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.
• The Huggan Interview: Hank Haney
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 we 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
“I got letters saying they were bigger Tiger fans after reading the book on him”