In the three months between the time Tiger Woods split with then-swing coach Hank Haney and began working with Sean Foley in 2010, the former world No. 1 played just five events. But it was clear, at least to Tiger, that he needed the proverbial second set of eyes.
In the wake of Monday’s news that Woods split with Foley the new elephant in the room has become “what is next” for the man with the most scrutinized golf swing in the history of the game?
“Presently, I do not have a coach, and there is no timetable for hiring one,” Woods said in a statement posted Monday on his website.
Whether Woods reaches the same epiphany now that he did in 2010 remains to be seen. What is certain is that his list of potential new swing coaches is starting to dwindle.
The social media consensus is that Woods – who was injured for much of 2014 and failed to post a single top-20 finish in seven events – should reunite with Butch Harmon, who he worked with from August 1993 through August 2002. That, however, isn’t going to happen.
“No I would not (reunite with Woods), and he’s not going to call and ask,” Harmon told GolfChannel.com on Monday.
Although Harmon maintains a monsoon of respect for everything Woods has accomplished, he’s also well aware of the demands of being Tiger’s swing coach and neither party is interested in a reunion tour. The same could be said for Haney, whose 2013 book “The Big Miss” did not sit well with Woods, and Foley.
“Nothing lasts forever,” Harmon figured.
Although there is no shortage of possible candidates after Harmon, finding the right fit for Woods, who has shown a growing affinity for TrackMan technology and a more scientific approach to the golf swing, is an exercise in competing interest.
Among the short list of possible replacements after Harmon it seems that Chuck Cook – who was ranked among the top 50 teachers last year by Golf Digest and whose Tour stable includes Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley and Luke Donald – has emerged as an early favorite.
Although attempts to reach Cook were not successful, many of those polled on Monday said he would seem to be a logical choice to help guide an extremely logical and high-profile player.
“Chuck Cook is a TrackMan guy, his name will be batted around,” said Claude Harmon III, Butch’s son who teaches Ernie Els and Brooks Koepka, before adding with a laugh, “I know I’m not getting a phone call (from Woods).”
Most of the other possible candidates to replace Foley had the same outlook when polled by GolfChannel.com, including Todd Anderson, the 2010 PGA Teacher of the Year who helped coach Brandt Snedeker to the 2012 FedEx Cup title; Pete Cowen, a European Tour staple who guided Henrik Stenson to the same title last year; and Scott Hamilton, whose list of Tour players is a who’s who of Tour ballstrikers including Boo Weekley, Steven Bowditch and Brendon Todd.
Nor does there seem to be a consensus as to whether Woods needs a second set of eyes going forward.
“I don’t think he needs a swing coach,” Butch Harmon said. “If I were advising Tiger I’d tell him, ‘you’re the greatest player that ever lived, just go to the range and hit shots.’ Only he knows what his body can and can’t do. In this day and age you can get all the technical coaching you need with TrackMan. He’s good enough to do it himself.”
In a text message exchange Haney agreed that Woods doesn’t need a swing coach at this juncture, while others contend that the idea of going it alone is neither in Woods’ best interest or his DNA.
“He’s always had a coach. People say he should be a natural golfer, but he has always had a coach,” Cowen said.
And Hamilton pointed out that while there is plenty of information available via TrackMan and the PGA Tour’s ShotLink program, knowing how to use that technology has its own set of pitfalls.
“There are guys that manage without (a swing coach), but there is so much technology out there, both good and bad. You need someone to help you understand the technology,” Hamilton said.
The one thing nearly every swing coach pointed out is that Woods must come to terms with his physical limitations before he makes any more staffing decisions. At 38, Woods has played a full season on the PGA Tour just three times in the last seven years due to various injuries ranging from knee and Achilles issues to his most recent back troubles.
“I think he needs to understand what he wants to do, and his fitness is paramount,” Cowen said. “A swing coach won’t do any good if your player is not healthy. You can’t compensate for an injury. Technique has no part in that.”
Since teaming with Foley in August 2010 Woods played just 56 Tour events, winning eight times in the only two seasons (2012 and ’13) he managed to record a full schedule, which is likely why he didn’t sound as if he were in a rush to bring anyone new onboard on Monday.
“He knows what his body can do. He’s a very good student of the golf swing. Once his body gets healthy he can go back to playing the way he knows he is capable of playing,” Butch Harmon said.
Most observers agree Woods will return healthy in 2015. Whether he will have that second set of eyes to guide him through this next phase of his career is anyone’s guess.
-- Rex Hoggard, GolfChannel.com
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- Butch Harmon