So much has been made of Hank Haney’s split from Tiger Woods this week, it brought more attention to the role of golf coach than we’ve seen in many years.
It comes at a turbulent time, with Woods reeling, with the media calling for Haney’s dismissal, and with Tiger suffering through the pain in the neck heard ’round the world.
I’ll always believe that Haney finally had enough of the luke-warm support he was getting out of his primetime pupil. However, the fallout raises an interesting point about golf coaches.
As opposed to other sports, where the athletes are essentially assigned a coach, and hold an authoritative position (in theory, but that’s another column about prima donna athletes), golf’s all about personal responsibility and entrepreneurship. The player picks his coach, and decides when to make a change.
Yet through time, our golf teachers have been as linked to their great players as Lombardi is to the Packers, or Riley is to the Lakers. Names like Grout, Penick, Merrins, and Leadbetter evoke an aura, a mysticism. Like so many aspects of our beloved game, the coach-pupil relationship has been typically been immune from the tabloid spotlight that surrounds a Notre Dame coaching search. But my have things changed.
Unfortunately, like so much that’s transpired since Thanksgiving, the ugliness is there for all to see. We’ve watched as the relationship between Woods and Haney has spiraled downward in the media, as if it were Charlie Weis guiding the vaunted Notre Dame football program down the tubes. We’ve seen this so many times before. The star athlete’s not getting it done. Blame the coach. Nitpick away. Was it the coach throwing interceptions and dropping passes? Of course not, but that’s beside the point.
Following Woods’ missed cut, it was like an elite NFL team being blown out at home, by the lowliest squad in the league. The media wanted answers and wanted to point fingers. Had there been a GM, an athletic director, an owner, it would have been the perfect time for a vote of confidence. Someone to say, “Hank wasn’t the one off screwing around for the past few years. Hank’s not the one who got caught, who spent more of the past six months in rehab than on the driving range.”
But this is golf, and the player is the GM, the owner of the brand. And did that vote of confidence ever come? Absolutely not. Haney was left to twist in the wind, watching his own brand devalued by the day. Each time Johnny Miller talked about how bad the Haney swing has been for Tiger, Hank’s stock would drop. Nevermind that Haney’s swing racked up all those major titles as well as that stretch of seven straight wins. It was time for action, and do it NOW!
Plenty of people will believe that as a friend, Tiger let Hank pull the trigger, announce the separation. I just don’t buy it. The morning of the announcement, Tiger was talking about how they had work to do. And if Tiger did Hank the favor, then there’s no way you’d see such an emphatic statement by Haney, who went out of his way to say it was his call.
“Just so there is no confusion I would like to make it clear that this is my decision,” Haney said. That would be incredibly bad form had Tiger offered him an easy exit, and you would have seen swift verbal retaliation when Tiger addressed the situation.
The truth is, it doesn’t really matter which of the guys was the dumper and which of the guys was the dumpee.
The more fresh faces Tigers surrounds himself with, the better. While talking to Golf Channel, Haney said he’s been spending up to a third of his life annually alongside Woods. He accompanied him to see that controversial doctor. And if you read between the lines on his own golf show with Ray Romano, Haney isn’t a stranger to the Vegas scene.
At this point, if Woods wants a fresh start, he needs to clean house, he can’t have reminders of his old life. No one is to blame for the family life mess but Tiger. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t surrounded by a whole lot of people who enabled his behavior, whether by actively participating in the party lifestyle or by passively looking the other way. It’s hard not to include Haney in this group, and that – as much as than any golf mechanics – is why he should be gone.
A PGA Injury Report?
So many pundits were up in arms over Tiger’s injury withdrawal, especially his lack of disclosure. When it comes to reporting injuries, does Tiger Woods owe us the truth? This is the same guy who spent years secretly living the life of a sex fiend. And we’re up in arms because he didn’t mention a sore neck?
When it Comes to Islands, I’ll Take Lost Instead
After a week of hype about the 17th at Sawgrass, I’ve decided it swings way further toward gimmick than excitement on the golf design spectrum.
It all depends on your perspective. If you’re a fan, you love that it puts a player through the ringer, it tests his mental fortitude and it demands precision. If you’re not, you see it as an overly penal golf hole that focuses way too much on the penalty of a miss, rather than the reward for hitting a good shot.
Give me a drivable par four, or an incredibly risky two-shot par five before this all-or-nothing par three. Part of golf is recovering from your mistakes. On the island green, there are no chip-ins, there are no recovery shots. I’d rather hold my breath as a guy stands over a 248-yard, side-hill second shot into a tough par five, with a brutally difficult up-and-down awaiting anything off line. It will reward the bold, the sensational. I want to see guys rise to the occasion, rather than simply hang on for dear life.
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