my ca­reer.

Are golfers get­ting bet­ter with all the sci­ence that is out there th­ese days?

I think peo­ple are get­ting a lot bet­ter. The scores may not be chang­ing much, but the cour­ses to­day are so much harder than they were in the past. If you do noth­ing other than speed up the greens, you make the game much more dif­fi­cult.

And there’s more than that go­ing on now. The greens are ef­fec­tively smaller. Chip­ping is harder. Pitch­ing is harder. Putting is way harder. That’s a big fac­tor. Yes, I know the ball goes far­ther. But if you speed up the greens in your club cham­pi­onship, no one is play­ing to their hand­i­cap.

It’s not an even fight. Let’s say a course is 10 per cent longer than it was. That’s go­ing to make it

harder even with all the mod­ern equip­ment. Ev­ery­one gets older. Ev­ery­one gets slower. So in the­ory you are not sup­posed to get bet­ter. If you stay the same you are im­prov­ing.

The big thing is the short game though. Greens now are mowed much closer than be­fore. And look at the sur­rounds. I get that it has al­ways been that way in Scot­land – which is why peo­ple putt so much from off the greens – but chip­ping is so much more dif­fi­cult to­day with the lies so tight.

Why are we try­ing to make the game more dif­fi­cult?

Ev­ery­thing fol­lows what the pros do. They have shaved fair­ways and, as a re­sult, ev­ery club fol­lows suit. Su­per­in­ten­dents [green­keep­ers] seem to think that is the way it’s sup­posed to be. One good thing is that I see more Amer­i­can am­a­teurs putting from off the green and that’s car­ried into the PGA Tour – I see more of that on the cir­cuit too. More than I have ever seen be­fore.

There are more cases of chip­ping yips than ever be­fore, too.

No doubt about that. It’s hard to ig­nore that fact. The bad news is that the turf con­di­tions and the close-mix­ing have got peo­ple yip­ping more. But the good news is they can ad­just to putting more. I just wish more peo­ple in the States would fig­ure that out. There’s noth­ing wrong with putting from off the green. You Scots fig­ured that out a long time ago. Over here they are still try­ing to chip, even when they can’t.

That’s a prob­lem in golf. They took the long put­ter away from the guy who yips. Now they mow the grass closer for the guy who yips around the greens. It’s not good.

What I can’t get my head round is why ‘non-tour’ cour­ses do all that. Why aren’t they mak­ing their greens a bit slower and their sur­rounds a bit grassier? That would let peo­ple chip more eas­ily and have more fun.

I don’t get it ei­ther. Maybe they don’t think like that be­cause they are not golfers and don’t think like golfers. Maybe those run­ning things are bet­ter play­ers. I cringe when I hear peo­ple say­ing how great it is that the grass is cut down around the greens. Be­cause it gives play­ers “all kinds of op­tions”. It doesn’t. It gives them one op­tion: putting. The idea that you have all th­ese op­tions is lu­di­crous.

Let’s talk about your book, The Big

Miss in which you talked a lot about your time with Tiger. Did you lose any friends in the wake of pub­li­ca­tion?

I’m not sure. I did lose some who didn’t even read the book. But I made that cal­cu­la­tion be­fore I started. I wanted to write a good book and I think I wrote a great book, with a lot of help from Jaime Diaz. I felt strongly that th­ese were my mem­o­ries too, not just Tiger’s. He didn’t have a patent on those mem­o­ries. What­ever the con­se­quences, I was fine with it. The best thing about it was that the com­ments from Tiger fans were very pos­i­tive. That told me I wrote a very fair book.

It seemed to me that it was ba­si­cally a golf book.

Ex­actly. That is the point many missed at the time. But that has changed as the years have gone on. I seem to have be­come more and more right (laughs).

How do you an­swer the claim that a golf in­struc­tor is like a doc­tor and so there is client/teacher privilege?

(laughs) That’s the most ridicu­lous thing I’ve ever heard. A golf in­struc­tor is not a doc­tor, or a lawyer. I’m a coach. And I’m not the first coach to write a book. So were all those other guys not sup­posed to write books ei­ther? Or am I the only one who was not sup­posed to? Phil Jack­son (for­mer LA Lak­ers and NY Knicks bas­ket­ball coach) has writ­ten many books. A lot of great coaches have, in ev­ery sport, so I never un­der­stood that logic. Books al­ways start out con­tro­ver­sial. Pub­lish­ers al­ways leak ex­cerpts that are out of con­text. They get the most tit­il­lat­ing bits out there. So it sounds way worse than it ac­tu­ally is. I un­der­stand that. My mo­ti­va­tion was just to write a good book.

Any re­ac­tion from Tiger?

(laughs) No. But the re­ac­tion from the fans was that they loved it. I got many let­ters to say that they were big­ger Tiger fans af­ter read­ing the book. That was al­ways the re­ac­tion I wanted to get.

How do you feel about where Tiger is now? I watched him in per­son in Dubai


ear­lier this year and he could hardly walk never mind play.

He’s al­ways had a bit of weird gait. He ‘hikes’ his hip when he walks. He’s al­ways done that. But this was worse and it didn’t look good. Af­ter the Hero World Chal­lenge at the end of last year I thought he looked in­cred­i­bly en­thu­si­as­tic. And he looked good phys­i­cally. He’d lost weight. Then a few months later he was huge again. He had bulked up. I was like, ‘Oh my good­ness, what’s go­ing on here?’

Just as im­por­tantly, he also looked in­cred­i­bly un­en­thu­si­as­tic. Maybe he just knew he wasn’t go­ing to make it. Maybe he knew he was in bad shape. You never know be­cause he never tells us any­thing or what the truth is. But for a guy who was be­ing paid a lot to be there, he didn’t look like he wanted to be there.

So I went from think­ing he could come back and play some good golf to hop­ing he can do what Fred Cou­ples does and play only when his back is feel­ing okay. But that doesn’t an­swer the en­thu­si­asm ques­tion. When your game is that far down you have to take time and ef­fort to build it back up. Tiger has al­ways been very tech­ni­cal, so I’m not sure he can play without prac­tis­ing. I don’t know how he can do that, es­pe­cially when his game is in such dis­ar­ray.

Ev­ery­body keeps ask­ing when he will play again. But the last time he played and the last times he has played, he has played aw­ful. His sta­tis­tics are hor­ren­dous. He is near the bot­tom of nearly ev­ery cat­e­gory. Worst in chip­ping. Worst in driv­ing ac­cu­racy. Go down the list. It’s one thing af­ter an­other. Even af­ter he sup­pos­edly fixed his chip­ping, he was last on the PGA Tour in scram­bling. His game is so far gone I’ve gone from en­cour­aged to fear­ing the worst. He looks big and he looks tired.

I try to di­vorce his char­ac­ter, be­hav­iour and ev­ery­thing else from his golf. In a play­ing sense, we all want him to come back. It’s sad to see him like he is.

It’s not some­thing we ever pic­tured see­ing. I wish he wouldn’t play like this.

When you were with him, how much bet­ter was he than ev­ery­one else?

So much bet­ter. I used to watch him on the range and think there was just no way any­one could ever beat him. And even when they did, it shouldn’t have hap­pened. It was like Rory McIl­roy at Bay Hill this year. He had four three-putts and seven penalty shots and lost by two. Are you kid­ding me? He should have won that event by a mile. And that’s the sort of thing Tiger would do when he didn’t win.

I hear peo­ple talk­ing about the play­ers to­day. They call them su­per­stars and this and that. I laugh. I mean, come on. You have to go by the record. I give Jor­dan Spi­eth a pass be­cause of his age – he could be­come a su­per­star. But other than him, I only see one real su­per­star and that’s Rory. All this “big four”, “big three” and “big five” stuff is non­sense.

There does seem to be a big gap be­tween the top-six and the rest.

True. But take Hen­rik Sten­son. He’s Adam Scott. He’s putted well enough to win one ma­jor. That’s Adam Scott, Hen­rik Sten­son and Justin Rose. They’re all the same player.

De­fine that.

Don’t get me wrong, they are great play­ers, but Hen­rik win­ning the Open doesn’t mean I think he’s get­ting ready to run off an­other five ma­jors. He didn’t be­come a great put­ter the day he won the Open. Just be­cause Adam made a cou­ple of putts at Au­gusta doesn’t mean he knows how to putt. Mat­suyama is the same way. Sta­tis­ti­cally, he is a poor put­ter and a great ball-striker. He hasn’t won a ma­jor but he is in that cat­e­gory, too. Dustin John­son is a bet­ter put­ter than peo­ple give him credit for. He doesn’t three-putt a lot. His mem­o­rable three-putt at Cham­bers Bay skews peo­ple’s per­cep­tion of him. He was 49th last year in three-putt avoid­ance so he doesn’t piss away many shots. And in 2015 he was 12th in that cat­e­gory.

My the­ory is that the full swing is more of a sci­ence than it has ever been. But you can’t ap­ply that ap­proach to putting. It re­mains an art. That’s why the guys are bet­ter at hit­ting the ball than they are at putting.

Hard to ar­gue with that the­ory. I won­der if guys don’t spend enough time putting. It’s not as tech­ni­cal or sexy. Do they want to play around with com­put­ers or go and putt for a few hours on their own? Golfers are much more tech­ni­cal now, but it doesn’t lead to great putting. That’s why Jor­dan stands out. He’s a throw­back to how golf was played in the past.

Do you pre­fer teach­ing pro­fes­sion­als or am­a­teurs?

With pros you have more tal­ent. With the am­a­teurs you of­ten have a more work­able at­ti­tude. Pros are more dif­fi­cult be­cause it’s not just what you tell them, it’s can you get them to do it? It’s no co­in­ci­dence that the coaches with the most ex­pe­ri­ence – my­self and Butch Har­mon – did the best with Tiger. All the young “ge­niuses”

strug­gled. You can have great ideas, but they are no use if the player won’t ap­ply them. Coach­ing great­ness is way more dif­fi­cult than coach­ing a be­gin­ner. And the av­er­age player is much closer to a be­gin­ner than he is a tour pro.

What was the most im­por­tant les­son of your life? The first with Mark O’Meara?

Ab­so­lutely. Ev­ery­thing that has hap­pened to me in golf and life – which has been in­cred­i­ble – would not have hap­pened if I hadn’t met Mark. Without him, I’m not sure I would have achieved any­thing in the game. It was the luck­i­est mo­ment of my life – one I have taken ad­van­tage of.

When I met him, he was 124th on the Money List. And now he is in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

I’ve had great re­sults with oth­ers, though. The Kuehne fam­ily, for ex­am­ple. Kelli won two US Am­a­teurs and a Bri­tish Am­a­teur. Hank won the US Am­a­teur and was an All-Amer­i­can. Trip was Al­lAmer­i­can too, got to the fi­nal of the US Am­a­teur and won the Mid-Am­a­teur. In the am­a­teur game, they were all great. I felt like my work with Tiger was great, too. He had a great record with Butch, but from a win-per­cent­age stand­point he did even bet­ter with me. But Mark is the stu­dent I am most proud of.

How much credit should a coach get?

Not that much. We don’t hit any shots. We don’t make any putts. We’re not out there com­pet­ing. At the end of the day, it’s all the player – not the coach. The credit we should re­ceive is in­cred­i­bly low.

Let’s talk about the PGA Tour. My fear is that, if we ever have a World Tour, they will be solely in charge. What do you think? Good or bad?

I think a World Tour will be great for the game. Some­one is go­ing to do it too. But would it be bad if the PGA Tour led the way? I’m not sure. And I would say the same if the Euro­pean Tour was to be in charge. I still think that would be good for the game over­all, though.

Ide­ally, I’d like to see a world­wide col­lab­o­ra­tion and co­or­di­na­tion. There is too much frag­men­ta­tion right now. It’s never go­ing to be per­fect, but work­ing to­gether more has to be the way ahead.

What did you make of the re­cent rule changes?

Not enough. And not fast enough. But that’s what you would ex­pect from the R&A and USGA. The only things that got them to move this quickly were the de­ba­cles in last year’s US Open and US Women’s Open. So we have to wait for more de­ba­cles to get change. Then we have a year of de­bat­ing the de­ba­cles. Then we have a year to write the new rules. Then we spend a year talk­ing about what has just been writ­ten. It’s a long process.

It reeks of keep­ing them­selves in jobs.

It does. And it isn’t as if they view the lat­est changes as just a good start and that things will be bet­ter next year. This is it, the whole re­vamp. Un­til the next de­ba­cle of course. I play a game called “pick­le­ball”. It’s the fastest grow­ing sport in Amer­ica. It’s like a ver­sion of tennis and ping-pong and pad­dle-ball. You play on this small court and there are maybe five rules. Ev­ery­one un­der­stands them the first time they play. Wouldn’t it be great if golf was like that? But it isn’t. What did they make sim­pler this year? Not much I’d say.

Specif­i­cally, what did you like/dis­like?

Ba­si­cally all they have done is say that the rules ev­ery­one plays by al­ready are go­ing to be “real”. So when you hit the ball in the desert or into the woods and lose it, you drop an­other ball right there and play on. Which is what ev­ery­one did any­way. So that’s a good change. No one looks for five min­utes then walks back to the tee.

Who do you most en­joy watch­ing th­ese days?

(laughs) I en­joy two parts of the game. I en­joy it when peo­ple hit great shots and I en­joy it when peo­ple strug­gle and I can an­a­lyse why. I love to talk on the ra­dio about what went wrong and why. As some­one who has built a life around di­ag­nos­ing things, that is en­joy­able. I like to make sense of what is hap­pen­ing.

If we give Tiger 10-out-of-10, who is the best player now and what is his score?

I think the best player is Dustin John­son. That’s not in ques­tion right now. I’d give him nine-out-of-10.

Re­ally? He’s that close to Tiger?

Nine is a long way from 10 (laughs). There are a lot of nines. But not many 10s.


There was no Woods re­ac­tion to his for­mer coach’s book about their work.

Haney coached Woods at the time of his best win per­cent­age.

John­son is the best cur­rent player, ac­cord­ing to Haney – a nine to Woods’ 10.

Haney classes Sten­son with other one-ma­jor men Rose and Scott.

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