The Sean Foley era with Tiger Woods is over.
In a statement released Monday on his website Woods explained, “I'd like to thank Sean for his help as my coach and for his friendship. Sean is one of the outstanding coaches in golf today, and I know he will continue to be successful with the players working with him. With my next tournament not until my World Challenge event at Isleworth in Orlando, this is the right time to end our professional relationship.”
If the recent level of chatter and vitriol was any indication, the Canadian coach should have been sent packing long ago and a persona non grata sign posted on Tiger’s compound in South Florida.
Depending on whom you asked, Foley’s swing philosophies had made Woods too technical, too susceptible to injury, too venerable to the wild miss and too inconsistent.
The debate seemed to reach a crescendo at the PGA Championship, where Woods’ closed another injury-plagued season with back-to-back rounds of 74 to miss the cut. Less than a week later he removed his name from consideration for this year’s Ryder Cup to nurse an ongoing back issue.
“I think it’s technical and the technical is bleeding into the physical,” Brandel Chamblee said during Golf Channel’s “Live From” broadcast at the PGA.
Even one of Foley’s former students, Parker McLachlin, joined the conversation when he tweeted, “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.”
For most the debate will start and stop at the win column. Since Woods began working with Foley in August 2010 the former world No. 1 has won eight times on the PGA Tour and failed to add to his major total. Statistically, that’s eight wins in 56 events, a 14 percent winning clip.
By comparison, Woods won 33 percent of his Tour starts during his roughly five years with Hank Haney, who Foley replaced.
Lost in that numerical calling card, however, is the nuanced reality that the Woods Foley had to work with was not the same player Haney, or Butch Harmon before him, made history with.
In the parts of five seasons Woods and Foley worked together Tiger played a full calendar, or at least what is considered a full calendar for Tiger, just twice (in 2012 and 2013). Not coincidentally he won eight times over those two seasons and his 11th PGA Tour Player of the Year Award in ’13.
In response to Chamblee’s take on Foley’s techniques, fellow Golf Channel analyst Frank Nobilo seemed to touch on the central dynamic to the Woods-Foley relationship – “There are two questions. There is a swing question and an injury question and you can’t answer one without answering the other,” he said.
The litany of injuries that have befallen Woods in recent years could keep an orthopedic surgeon in business for a lifetime. In 2010, Woods suffered from an inflamed facet joint in his neck, in ’11 he endured a left Achilles strain and he reinjured that area in ’12. Also in ’11 he sprained his left MCL and this year he had surgery on his back for a pinched nerve.
The coup d’etat seemed to arrive at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational when Woods was again sidelined midway through his final round by an ailing back.
Whether Foley’s teachings are your brand of vodka, and the idea that his swing philosophy may have caused Woods’ ongoing medical issues is a debate that will surely not die with Monday’s announcement, really doesn’t matter. What matters are the facts.
The Tiger that arrived at Foley’s doorstep was damaged goods.
Perhaps the best measure of Woods’ health is what he commonly refers to as his explosiveness. In practical terms that is his swing speed, which reached an astounding 124.63 mph in 2008, the year he won his last major.
That number has fallen off to an all-time low of 115.63 mph this season after dropping below 120 mph for the first time in his career in 2010 and ’11. Even in 2013 you can track the correlation between injury and explosiveness. Through The Players, where he won the fourth of five titles last year, Woods’ swing speed hovered just under 120 mph (119.26) before dropping off to a season-ending average of 118.30 mph.
We are not doctors nor do we play them on TV, but there is no mistaking the connection between a healthy Tiger Woods and his ability to compete at the highest level, regardless of swing coach.
“In Sean’s defense, I had the easiest job in my 10 years. Tiger was the healthiest,” said Harmon, whose tenure as Woods’ swing coach lasted from August 1993 to August 2002.
“Sean had the hardest job. Tiger was going through knee surgeries and everything going on off the course. Sean had great success. He has nothing to hang his head about. I called him and left him a message and told him that. I told him he worked his tail for this guy.”
In retrospect maybe the Woods-Foley partnership was never going to be perfect. Tiger wants a lot of information and Sean had a lot of information to give. The truth is Tiger was never able to give Foley 100 percent because of his physical limitations.
Woods has said in the past that, as a general rule, he tosses out 90 percent of what a swing coach tells him and may keep 5 percent. In the final analysis that seems about right, let’s give Foley 5 percent of the blame and 5 percent of the credit.
Anything more or less would be ignoring the facts.