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.
Did the job wear you down as it does many high-profile coaches?
It's not a job. Teaching touring pros has always been, and always will be, a marketing expense. It's for personal satisfaction, for contributing to history, and for marketing your brand.
Did the revelations about Tiger factor into your decision?
If not for the accident, maybe he'd still be playing well, and maybe I would have stayed on a little longer. But there's still that life span, and the life span was running out.
Describe the preparation for the Masters, his first tournament back after the scandal. It had to be intense.
In the weeks leading up to the Masters, he struggled. He was trying to get back to where his swing was. And get his feel back. He'd make the statement that he couldn't feel his swing and wasn't feeling it like he had in the past. He said, "I hear what you're saying, and I see where the shots are going, but I'm not feeling it." That's why he didn't play before the Masters.
The day before we got to Augusta, I felt like he became more committed to what I had been telling him to do. When he got there, Sunday was good. Monday he struggled, but that was the day of the press conference, so I knew he had a lot on his mind. Tuesday and Wednesday he did well. Thursday and Friday he did well. Saturday he did well, too. Yet somehow, when he came to the range after his round Saturday, which was the only time he had practiced after a round all week, he said he felt like he hadn't hit it well. He said he hit it terrible. And I didn't understand what he meant by that.
It sounds like communication was breaking down.
At that point you just have to ride it out. Six years of that. And then on Sunday when he warmed up, he wasn't open to suggestions. He wasn't asking what he should do. At one point, I asked him if he was open to ideas, and in his way he halfheartedly did what I suggested. He struggled on Sunday. That was it.
The breakup accelerated.
I talked to him only two times after that. That was his way of blaming me. Maybe I'm reading too much into it; maybe I'm being too sensitive. But when someone doesn't talk to you...
You felt the onus was on him to call you?
Right. I sent him an e-mail on everything I thought he should do and work on. I got no acknowledgement at all, but that wasn't unusual. Then it got to the point where I didn't know what he was doing or thinking. Yet the whole time he was telling the media I was still his teacher and that I was going to continue to be his teacher and I was talking to him every night.
It sounds like it became dysfunctional.
It didn't get dysfunctional; it always was dysfunctional.
How much did the criticism directed at you when Tiger didn't play well bother you?
I've been ripped for being too sensitive, but I do think people need to walk in another person's shoes before they accuse them of being too sensitive. There's no way I could care a great deal about Tiger and not be sensitive to criticisms as to how I taught him.
Do teachers get too much credit for players' successes, and too much blame for their failures?
I don't see teachers getting a lot of credit, and that's fine. Tiger deserves the credit, not me. I didn't hit the shots; he did. I don't think I deserved a great deal of credit, but on the other hand I don't feel I deserved the lion's share of the blame when he struggled.
Did you find criticism from a specific person especially hurtful or bothersome?
No. It's all the same. They're entitled to their opinions on how the club should be swung. But I didn't like them coming at me with statistics that are apples to oranges. When they splashed on TV Tiger's driving-accuracy statistics with me compared to how he did with Butch, they failed to mention that in the year 2000, 75 players hit 70 percent of their fairways. In 2009, only 18 players were that accurate [through the Tour Championship]. They conveniently left facts like that out.
Do you feel you went out at the top?
Absolutely. In 2009, Tiger won seven times in 19 tournaments, had 16 top-10 finishes. To come back from five months off this year and finish fourth at Augusta, I don't think that was too bad. After Augusta, he was on his own.
Most of the criticism was centered on Tiger's inaccuracy with the driver.
When Tiger's driving percentage was high early in his career, he did it with a 43-inch driver. At the Masters this year he used a 44-inch driver; a longer shaft alone will make a player less accurate. It's a different game today, different circumstances. Fairways have gotten narrower. Players are hitting the ball farther, which by definition will decrease accuracy. There's also the fact that there are more drivable par 4s, where it's impossible to hit the fairway if you happen to go for the green, which Tiger does.
You think he's as good a driver as he has ever been?
I didn't say that. I'm saying he's a better driver now than he was in 2004, when I started working with him. In 2009, he ranked 12th on the PGA Tour in total driving. In 2004, he did not rank that high [T-85]. There are a lot of years that led up to his finishing 12th in total driving, and much happened during those years. There was a torn ACL in there. There is this perception that he junked what he was doing in 2000 for the swing I gave him in 2004. That isn't the case. He junked what he was doing in 2003 because it wasn't working for him. My starting point was 2004, and at that time what he did in 2000 was irrelevant. I could only start based on what he was doing in 2003. It does me no good to go back in time. Tiger has said he was a better player in 2009 than he had ever been. [Caddie] Steve Williams said the same thing, and they're the guys closest to the action. Tiger's opinion of his game has to count for something, right?
Is there any sense at all that you're leaving a guy while he's at the bottom?
No, because I don't think his greatest need is more swing theory. What he needs now is help in areas outside what a swing coach can provide. He needs what a friend can offer. Whether he values my friendship and whether he feels I can offer anything as a friend, that's up to him.
Were you ever able to sit back and enjoy the successes you had with Tiger?
No, never. Tiger is so great, and the expectations of him so high, that even when he won majors I never enjoyed it for more than one day. Or one night. Often, the morning after he'd won a major, I'd wake up and my mind would just be spinning, thinking of what he had to do to get better. Remember the stretch when he won seven tournaments in a row? I remember wondering, How much time has this bought me? How long can he go without winning before they're on me again? Two weeks, a month? And I knew if he didn't win a major, it would be even worse.
If you knew the emotional price was going to be this high, would you do it over again?
Of course. It's the greatest opportunity a teacher could ever have. I'm so thankful for it. It's just incredible. I learned so much. The experiences were almost indescribable. I got to stand next to and watch the greatest golfer who ever lived.
What were the demands that came with being Tiger's coach that the average person might not be aware of?
One example is, he didn't plan ahead a lot, and therefore I didn't plan ahead because I didn't want people to know his schedule. I would guess when he would be playing, and I'd block my schedule out in case he would call. I never wanted to say I wasn't available. And in the six years I was with him, I never did say that. Whenever he called me, I was there within 24 hours.
Would he phone you much when you weren't on-site with him?
Oh, all the time. When I wasn't there I always watched the telecast so I'd be able to answer his questions. He'd frequently call me from the car on his way home from the course and ask me what I thought about something. I felt like I needed to be prepared for that call, and I didn't want to ever say, "Well, I'll watch it tonight and get back to you." There was only one time in six years where I didn't watch a telecast. That was at the Deutsche Bank , where he came back to beat Vijay Singh. I had something else going on.
Did you work with anyone else on the PGA Tour during your six years with Tiger?
Not really. I wanted to give him my best effort, and I don't think you can do that if you're working with more than one person. I did help Ben Curtis briefly as a favor to Ben and his agent, Peter Malik, a friend of mine. Tiger and Butch drifted apart in 2002 and 2003. How did you come to work with Tiger? He phoned and asked me to work with him, to help him, and I said yes, and that was it. Tiger knew his club was across the line at the top of his backswing [shaft aligned to the right of the target] and knew I concentrated a lot on keeping the club on plane. I think that appealed to him.
Did Mark O'Meara play a role in directing Tiger to you?
I don't think Tiger is one to play follow the leader; he makes his own decisions. I'm sure that his being aware of things I'd told Mark might have resonated with him.
When we interviewed Butch in 2001, he said he once threatened a teacher "with bodily harm" when the guy approached Tiger about working with him. Did another teacher ever try to steal Tiger away?
Not that I was aware of, no. I tried to do the best job I could do and not worry about that stuff.
Teachers don't communicate with every player the same way. How would you describe your approach with Tiger?
With all good players, you have to figure out a way for them to own the information you give them. It's important that they believe the information is their idea, not yours. When that happens it melds with everything else they believe, and they form a conviction. That's when they really start to execute. That's what I tried to do with Tiger -- make him believe that my ideas were his.
It sounds like the challenge is as much psychological as physical or mechanical.
This is one of the criticisms about me I'd overhear that really bothered me. Does anyone actually think I'm going to call Tiger Woods and tell him what to do with his swing one day, and he's going to go out and do it, simple as that? It doesn't work like that. Nor should it; you want students to be inquisitive. He's the one who decides what he's going to think, how much of the information he's going to incorporate, how much he's going to practice. As his coach, I would only offer suggestions and point him in directions I thought he should go.
Did Tiger disagree with you often on the swing advice you gave him?
Not really, but it would take him awhile to process things. I might tell him something, and it would take him a day, or a few days, and then he would tell me how he'd found something. At the beginning of my working with Tiger, he knew essentially what my beliefs about the golf swing were, and right away he told me a couple of things he didn't necessarily agree with me on. Over time, I think he came to understand where I was coming from and why I thought these things were important. And he believed in everything we worked on.
No lingering disagreements, technique-wise?
Not that I'm aware of.
Have you compared notes with Butch on the Tiger teaching experience?
No, although I did find it interesting when Butch was telling me at the Masters how hard it is to get Phil [Mickelson] to listen to him and get him to use a driver with more loft, and how he can get him to think it's his idea. And I was thinking, Who do you think you're talking to here? But that's not a knock. That's how it is with teaching. That's just how the great ones are.
What essentially was the difference between what you taught him and the way he swung with Butch?
I don't know all that Butch taught him, so I don't want to make a lot of comparisons. I do think that if you looked at video of Tiger before he came to me and after, the difference is that his club is more on plane. His club is not across the line like it was before.
An overall flatter swing plane, correct?
When you say flatter, it implies I teach a flat swing, and I don't want to be labeled that way. I believe the club is either on plane or it isn't. If it's upright, then it's above the plane; if it's under the plane, you're too flat. I wanted his club to be on plane. He did a good job with that. I'd point out that you don't use the left arm as a point of reference; you watch the club.
Tiger's left knee was already an issue with him when he began working with you. Did you tailor his swing to accommodate the knee?
No. The fact that the swing we worked on didn't stress his knee as much is coincidental.
Is it possible that Tiger learned all there was to learn from you?
That could be. I did feel it was going to be harder for Tiger to get better if he didn't commit to a couple things I thought -- and still think -- are important at this stage. Were there things I wanted him to commit to? Yes. Was it hard for me to get him to commit to those things? Yes.
So you felt frustrated.
It's my job as a teacher to get him committed to what he's supposed to be doing. So yeah, it was difficult.
Can you describe other frustrations?
Every once in a while I sent him some pretty long e-mails or texts on things I thought he needed to do. I sent one after the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Tiger never even acknowledged he got the e-mail. That was just the way he was. He never responded that he even got it. There was one time when Elin told me, "Hey, Tiger got your e-mail, and he really liked it."
You never got used to that?
My feeling was, you plant some seeds. If they grow, great; if they don't, you don't take it personally. Not my problem; I just kept planting. Just like a farmer.
What swing ideas did you want him to commit to?
In particular, the situation with his head dropping down so much. I wanted to address his head dropping, and also tilting. He would rock and tilt his head right off the ball [the beginning of the backswing], especially with the driver. On the downswing, his head would drop drastically. He didn't drop his head severely with the irons, only with the driver.
How do you think he fell into that habit?
Tiger has an overall lack of trust with his driver that manifests itself in different ways. One, he obviously swings extremely hard, and sometimes too fast. He feels like he isn't in the right place in his swing, or that he isn't going to hit the right shot, and the anxiety of that tends to make people speed up. The quest was to get him to make the same swing with his driver he did with his irons in terms of effort, speed, his head not tilting, rocking and dropping. He was like, "I need to fix that, I'm going to work on it, I'm working on it, I'm going to work on it, I understand," and so on, but I didn't see it to the extent I felt he needed.
With that, you still believe he's a good driver of the ball?
How many times has a poor drive cost Tiger a tournament? None. The other thing is, when Tiger gears back, he drives the ball extremely straight. At Hoylake [2006 British Open, when Woods hit only one driver] he averaged 290 yards and ranked first in accuracy. At Southern Hills [2007 PGA Championship] he averaged over 300 and was ninth in accuracy. So when he wants to pull back to a certain distance, last year and years prior, he can drive it straight. Last year on the tour he improved to 12th in total driving and 86th in accuracy. As for this year, I think Tiger's neck injury has been a big factor.
When did you become aware of his neck injury?
I wasn't aware until Sunday morning of the Players Championship. Remember, Tiger isn't one to complain. I knew that for him to mention it, it had to be bothering him a lot.
What do you recall about the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, which Tiger won with a broken leg?
We played at Big Canyon in Newport Beach the Saturday morning prior to that week, and Tiger lost eight balls in nine holes. That wasn't a real positive sign. He was trying to play wearing a knee brace but couldn't do it. That afternoon I talked him into playing nine more holes while walking -- he hadn't been walking courses leading up to the Open. That was tough, but I figured he might be able to walk 18 holes the first day of the tournament, which was days away, just on adrenaline. The second day, I wasn't so sure.
Tiger played nine holes at Torrey Pines on Monday and Tuesday, and on Wednesday he didn't play at all. After the tournament started, he didn't practice after any round. It wasn't good. But I did think that after the first day, he'd go the whole way.
What I remember most was the doctor [Thomas Rosenberg] coming to Tiger's house before that U.S. Open and showing him the MRI images on a laptop computer, showing him the two stress fractures, and Tiger not paying very much attention. I asked Dr. Rosenberg [who later performed the surgery to repair Tiger's torn ACL] what the treatment regimen was. He said it meant three weeks on crutches, then inactive for three weeks, then Tiger could start rehab. I remember looking at the calendar and saying, "So he's basically done for the year, right?" At that point Tiger came alive. He said, "I'm playing in the U.S. Open, and I'm going to win." He bent over and started putting on his shoes. "Come on, Hank, we're going to practice." I looked at Dr. Rosenberg and said, "I guess we're going to go practice."
Tiger seems to have lost distance with his driver. What's behind that?
He's 34 years old. He's had ACL surgery. Also, there are so many young players coming up who hit the ball very long, so comparatively it makes him look shorter. Having said that, when Tiger is on familiar territory -- I'm talking the Isleworth driving range -- there is no decrease in distance. Zero.
How knowledgeable is Tiger about the golf swing?
The most knowledgeable I've ever been around. I've taught 200 pros from tours around the world, and nobody came close to knowing what Tiger knows.
What changes in Tiger's swing over the years are you most proud of?
He became better at everything, in my opinion, from the time I started working with him.
Of the great shots you've seen him hit, is there one, or a handful, that stand out as shots only Tiger could hit?
For fun, Tiger and I used to play worst-ball matches, in which I played one ball and Tiger played two. He had to hit two shots from every location, select the worst one, then play two shots from that spot, choosing his worst one, until he got the ball in the hole. It's an incredibly difficult game, but how else am I going to compete against Tiger Woods? One day at Isleworth we tied after nine holes and the first hole of sudden death. The second hole is a par 3 about 250 yards. It's the hardest par 3 I've ever seen. You have to hit the tee shot through this tiny chute in the trees to a narrow green with water on the right and bunkers everywhere. His first shot stopped inside a foot from the hole. Nice, but now he has to play a second ball. His second shot also stops inside a foot. Just unbelievable: exact same ball flight, same everything. It probably was as impressive a thing as any shot I saw him make in competition.
In 2000, before you began working with Tiger, we surveyed people in golf on how many professional majors they thought he would win. Your guess was 30. How many do you see him winning now, best-case scenario?
How many does he have now?
C'mon. He's at 14.
I'd say 25. He's got plenty of time left in his career. If he wins at the rate he's been winning, for the next 10 years, he'll get to 25. It's possible, because we haven't seen the best of Tiger. He has so much experience, so much knowledge of the courses they play majors on. I see no reason at all he can't keep getting better.
Will his putting hold up?
There's a feeling he's missing putts that once seemed automatic. Putting goes in streaks. I don't think he putted exceptionally well in the years I coached him. He's had his moments, obviously. You don't win the tournaments he's won the last six years putting badly. But he hasn't been at the crest of one of those incredible waves like he had in 2000. Steve Williams keeps statistics, and he told me Tiger went huge stretches without three-putting. I think three times he went over 200 holes without three-putting. Just amazing. Could he get into one of those good streaks again? Why not?
In trying to strike a balance between power and accuracy with Tiger, did the two of you favor one over the other?
No. I always strived for both. Tiger always has, too.
Is the distance/accuracy trade-off worth it to Tiger?
It depends on the course you're playing. Phil Mickelson doesn't think it's a good trade-off, and he's the second-best player in the world. So why is it a good trade-off for Tiger? If you have power, you have to use it. But power can result in accuracy, because a long hitter can keep his 3-wood up close to the average guy's driver.
Did you help Tiger much with his short game?
Mostly just to observe if he was doing something different than he usually did. Last year I did talk him into making his swing on sand shots match his full swing more. Before, his swing was steep and too wide open. It took me four years to sell him on that, so that was something. Last year he had a much better sand game [ranking third on tour, after he was 118th and 67th the previous two years], and I think I can take some credit for that.
Let's go back to last November. How did you learn about the accident?
I was in China, and my phone started ringing off the wall at 3:15 a.m. I didn't know anything. I just got a text from Mark Steinberg [Woods' agent] that said Tiger was OK. At first I was just worried about his health.
When did you learn there was more to it?
I'd been warned that an article was coming out in the National Enquirer, and I think I was told that the story wasn't accurate.
How do you react when people express surprise that you didn't know anything about Tiger's behaviors?
I always tell the truth. If I had known about it, I would have tried to do something to help him. That's what a true friend would do.
When did you first talk to Tiger after the accident?
I texted him but got no response. I think his phone was shut off almost immediately. I got a text message at the end of December some time. I got maybe another text after that, and then a phone call in February when he started playing again.
As a friend, were you hurt by his not communicating with you?
I knew he had a lot to deal with. I'm not the kind of friend who was always bugging him. I wasn't a high-maintenance instructor; I certainly didn't want to be a high-maintenance friend. I knew he had his hands full and knew that he knew I was there if he needed me. He didn't reach out or ask for my help, and I don't know what that told me on how he valued me as a friend. I really didn't have any notions about it, to be honest.
When did you begin seeing him after the accident?
March 8 of this year. He'd played some a few weeks before that, I think, but not much. When I saw him in March, he was just trying to get going.
Was Tiger generous with you? Did he express his appreciation to you in unusual ways, such as signing flags for you or dropping you notes?
Generosity is relative. It was generous of him to give me the job. I don't have anything signed by Tiger, no. Not one thing.
Did Tiger pay you well?
I don't want to answer that. There's no reason for me to go there.
It's been said that Tiger views any association with him as helping that person out. Do you go along with that?
You said it, I didn't.
Is it possible that Tiger could quit the game altogether?
No. He loves to compete, loves to play and practice, loves to improve. What else would he do?
How about taking a break to get his life in order?
There was speculation on that. I don't know to what extent his thinking was on that, or if he thought about it at all. Understand, my job was to help him with his golf swing, to be there when he called for that purpose. I didn't discuss any plans for his future, ever. It was beyond the realm of my job description.
Were you aware that his knee continued to bother him in 2009?
I was under the impression his knee was OK. I thought it was good all year. I can't remember one time last year when he swung the club and then told me his knee was bothering him. Early in the year, his knee was bothering him in a spot away from the ACL, where he'd had the surgery, but that got better.
It's surprising, with you being involved with his swing mechanically, that he wouldn't disclose to you that his knee was causing him pain.
We specifically worked on keeping some flex in his left knee so he wouldn't stretch that ligament out, especially when he first came back. But I don't think his knee affected him at all. Not his golf swing, anyway.
Did you detect Tiger having less fun at what he was doing last year, before the accident?
It's hard to say. In the last few years he hasn't worked at it quite as hard as he did before. I don't know if it's because of the knee, or other activities, or what.
Tiger's body changed over the years. How did that affect your teaching?
I don't think his weight ever changed more than five pounds over the six years I was with him. Not more than five pounds either way, I'll bet. The early years, he was already getting really big with his upper body, then after his knee injury it seemed like his upper body got a little smaller while his lower body got much more muscular.
Did you approve of how aggressive he was with workouts?
It wasn't really my department. I don't have the expertise to make that type of judgment. A lot of people might say he was too big, or muscular, but I had no say on that. I know Butch has said that when Tiger was stringier he hit the ball farther. But I'm not expert enough to say anything about that. Tiger never asked my opinion on it. He likes working out.
What insight into Tiger's way of learning could you offer the next teacher he takes on?
I wouldn't give them any advice, because it wouldn't be my place. I had my opportunity to help Tiger, I did the best I could do, and I gave it 100 percent all the time. I lived and died with every shot.
If an outrageously talented young tour player asked you to go full out the way you did with Tiger, would you do it?
No. I'm almost 55 years old. The years of me going to 15 tournaments a year, like I did with Mark O'Meara, or spending 110 days a year with a player like I did the first five years I was with Tiger, are over. I don't feel I have anything more to prove to myself, and I do have to care about myself. You never say never, but I don't see it. Working with a young player is a long road. You have to be willing to see it through.
When did you first meet Tiger?
I believe it was at an AJGA [American Junior Golf Association] tournament in Dallas. He was maybe 16.
It wasn't Tiger's ball-striking that stood out, even though his power and speed were exceptional. It was the confident way he carried himself. He struck me as something special, for sure.
Were you a fan of Tiger's parents?
Absolutely, both Earl and Tida. The job they did coaching and parenting Tiger was incredible. They really are the ones responsible for his greatness.
Let's go to some other students. Are you happy with the outcome of "The Haney Project," the Golf Channel shows with Charles Barkley and Ray Romano?
Absolutely. Charles Barkley is one of my favorite people in the world. He's a great friend and one of the most charitable people I know. I wanted to give Charles a better golf game as a present.
That hitch in his swing never really went away. He didn't seem to improve.
The show is called "The Haney Project," and Charles definitely is a project. I'm still working with him. I take all the blame for him not getting better. He had the yips with his full swing, and I had a plan for Charles based on the amount of time I was going to spend with him. I also had an alternative plan in the event the first plan didn't work. After Charles had that trouble [DUI arrest in December 2008], I wasn't able to see him very much, and we couldn't go to the alternate plan.
And Ray Romano?
When I saw Ray at the beginning I thought, He doesn't look too bad. But when I looked closer, I saw that he was going to be a project, too. It's a process, and not a short one.
Let's finish up with Tiger. Do you feel he's competitively older than his age of 34?
Absolutely. Tiger's an old 34, no doubt about it. It's good, and it's bad. On one hand he has more experience; on the other hand maybe he sometimes feels tired of the whole thing. It's a guess, really.
Jack Nicklaus in his prime versus Tiger in his prime. Who wins?
Jack has the greatest record, but I don't think anybody has ever played the game as well as Tiger Woods has.
Will we see another player like Tiger in our lifetimes?
No. The physical, the mental, the ability to make putts in the clutch, his pure talent, his competitiveness, the tools it takes to be great. I don't just view Tiger as the greatest golfer in history, I think he's the greatest athlete who ever lived.
Has Tiger handled the crisis well?
I'm proud of Tiger for accepting responsibility and getting some help. I think that's all a man can do. There was one report that said I left him because I was morally against what he did. That's not true. I really believe that everybody makes mistakes. You take responsibility for your mistakes and try to come back, and he truthfully has. I don't like what Tiger did, but I give him credit for accepting responsibility and trying to get better.
You've said that Tiger needs friends at such a difficult time in his life. Is it hard for such a high-profile individual to find friends?
Yes. Very hard. Especially true friends.
Is your friendship with Tiger on a peer level, or is there a big-brother quality to it?
I think some of my messages to Tiger were along the lines of a big brother, but I don't know if he ever viewed me that way. Remember, I'm 54 and he's 34. So I'm sure age is a factor with that.
How does he respond when you try to be close to him? Does he draw lines in the friendship?
Tiger's different. I'm sure that's why he's the golfer he is. I don't take that personally. It's not for me to judge how he should be.
At the end of the day, how well do you feel like you really know Tiger Woods?
I always felt like I knew Tiger from observing him. I did not feel like I knew him from knowing him.
This is the 128th Golf Digest Interview in a series that dates to 1991. For highlights from previous interviews, including Guy Yocom's Q&A with Butch Harmon from 2001, see golfdigest.com/golf/interviews.