Golf World

Where Destiny Leads

Continued (page 2 of 2)

After graduation he worked for Jacobs schools in Nashville and Fort Lauderdale. To supplement the meager wages of an apprentice instructor, he waited tables at Outback Steakhouse and got fired, not once, but twice. After his student visa expired, Foley returned to Toronto and drove a forklift the first winter. When the weather turned, he got a job teaching at the junior academy at Glen Abbey with the help of well-known Canadian instructor Ben Kern.

He taught all day, sometimes partied too much at night, and worked at The Keg, roughly a kilometer from the course. Sean Casey, director of golf at Glen Abbey, joined the staff a year after Foley. "Sean came across as very confident and secure but he wasn't necessarily feeling that way," Casey says. "Golf was that thing for him where he could be confident in himself. He did more legwork, dug deeper, learned more, read more, talked to more people than anybody."

Foley traded instruction time with a post-graduate student who had access to the biomechanics lab at McMaster University where he could test his theories. He would teach 12 or 14 hours a day, maybe go to the lab at night or to the restaurant to make enough to pay his bills.

"I was driven to hit the golf ball better, and I was driven to party," says Foley. "If I never really went through that phase, I wouldn't have opened all these books up about the mind and spirit. If I hadn't gotten to that point where I was that down and realized I didn't want to live like that, I don't think I would have [developed] an insatiable thirst to learn more about myself and try to figure out who I wanted to be."

Foley met Kate when he gave her golf lessons at Glen Abbey. "Kate's the only thing in my life I've never done wrong," he says. "I've taught golf and given bad information to some people that didn't suit them and they regressed. Drugs. Alcohol. Fighting. You name it, I've done all of it. But Kate's the only thing I've done right the whole time." Their second date was Sept. 11, 2001. They married three years later.

sean foley and tiger woods

"When we were sitting over a pint, let's say 10 years ago, he flat out said, 'I'm going to coach Tiger Woods one day.' He's just doing what he said he was going to do." --Glen Abbey director of golf Sean Casey. Photos: (left) Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post, (right) David Cannon/Getty

It was while he was teaching juniors at Glen Abbey in 2006 that Foley met Stephen Ames. "His initial three days of working together changed what I'd been trying to change for years," says Ames, who went on to win the Players. "My reason for going to him was that my body broke down and I couldn't swing."

Although it was Ames who brought Foley into the PGA Tour fold, it was no surprise to the people who knew him that he ended up there. "When we were sitting over a pint, let's say 10 years ago," says Casey, "he flat out said, 'I'm going to coach Tiger Woods one day.' He's just doing what he said he was going to do."

There have been awkward moments. When Charlie Wi didn't think Foley was giving Andy Plummer and Mike Bennett, proponents of the Stack and Tilt method, their due, there was a public dust up. "He's done great," says Plummer. "I don't want any credit for his success at all. He's doing it all, but I think it's fair to say that his work has been greatly affected by ours as ours has been by The Golfing Machine book and Mac O'Grady and those who came before us."

Besides Plummer and Bennett, Foley acknowledges influences from Dr. Craig Davies on anatomy, to Gregg McHatton (his first instructor), David Leadbetter, Peter Kostis, Harmon, Jim McLean, John Elliott, Davis Love, Chuck Cook and on and on. "People go, 'You stole this information,' " he says. "I'm like, 'Stole what?' We've all taken it from Newton, haven't we?"

Golf Channel commentator Brandel Chamblee has been Foley's most outspoken critic. "When I watch Tiger play golf and when I watch Hunter Mahan play golf and when I watch Justin Rose play golf, they make constant corrections to their swings. In between shots they are constantly rehearsing, not a swing but positions," says Chamblee, "which tells me they are not playing with any imagination, they're playing with automation. It's like they're addicted to an idea instead of the goal. Sean Foley appears to have part of this puzzle solved. He can get players to hit the ball straight. When I watch Tiger play, it's sad, I guess because it's Tiger and I feel we're being robbed of the most talented and animated golfer to ever play the game. Maybe some of the stillness has returned to Tiger's head, but the look he had before -- the romance, the imagination that he played with -- it's given way to science, similar in every aspect to a scalpel or Botox beauty queen with no soul."

Mahan would beg to differ. "I think Foley's got great awareness," he says. "He knows he's got little man's disease and he's got a little bit of an ego and he thinks he's right a lot of the time, but he backs it up with working hard and putting a lot of time and effort into knowing the golf swing better. Like Tiger, I mean, golly, he was dealing with so much. He was dealing with a guy who was going through a divorce, public humiliation, getting ridiculed by everybody and, on top of that, his swing was terrible. They've done a lot of great work and [Foley] gets almost no credit for it."

Woods seemed to rehearse fewer positions during his victory at the Memorial, and he and Foley altered their tournament routine there, getting together after rounds only, not before. In Columbus, Jack Nicklaus said, "I sat next to Tiger at the Masters dinner this year, and I was asking him, 'Why do you need somebody to watch you all the time?' He said, 'I really don't.' He said, 'I go to Sean and I get some ideas, but then I really go work on it myself and try to learn what I want to do and how I want to do it.' I said, 'If you're doing that, you're on the right track.' "

In his book The Big Miss, Haney says the distance between himself and Woods was, "a big miss for both of us." Foley tries to take Tiger as he found him. "Hey, look, this is how he is," says Foley. "He's just not the type of person to tell you what he feels or what he's thinking about. He's allowed to be that way. I know he cares about [caddie] Joe LaCava, and I know he cares about me. Would I like him to communicate better with me? Totally. Would it be helpful to me. Totally. Would it make us work better together? Absolutely. Did I know getting into it that he was this way? I completely did. He's a warrior. That's how he needs to be. The key to any teacher is to make himself obsolete to the student. The goal is to hit it in the fairway and hit it on the green and make putts and see where destiny leads."

Subscribe to Golf Digest
Subscribe today