OpinionMay 24, 2010

Life without Tiger: What's Ahead For Hank

I picture him in one of his Hank Haney offices on one of his Hank Haney properties. Maybe the Hank Haney Golf Ranch at Vista Ridge in Lewisville, Texas. Maybe the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy (HHIJGA) on Hilton Head Island. Maybe one of the others.

He is staring out the window. Maybe he is half-watching a Hank Haney certified instructor deliver a lesson on the Hank Haney seven Essentials of the Swing, the same essentials covered in the Hank Haney book Essentials of the Swing, or the Hank Haney "Essentials" special four-disc DVD set. Maybe not. Maybe the lessons are done for the day. Maybe Hank Haney is staring at nothing, looking out the window, his mind a million miles away, as he fiddles with one of those Hank Haney golf gizmos, squeezes it, tosses it in the air, maybe the Hank Haney Hand Exerciser or the little plastic thing from the Hank Haney Putting Impact System.

"What next?"

I hear him say that. Yes.

The quiet is unfamiliar. He is the equivalent of the recently divorced spouse of the famous person. The marching band has continued to walk along with Tiger Woods, the famous person in this case, the sound of woodwinds and drum rolls greeting his every move. The less famous person is left behind as the procession moves over hill, dale, down the 18th fairway, through all muck and all mire. Pretty soon the sound is gone. The swing coach is by himself.

For six years, Hank Haney was Tiger's main guy. There had been an acrimonious end to Tiger's previous swing-coach relationship with Butch Harmon, 10 years gone, just like that, and Haney became the replacement. He retooled the famous man's swing, flattened it out, a tricky piece of business that not only worked, but made the No. 1 player in the world even better.

Then there was the knee surgery. Then there was the fire hydrant. Then there were the headlines in the checkout-line tabloids. Then there were the headlines everywhere. None of this was swing coach business, but then there was the break-up. Now there is this.

For some reason I am more interested in what happens to the swing coach than what happens to the swing star. The saga of Tiger, the saga of all sagas, will play out at the multiplexes, national distribution, national interest, big themes, big moments, yea or nay, no matter what. The story of Hank Haney will be in the art houses. He is the character actor in the personal story. He is the ordinary man dealing with problems on a more human scale.

He sits on an empire that has arrived largely as the result of his involvement with the best golfer on the planet. He was a good teacher in the past, solid, successful. He worked with Mark O'Meara in some fine moments, but being with Tiger moved him to the front of the line, gave him an aura that can come only from the brightest reflected glory. Haney became the guru, the savant, the latest greatest, the one 54-year-old man the rest of us wanted to teach us how to blast out of a greenside bunker. Trendy. There was a reason he was called to do the TV show with Charles Barkley, the next one with Ray Romano. He worked with the best, so he certainly should work with the rest.

How much of this will remain? Will he be asked fewer times now to do motivational speeches, asked to take smaller fees to give clinics? Will the book deals, the video deals, keep coming? Will the gadgets keep selling, the enrollment in the golf schools keep rising, the seats on the advisory boards remain? Will the brand stay out there, front and center?

I wonder who will ask him to dance next. Or whom he will ask. Does he find some young unknown, try to build him into a champion? Does he find another famous name, try to help the guy lose that half a shot a round that determines success or failure? Does he slide further into the celebrity field, trying to make good golfers out of Justin Bieber, the four ladies from "Sex In The City," Elena Kagan, Brett Favre, Big Papi, Doctor J, Doctor Oz, Doctor Phil? What?

I see Hank Haney walking around that Hank Haney office on that Hank Haney property. He fiddles with the elastics from the Hank Haney Swing Band Training System. He rearranges the colorful Hank Haney Short Game Targets. He sighs. He wishes he could put all of this through the Hank Haney Motion Analysis Software and get a simple answer.

Life changes for the guru when his most famous guree is gone.