As breakups go this one seemed tame by comparison. A split that seemed months in the making was muted by two parties singing off the same page regardless of whatever metaphorical wedge had sent them in separate directions.
Be it irreconcilable differences, the contempt of familiarity or the intensity of an unyielding spotlight, it was time for Tiger Woods and Hank Haney to call it a half decade. It’s best for Woods, who has appeared lost and lonely on the golf course in nine curious rounds this season, and for Haney, who has endured more scathing analysis than any swing coach in history. More than any swing coach deserves, that’s for certain.
The only disconnect in the Woods/Haney split is who pulled the plug. “It was my choice,” Haney has said. While Woods said in a statement on his website, “Hank Haney and I have agreed that he will no longer be my coach.” That doesn’t sound like a man who received a “it’s not you, it’s me” text late Monday.
But even that is window dressing to the larger picture.
Those who have questioned Haney’s work with the world No. 1 suggest Woods was not the dominant player he was pre-Haney and figure he won despite Haney’s teachings, not as a result of them.
Critics claim that since the two began working together in March 2002 Woods has not enjoyed the same type of dominant victories, like his 15-stroke masterpiece at the U.S. Open in 2000 or his 12-shot walkover at Augusta National in 1997, that he did when Butch Harmon was calling the shots.
Lost in that argument are the only numbers that count, however. In the half dozen years Haney and Woods worked together the pupil won 32 percent of his starts and 26 percent of the majors he played.
By comparison, Woods won 27 percent of his Tour starts under Harmon, who he split with in late 2002, and 30 percent of his Grand Slam at bats.
Statistically Woods slipped in driving distance under Haney’s tutelage, likely a byproduct of age and circumstance more so than a swing flaw, while – contrary to the anti-Hank company line – he improved his driving accuracy, from 56 percent in 2004 to a high of 67 percent in 2008, and greens in regulation.
There is no way to know what Woods could have accomplished without Haney along for the ride, but with him the resume is hardly pink-slip worthy (31 Tour titles and six majors).
Either way this spilt is best for everyone concerned. Haney is a quiet man who is passionate about the golf swing but proved to be ill-equipped to handle the scrutiny that comes with that coveted spot on the practice tee next to Woods. While Woods needs answers, direction – both on and off the golf course – and a clean bill of health.
All indications are Haney is relieved it is over.
Post-Haney the conversation has quickly turned to what, or who, is next for Woods?
Our best guess is Woods goes it alone, at least in the short term. Rebound relationships never last and it’s best to leave dysfunction to the professionals on Jerry Springer and NBA coaches.
In the year when Woods was “between” swing coaches (2003) he didn’t win a major but collected five Tour tilts. Depending on the results of this week’s MRI a similar year in 2010 could be a victory of form, if not function, for Woods but it remains to be seen if he even has five more starts in him this year.
Those who watch these types of things say Woods needs a hybrid between Haney and Harmon. A coach that doesn’t teach a method, which means that whoever takes over isn’t interested in a wholesale swing change, and someone he has good chemistry with. Those with thin skin need not apply.
Whenever Woods starts the search for a new set of eyes expect there to be a conversation like the one that Harmon had with Dustin Johnson late last month. Johnson had been working with Allen Terrell since he arrived at Coastal Carolina University as a freshman but the hard-hitting phenom recently decided he needed a change.
When Johnson visited Harmon the instructor laid two pictures out, one of Johnson and the other of Hamron’s father, famed instructor Claude, both at the top of their back swings. Both players had closed club faces at the top of their swings, and Harmon made it clear he was not interested in changing that, Johnson’s signature move.
Woods will need a similar epiphany before he signs on with anyone, and among the names that have surfaced early as potential replacements none would be considered “method” teachers.
Sean Foley – whose current clients include Sean O’Hair, a frequent practice-round partner for Woods, and Hunter Mahan – has been mentioned, as has Todd Anderson, whose stable includes Brandt Snedeker and long-time Woods friend Charles Howell III.
Contacted on Tuesday both coaches said they had not been approached by Woods or anyone within his camp about a possible meeting or partnership.
Woods may need direction more than ever right now, both on and off the course, but the measured man seems content with his own swing thoughts at the moment. As for Haney he walks away with 31 Tour titles and a six-pack of majors, but his most prized parting gift may be the anonymity that came with Monday’s text message.
It would be any swing coach’s dream to work with the best of a generation, maybe of all time. Not every dream, however, comes with a perfect ending.