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Tiger the coach and catching up with Tiger's old coach

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Back in the day – certainly during the pre-Elin years, before the world’s best golfer turned into a rock star – Tiger Woods was somewhat accessible as cultural icons go. While compiling an oral history on the 1999 Ryder Cup in the spring of 2001, Tim Rosaforte and I met Mark O’Meara on the Isleworth practice range for a scheduled interview during Bay Hill week.

Woods was hitting balls alongside his buddy, blasting shot after shot halfway to Ocala with a Cleveland persimmon driver. “Here, hit a few,” he said, tossing me the club, which felt like a telephone pole. I could barely get the ball airborne – the shaft was stiffer than my seventh-grade gym teacher – and when I handed the driver back to him, Tiger began mocking my swing with enough exaggeration to warrant serious laughter.

His imitation of my over-the-top, outside-in lunge came with a half-dozen words of advice. “Hit the inside of the ball,” Woods instructed, and for the next four or five years, I played the best golf of my life. One simple, easy-to-visualize tip. Six words to describe the biggest mechanical difference between pros and amateurs.

So Tiger’s my swing coach. As for one of the guys who used to work with Woods . . .


MORE THAN SIX months have passed since Hank Haney’s revealing portrait of Woods, “The Big Miss,” hit shelves shortly before the Masters. Haney was vilified by many for “outing” his former client, for violating some unwritten confidentiality clause between the two. No question, there wasn’t a hotter or more persistent topic on my live chats throughout the spring.

Woods basically ignored any questions regarding the book around the time of its release, and for all the people who made it a point to say they wouldn’t read it, a ton of people did. “The Big Miss” reached No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller List, meaning Haney reaped a pretty penny while dealing with the scorn.

“After that,” he says of the NYT listing, “I stopped counting, didn’t even pay any attention. The rest of the [revenue] was just gravy. The biggest criticism I got was from people who said I shouldn’t have written a book, but the No. 1 comment by far was from people who came up and said, ‘I was a Tiger Woods fan before I read it and I’m a bigger fan now.’ They saw what it takes to be him.”

My relationship with Haney dates back to before he began working with Woods (2004), which has nothing to do with my endorsement of the project. Why would anyone make a fuss over a book about a guy who was the target of worldwide derision for months in the wake of his marital transgressions? From Jay Leno to the New York Post and all snarky practitioners in between, Tiger served as a human pinata in the winter of 2009-10.

All those reverberations, which led to a complete overhaul of Woods’ public image, were harpoons compared with Haney’s anecdotes about Tiger’s selfishness and singlemindedness. One key aspect to “The Big Miss” is that the author never passed judgment on Woods – long after so many others who didn’t know him had.

There wasn’t any piling on, and not just because the pile had already dispersed. “I had a guy from (the Tiger Woods Foundation) come up to me and say, 'great book,' and I asked him if I was too hard on him. The guy said no, but I hold no ill regard to anyone who didn’t approve.”

One consistent trend with Tiger: a majority of his partnerships end with a burst of flames and a burned bridge. Former caddie Steve Williams is probably the best example, but for all those who have been excommunicated from the Woods camp over the years, Haney is the one who walked away in this case. People who read the book surely found it far more revealing than mean-spirited. Many of the critics never made it to the foreword.


IF IT HAPPENS, it would qualify as one of the biggest rule changes in sports over the last 25 years – comparable to the NBA’s adoption of a three-point line, certainly as significant as the implementation of an overtime format in college football. In terms of its impact on pro golf, the abolition of anchored putters would have an enormous impact. Sort of like making NHL players go back to wooden sticks.

Given the growing number of top young players using the broomsticks, it’s easy to see at least some of them struggling to make 8-footers on Sunday afternoon.

Rex Hoggard recently reported on this website that the game’s governing bodies expect to reach a verdict on the matter by early December, leaving me to believe some form of legislation will be passed. Six weeks? That doesn’t leave us much time to weigh the pros and cons.

Keep ‘em! Long putters have made a difficult game at least slightly more tolerable for many who have played it for a long time. At the recreational level, there’s no reason to make them illegal – they’re good for business.

Kill ‘em! If anchoring the club doesn’t exactly constitute a competitive advantage, the physical act of putting, which requires fluid and independent movement of the arms and hands, is obviously compromised.

Keep ‘em! It’s not like the guys who first wielded the broomsticks instantly began dominating. No one claimed a major title with an anchored putter until Keegan Bradley at the 2011 PGA, and that was Jason Dufner’s fault.

Kill ‘em! All these kids bracing the club against their bellies – what’s this game coming to? Weren’t those things supposed to be for old guys?

We could go on, but you get the point. The fact that three of the last five major champions – all 32 or younger – used a crutch to help them clutch the trophy is all the evidence I need. The trend is disturbing, even if the data is at least slightly inconclusive. The U.S. Golf Association and R&A should move to take on this problem now, the better to protect the game’s competitive integrity in the long run.


NOT THAT YOU ASKED, BUT ... 

• Two competing tournaments in Asia – one an official event on the European Tour with a strong foreign field, the other a soon-to-be-sanctioned gathering on the PGA Tour with nobody but the Only Guy Who Matters. What scares me about the future of pro golf? That pretty much covers it.

Actually, Camp Ponte Vedra’s fall field trip to the Far East doesn’t bother me in the slightest. It’s the idea that the 2014 season will officially start in October 2013 with a tournament that didn’t even exist three years ago. If the sky’s not falling, why is Chicken Little busting out windows with his 6-iron?

• I was all set to pluck down my $5 and watch the Tiger-Rory challenge match until Hurricane Sandy ordered my internet service to take the rest of the night off. So I settled for the “Morning Drivehighlights package, which showed the two superstars playing for a huge crowd under heavy cloud cover in China. McIlroy beat Woods by one, and the live-stream audience heard Tiger chagrin his wedge play, telling Rory, “I’ve been hitting my short irons so [bleeping] far.” In other words, no news there.

Forgive me for overthinking this, but I’m not exactly sure what it means when someone says, “no one’s bigger than the game.” Really? Two guys just received a cruise ship-sized boatload of money to play 18 holes against each other for the ostensible purpose of promoting golf in a country that already has a ton of golf in its bloodstream. Is this about tomorrow’s health or today’s revenue?