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Haney Resigns; Who Will Be Next?

Exit of Woods' coach brings a sense of relief

PGA Tour: Tiger Woods

Rumors about a Woods-Haney split were circulating at the Players Championship.

May 11, 2010

There was a rumor going around the Players last Tuesday that somebody from the Tiger Woods camp had given Hank Haney a check and told him his services would no longer be needed. Haney was in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., but nowhere near the TPC Sawgrass: not on the practice ground with Woods, or on the course in Woods' nine-hole dawn patrols where on the first morning, he reportedly dunked five balls in the water.

I texted Haney the next day, and he responded that a direct deposit had been made into his bank account the previous Thursday for the second quarter of 2010. As he pointed out, to me and just about every golf writer and TV reporter with his number, Woods had won 44 percent of his tournaments over the past 2 1/2 years, and was top three in another 43 percent. The numbers spoke for themselves. So did Haney's words: "Tiger would not send someone to tell me I was fired. He would do it himself."

Again, what to believe, what not to believe in this daily soap opera, where news of Woods' future for the remainder of the season due to a pending MRI of his neck was overshadowed by the announcement on Haney's website late Monday that he was resigning as Tiger's swing coach. Was the coach trying to get out in front of the inevitable? Or was that check the final installment on their agreement?

It really doesn't matter any more. Even with a possible bulging disc in Woods' neck, even with Woods saying repeatedly that he wasn't making good swings because he physically couldn't make good swings, there was not enough thread to save the six-year-old Tiger-Haney relationship. Mercifully for Haney and those who care about him, Hank is gone. There can be no blame for him now where the world's embattled No. 1 golfer is concerned, as the coach walks off into the sunset with a coaching record of six majors and 32 wins.

What struck me was that Haney did it with a text message, but also with a pledge of friendship and a promise that he'd be following up with a Tuesday morning phone call. It all seemed so impersonal for two guys who spent that much time together. But then again, hardly improbable. There wasn't the trace of any bitter feelings. Just relief.

"I feel great," Haney said in an e-mail early Tuesday morning. "I am incredibly appreciative of the opportunity that I had to coach Tiger Woods. I resigned because there is a time and place for everything and I believed that now was the time for me to step aside. I am very proud of the work that I have done with Tiger and the record that he has had with me helping him. Do I feel relieved? Yes, it has not been an easy job for many reasons. Have I talked to Tiger yet? We traded quite a few texts tonight when I informed him of my decision and he said that he was with his kids and we would talk tomorrow."

So with his life unraveling and his game deteriorating, what swing coach will Woods turn to next?

Last Wednesday afternoon, on the secluded backside of the range at the TPC-Sawgrass, Woods hit balls next to caddie Steve Williams, while Butch Harmon, his former coach, worked with Dustin Johnson. Harmon and Woods spoke briefly, but not about his swing.

Earlier that morning, Woods played a practice round with Sean O'Hair and Hunter Mahan, both disciples of Sean Foley, an up-and-coming swing coach from Orlando, and they put on a clinic. Mahan hit all seven fairways and nine greens in regulation, prompting Woods to crack to Foley about how easy Mahan made it look. (Of course, Woods' choice of playing partners created so much buzz that Foley was prompted to release a statement later that day saying, in effect, he was not about to bcome Woods' new swing coach.)

The thought of Harmon and Woods getting back together is a non-starter. Butch wouldn't or couldn't return to Woods after carving such a close relationship with Phil Mickelson. And while Woods and Harmon get along fine professionally, there's too much collateral damage done from their parting eight years ago.

Foley, despite last week's denial, may be another story. He lives in a community next to Isleworth and with his stable of players, working Woods into the rotation is possible. There's no way, however, he would agree to an exclusive arrangement with Tiger. Would Woods have a problem with that? Or, in his next swing coach, is he looking for something less complicated, a set of eyes more than the full-on teaching philosophy?

Like all great players, Woods has to ultimately settle on his own swing, not Harmon's, not Haney's, and not Foley's, should that relationship come to pass.

The Haney-Woods relationship entered its final stage shortly after the player's second-round 79 at the Quail Hollow Championship, his worst round as a pro on U.S. soil, and knocking him out of the tournament for the weekend. Haney took it especially hard early in the week of the Players when NBC analyst Johnny Miller called for his dismissal and Golf Channel analysits Frank Nobilo and Brandel Chamblee took apart Tiger's swing during one of the network's segments. Woods only added to the speculation by being non-committal. Asked if he was working with Haney, Woods responded flatly, "I'm still working with him, yeah." The words rang hollow, and there was no follow-up.

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