Golf Digest Interview
Why is this man smiling?
After teaching Tiger Woods for six years, Hank Haney moves on
It wasn't supposed to end this way, Hank Haney resigning as Tiger Woods' swing coach via text message on May 10, the day after Woods withdrew from the Players Championship. Only hours before Haney announced the resignation on his website, Woods had stated they were still working together and talked "every day." As Haney says in the following interview conducted less than a week after the resignation, that wasn't the case. Haney, who spent six years as Woods' only instructor, portrays a relationship that was irregular, distant and, by his account, "dysfunctional."
Where the breakup leaves Tiger as he grapples to regain his form and piece together his life is anyone's guess. But it seems to have left Haney in a better place. A renowned teacher for 30 years, Haney had acquired fame, financial success and the respect of players and peers long before he began teaching Woods in 2004. He was best known for rebuilding Mark O'Meara's swing before O'Meara's victories in the Masters and British Open in 1998, but Haney also has worked with an estimated 200 pros from different tours. He built and still operates several teaching facilities in Texas, was the men's golf coach at Southern Methodist for five years, and today runs his Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy on Hilton Head Island. His Golf Channel show, "The Haney Project," features his patience-trying and sometimes hilarious efforts to overhaul the swings of Charles Barkley and Ray Romano.
We met Haney at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, where he'd spent the day at its Lake of Isles golf course working on the swings of high-rolling guests. He sauntered through a VIP event in an enclave off the casino floor, chatty and relaxed in jeans, sneakers, collar-less shirt and sportcoat. Doug Flutie, the former NFL quarterback, came by wanting the scoop on the breakup. Haney shrugged and smiled.
"I feel like a boat owner," Haney told Flutie, who appeared puzzled by the remark. Haney explained: "The two best days of my career were when Tiger asked me to help him and the day I resigned. You know, like a boat owner -- his best days are the day he buys the boat and the day he sells it." Flutie laughed. Haney says the days he "owned the boat" were not always commensurate with the price he paid emotionally. Haney spent 110 days a year teaching Woods in their first five years together, and though Woods in that time won six of his 14 major championships and 31 of his 71 PGA Tour victories, the brief fallow periods brought out the critics. Woods' erratic driving was the biggest target, and Haney was always irked by comparisons of Woods' swing under him versus that of his predecessor, Butch Harmon. As you'll see, the criticism still does not go down easy. There also is the matter of how much Haney knew of Woods' behaviors leading up to the car accident and the persisting questions of possible use of human growth hormone. (Haney, present for four of the five sessions Woods spent with Dr. Anthony Galea for legal blood-spinning treatments, is on the record saying, "There was never anything that went into Tiger Woods' body that didn't come out of his body.")
Most bothersome for Haney were the frustrations, minute and large, of dealing with the mercurial and unknowable Woods. Hard questioning made Haney's jaw line go taut, his eyes wide and intense. "I don't want to throw Tiger under the bus," he said several times. "He's still my friend."
Golf Digest: Why did you resign? Was it frustration? Pressure? Criticism? Hank Haney: Start with all of the above, and keep going. There are so many reasons that add up to the fact it was time to leave.
Was the decision long in the making?
Six years is plenty to be in that job. The days of steady, long-term relationships -- Jack Grout and Jack Nicklaus, Tom Kite and Harvey Penick -- are over. Nicklaus and Kite saw many other instructors, by the way. There is only one winner every week on the PGA Tour. There is one Player of the Year every year. At some point it's human nature for a player or coach to start looking somewhere else. It's true not only in golf but in other sports, and probably most walks of life. If a company isn't doing well, the CEO is going to go. Six years for a coach is a long, long time. How many baseball managers or football coaches make it six years? Not many. The difference in my case is, it was my decision.
You're saying we shouldn't be surprised.
There was a piece in the Dallas Morning News a few years back that listed the top-10 toughest coaching jobs in all of sports. Guy Carbonneau of the Montreal Canadiens was ranked first; today he's no longer there. Two was Joe Torre of the Yankees -- no longer there. Third was the Dallas Cowboys after Bill Parcells left. Four was Charlie Weis, Notre Dame football coach -- no longer there. Six was Tiger Woods' teacher -- no longer there. But I was there longer than most.
Given that shelf life, if you hadn't quit, would Tiger have fired you?
I don't want to speculate on that. I just don't know. But he was saying up to 2 p.m. on Monday that I was his teacher. That's all I know.
Did your resignation take Tiger by surprise?
I think he was quite surprised, but that really would be a question for him. This was something I'd been thinking about for a long time. I knew that this was not going to last forever.
When you spoke with Tiger the day after you resigned via the text message, what was the conversation like?
He thanked me for all the hard work I did, and he told me how much he thought he had improved his game and his understanding of it. He told me he hopes it doesn't mean we aren't going to work together again. At least three times he said that, and I told him if he's having a problem with something, as a friend I'll be more than happy to watch him and give him my opinion.