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Giving Tiger his best shot
With Hank Haney's advice, Tiger Woods has made changes that have lifted his game.
By BOB HARIG
Published June 14, 2005
PINEHURST, N.C. - Hank Haney does not swing the club, but he lives and dies with the flight of every shot. A green jacket does not hang in his closet, but major championship emotions are worn on his sleeve.
In terms of competitiveness, Tiger Woods has met his match.
Perhaps that is why two people 20 years apart in age can be such good friends. Perhaps that is why they could listen to all the noise around them and not let it disrupt their resolve.
And perhaps that is why Tiger Woods, with Haney as his adviser, is a major champion again, in search of the second leg of the Grand Slam this week at the U.S. Open.
With victory at the Masters two months ago came validation. The subtle yet significant changes Woods had made to his swing in the nearly three years since his last major title were the stuff of much speculation.
"I'm confident in what I'm doing, but it was a relief," Haney said. "The way people talk about winning these tournaments, these major tournaments ... it's not quite as easy as people think it is. He can play awfully well and not win. It was nice to get a big win under his belt. He's been trying to do things a different way with me helping him.
"More than anything, it's a sense of relief with Tiger. His sights are always set so high. And that sense of relief only lasts for a little while. You know there's another tournament coming up. You'd like to accomplish that same thing again. That's why it's always just a work in progress."
Haney spoke during a telephone interview last week while on his way to the Orlando airport. He had been working with Woods at Isleworth, was returning to his home near Dallas, and was due to be back in Florida at the end of the week for more preparation.
Their work continues today and Wednesday at Pinehurst No. 2, where the 105th U.S. Open begins Thursday.
Haney, 49, does not like to refer to himself as Woods' coach, although he has been working with the nine-time major championship winner for more than a year. For a time, they kept the working relationship a secret, even though many made the leap because of Woods' friendship with Mark O'Meara, whom Haney has counseled for more than 20 years.
While Woods, 29, was winning just once last year, the heat on Haney intensified. Woods was passed by Vijay Singh for No.1 in the world. He had his worst year in the major championships as a pro, his best finish a tie for ninth at the British Open. He hit just 56.1 percent of the fairways to rank 182nd on tour. He ended the year at the Tour Championship failing to hold a third-round lead for the first time in his past 12 tries.
No wonder there was amazement that Woods would leave instructor Butch Harmon - with whom he had worked since he was a teenager. And that he would attempt to alter a swing that had won so many tournaments.
"I think it's subtle," Haney said of Woods' swing changes. "But it's kind of like what people say when they are having minor surgery. The only minor surgery is surgery that is not on you. With Tiger, there is not a big, huge change that you can see without a trained eye. But when you change anything, it's not easy. There's no way to predict how much time it's going to take before you feel comfortable with it."
It was at the 2002 PGA Championship that Woods said he no longer needed Harmon's help, that their relationship had run its course. Although he continued to consult the instructor, Woods essentially was on his own.
But when Woods was not a factor at either the Masters or the U.S. Open last year, the second-guessing intensified. None was harsher than that of Harmon, who, working as a television analyst, said that Woods was "not working on the right things in his golf swing, although Tiger obviously thinks he is."
Later, Harmon said, "For him to stand there at every one of his interviews and say, "I am close. I feel really good about what I am doing.' ... I think it might be a bit of denial."
All the while, Haney bit his lip.
A former golfer at the University of Tulsa, Haney gravitated toward teaching and did all he could to learn the game and the swing. By age 24, he was the director of instruction at Pinehurst, where he met O'Meara in the early 1980s. From there, Haney went to PGA West, then to Stonebridge Range in McKinney, Texas.
It was while coaching the Southern Methodist golf team that Haney met Woods, who was playing for Stanford. But it was through O'Meara that their relationship grew.
While Woods worked with Harmon, Haney scrupulously avoided saying anything to Woods from a technical aspect.
"As a teacher, you do that with every player. You rehearse in your mind what you would tell them if they asked," Haney said.
"The thing that people don't seem to understand is that in order to help somebody, you need a receptive student. ... You have to gain a student's confidence. ... It's a whole process, not something that just happens."
That seemingly is all the time Haney has these days. In addition to working with corporate clients, he devotes 30 days a year to ESPN Golf Schools, and another 45 days to ESPN television.
He estimates he works with Woods 75 days a year, with particular attention before and during a major championship. He oversees six instruction sites in suburban Dallas and writes for Golf Digest .
Other than O'Meara, Haney works with no other pros.
"Hank and I have put some serious hours into this," said Woods, who has three victories this year and 43 in his PGA Tour career. "I read some of the articles over the past year of him getting ripped. I'm getting ripped for all the changes I'm making. To play as beautifully as I did (at the Masters) is pretty cool."
So is working with Woods, Haney said, although he knows the expectations are high.
"He's a great student, there is no denying that," Haney said. "Not just because of his talent. He's just so dedicated. He's so inquisitive. He wants to learn. He wants to understand. I find him to be very open-minded, although he can be a bit stubborn. But I see that as a positive trait.