I can remember when I first learned that Tiger and Sean Foley were going to work together I was expecting Tiger to dominate again, and quickly. Sean was a rising star, with a stable of players such as Sean O'Hair who at the time was playing great, Hunter Mahan, Justin Rose, lots of guys who were and still are rising stars. Tiger was returning from scandal and a very broken relationship with Hank Haney, but was and still is the best player to ever play the game. The match looked very good.
Sadly it was a completely majorless relationship. The question of whether Tiger got better is near impossible to answer because he was so often injured that only in 2013 could we do any type of analysis of his performance. 2013 was a great year, with five wins (in big events, including The Players, which he's struggled to win in the past) and Player of the Year honors, but he didn't win a major. I for one thought it was only a matter of time until he got number fifteen in the trophy case.
Then the back acted up. Brandel Chamblee is running his mouth trying to pin the back injury on Sean. He is not directly saying that it is Sean's fault or the fault of his teaching, but he is certainly alluding to it often enough. I think this is hogwash. Hunter and Justin Rose don't appear to have any of the back problems. Tiger has hit golf balls since he was a child, and he works out; quite hard, we're led to believe. I think Tiger has the workout schedule of a typical professional athlete in the NFL. The difference is… an NFL career is over at this point in an athlete's life (except for a few kickers, I suppose). Tiger works out so hard that one has to believe it is taking a physical toll on his longevity. I cannot know that, and he may have tailored his workouts now to be less strenuous, but going from his past comments about his workout plans one has to believe he is putting a great deal of stress on his body.
The other factor to consider is how much influence Sean has on Tiger's swing. In Hank Haney's book he declared that for long periods of time Tiger would go it on his own. Tiger would, for periods of time, not work on anything that Haney had told Tiger to work on. I partly believe this. I do think that Tiger got a blueprint from Sean but while on the range he may have started working on different priority pieces and gotten away from what Sean envisioned. Tiger is unquestionably knowledgeable about the golf swing and is fully capable of giving himself direction. To know the true answer to this Sean will need to write his book. This is never going to happen. Sean is too smart to sully his reputation with a tell-all book about Tiger. For Hank the book was a last-ditch cash grab before riding off into the sunset. Sean still has an extremely bright future of coaching many tour pros and a book would only be a distraction.
For me there are two remaining questions to answer in this relationship. One, where does Tiger go from here? Who should be his next coach? I think he must stay with someone who teaches something similar to what Sean has been teaching him. He can no longer afford to take a year rebuilding his swing as he did in 1998 and 2005. To keep pace with Jack and get to the nineteen majors he has to win sooner rather than later. A whole year of rebuilding his swing to a new swing theory as he has done with each of his previous coaches will simply take too much time. This means to coaches like Grant Waite or Chuck Cook whose methodologies are somewhat similar to Sean's will be the best fit for him.
The second question is where does Sean go from here. Butch had coached number one players in the past before Tiger hit the scene so his reputation was set before Tiger walked in the door. The issue for Sean is guys like Parker McLachlin have come out and said that Sean is too mechanical. He fills their heads with too much detail. Recent big-name departures such as Lee Westwood also make one wonder as well. It wasn't so much that Lee left, because big-name players change coaches all the time, but rather how short the relationship was. It is becoming evident that Sean fits well with only certain types of players. This may limit his potential as a coach in the future. Butch seems to work well with all types of golfers, where Sean may only be a fit for a certain type of golfer.
Dear Tiger, Please turn off your brain and leave Foley on the range. You'll stop missing it both ways. Sincerely, A Player Who's Been There
— Parker McLachlin (@ParkerMcLachlin) August 7, 2014
That said, Sean handled the situation perfectly once the relationship ended. He thanked Tiger for the wonderful opportunity and it does appear genuine. Tiger certainly brought Sean a great deal of fortune. Sean's DVD would have sold even without coaching Tiger, but likely nowhere near the volume that it did once he became Tiger's coach.
I have a feeling this is not the last time I will be writing about Tiger's coaching. This is likely to be a pretty hot topic until Tiger settles on his new coach.
Photo credits: © Lucy Nicholson.