STATELINE, Nev. – Tiger Woods’ ex-swing coach believes the former No. 1 player can win the five majors he needs to pass Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18. Hank Haney says it’s just a matter of Woods getting healthy.
Woods is not at the British Open this week, missing his second straight major while he tries to recuperate from “minor injuries” to his left knee and Achilles due to an awkward stance in the pine straw in the third round at The Masters. Woods has had four knee surgeries since his freshman year at Stanford.
“So he’s going to be in some level of discomfort for the rest of his career,” said Haney, who was at the American Celebrity Golf Championship at Lake Tahoe this weekend. “Now, it’s just a question of whether or not he can tolerate that.”
Haney, the swing coach for Woods during one his most successful stretches, says the key for Woods is getting back to where he can practice regularly.
In announcing earlier this month that he would skip the British Open, Woods said he hadn’t hit golf balls since May. The knee injuries, combined with the sex scandal that led to his divorce, have limited Woods to about half as much practice time as he used to get, Haney said.
“That’s a lot of missed time,” Haney said Friday. “Given the opportunity to practice and play, if he still has the desire and the passion, and he has the body that will allow him to do it, then there’s no reason to think that he couldn’t still break Nicklaus’ record.”
Haney said there are two ways to look at it because Nicklaus was 46 when he won his last major at the Masters in 1986. Woods is 35.
“Tiger has 40 more majors to play in. But these majors are slipping by,” Haney said. “And then you look and you say he just needs to win five more. But the fourth and fifth one will be the really difficult ones. But you can say he’s got plenty of time, he could do it.”
On the other hand, Haney said it would mean Woods would have to win “more majors than Phil Mickelson has won his whole career and he has to do it after the age of 35.”
“When you start looking at it like that, you think this is going to be really difficult,” Haney said. “But I wouldn’t put anything past him, if he can prepare and play. He’s arguably the greatest or the second greatest player that’s ever played the game. But he’s still got to play and practice.”
Haney was at the celebrity golf tournament on the California-Nevada border as part of his continuing efforts to help Charles Barkley, the NBA great turned TV analyst known for his love of golf and his infamous stutter swing.
Barkley is “so great for the game of golf and the game of golf loves him. You see by the reception he always gets here,” Haney told reporters at Edgewood-Tahoe Golf Course before the 54-hole tourney began.
While Haney had success as Woods’ swing coach, he didn’t fare as well getting the hitch out of Barkley’s swing on his Golf Channel television show two years ago.
“But it’s kind of his trademark now. I don’t know, he’s probably made millions off the hitch,” Haney said. “Who else has had five million people look at their swing on YouTube, you know?”
Haney said Barkley swings without the hitch on the practice tee, but for some reason isn’t able to pull the trigger when he gets on the course.
“It’s only like 50 yards, maybe, at the most from the practice tee to the first tee,” he said. “But for him it must seem like it’s 550 yards, because once he gets over that first tee, something different happens.”
Barkley was tied for second to last after Friday’s first round.
“He’s probably the most humble, gracious, giving professional athlete-celebrity that I’ve ever seen, and one of my favorite people in the world,” Haney said. “And it bothers me when I see him out there just struggling so much.”