2005: PGA Championship - Teaching Tiger

Reputations are fickle, no? Just like that, Hank Haney is a genius again. Tiger Woods finishes first, second and first in the season’s first three major championships, and Haney goes from questioned guru to celebrated savior. The answer to why Woods changed his swing and what Haney did to help seems simple as 1-2-1.

“Now I’m smart,” said Haney, doubted especially while Woods hit errant drives over the last 16 months of swing reconstruction. “It’s been an overreaction in every direction.”

So the drum of vindication beats for Haney. Long highly regarded in golf instruction circles, he has given paid lessons to more than 200 touring pros, gained fame and fortune starting with his retooling of Mark O’Meara’s game in the early 1980s and had the honor of being asked by Woods to become his coach in March 2004.

It was the telephone call of a lifetime, and it came out of the blue.

Woods: “I want to see if you’d help me with my golf swing.”

Haney: “Absolutely.”

So Haney flew from Dallas to Orlando, Fla., before last year’s Bay Hill Invitational and they went to work behind the gates of that high-brow golf laboratory called Isleworth.

“At first I was really excited,” Haney said. “As soon as we worked that first day, I realized, ‘Now you have to produce. Now it’s time for Tiger to get better and to win.’ I knew what would happen if he didn’t.”

As Woods had growing pains, especially with the tee ball, Haney endured some pain himself. Woods entered 2005 without a victory in his past 10 majors. Television analysts and swing gurus made unfavorable comparisons to Woods’ old swing. Haney flattened Woods’ swing, getting it closer to on plane than ever before. Woods no longer would play with his club across the target line at the top, but errant shots to the right and left sounded alarms.

What are they doing? Why does Woods need to change a swing that won seven of 11 majors in 1999-2002? Why did Tiger leave Butch Harmon?

Now we seem to have an answer. At next week’s PGA Championship, Woods could put the finishing touches on one of the greatest major championship campaigns in history.

“The thing that bothered me the most was that people were critical without doing any research,” Haney said. “A lot of the TV commentators have never come down to the practice tee to watch Tiger hit balls. That’s kind of amazing. You’d think they’d come watch the No. 1 player in the world if they’re going to sit up there and criticize him all the time. And none of them asked me a question. I can’t imagine John Madden not asking Bill Parcells a question about his football team.”

Haney has been sensitive to the charges. He sees a double standard. He says NBC’s Johnny Miller said Michelle Wie has “one of top five swings in the world” – and then Wie struggled hitting fairways and greens and failed to break 80 in the final round of the U.S. Women’s Open.

“If Tiger ever hit the ball like that, they’d say he had the worst swing in world,” Haney said. “If he hits a bad shot, they show it 10 times and critique it from every angle. . . . Do you ever recall seeing a highlight film of every bad shot another player has hit? How many tournaments last year did a telecast show his worst four drives? This year he drove it great at Wachovia, but his three bad drives were shown over and over on The Golf Channel. They show his arm going up, signaling, ‘Fore, right.’

That just fuels the fire.

“None of this is about me, it’s about (Woods). It bothers me that somebody so great for the game, someone who has done so much, was treated a little unfairly.”

The double antidote of Masters and British Open victories has a way of restoring peace.

“I’d have to be lying if I didn’t say there was some (feeling of vindication),” Haney said. “We felt we were coming along good, no matter what people were saying. I was always confident in what I was doing. It just took a little time to come together. As time went by that first year and he wasn’t winning, he started putting a little more pressure on himself. As his swing started getting better and he got more confident, he started relaxing more. I’m going to let his golf speak for itself. He had confidence in me and I had confidence in myself, and that’s really all that mattered.”

Woods’ game spoke loudly again last week when he shot a career-best 11-under-par 61 while finishing second at the Buick Open. So he enters the PGA having placed no worse than third in his last five starts.

“My game has gotten a lot better,” he said, “a lot more sound over the past year or so working with Hank, and good positive things are starting to come about from our hard work.”

Haney teaches Woods, O’Meara and maybe, for an hourly fee of $400, a handful in the Dallas area. That’s it. When he started coaching Woods, he decided to stop teaching others “so I could give it my best shot. He’s going to be my student until he doesn’t want me to watch him anymore.”

Not that the goal-oriented Haney isn’t busy. He’s the type, says wife of 10 years, Jerilynn, who thrives on staying busy, who “can’t sit down and relax,” who is “on the phone 24/7.” Haney estimates he’ll be on the road at least 170 days this year – 45 providing instructional insight on ESPN telecasts, 30 for ESPN golf schools, 75 with Woods and 20 for corporate outings.

Before 2004, he traveled maybe 30 days per year, opting to spend long days on the practice tee and building his Hank Haney Golf Inc., up to seven facilities in Texas – five golf centers in the Dallas area, one in Austin and an 18-hole course in Texarkana.

He’s the majority owner of each, most notably his first one, the 13-year-old golf ranch in McKinney, Texas, which features a nine-hole Pete Dye course.

He figures to cut back travel next year, perhaps paring TV and golf school work.

“It’s too much,” he said. “(ESPN telecasts) would’ve been good exposure, but when you’re hanging out with Tiger Woods, you don’t need a lot of exposure. I’ve got a lot of that now. Thank God some of it’s good now.”

Haney, 49, is at once laid back and intense. He has a calming “Hey, bud” personality but is hands on while instructing, moving pupils in the proper position.

“Hank’s famous for climbing on people and moving them around,” said longtime friend Mike Abbott, general manager at the exclusive Vaquero Club in Westlake, Texas. “Either he’s 20 feet behind you or he’s moving you in places that don’t feel comfortable. (Nationally known disc jockey) Rick Dees used to call it the dollar move. Hank would move him 50 times in 30 minutes and Dees said every move cost him another dollar.”

Haney, by all accounts, is ultra-driven. But he comes across as a pleasant, regular guy.

“He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve known,” said Steve Johnson, his partner in Haney Golf Inc. “He can figure things out. He’s a linear thinker. He’s great at diagnosing and analyzing and creating a game plan. In all areas, not just the swing. He just thinks so logically.

“He even had a guy call him and ask him to help Shaquille O’Neal with his free-throw-shooting yips. He’s a problem solver.”

Haney has been blessed with rich associations in the game. The son of an advertising salesman, he grew up in the north Chicago suburb of Deerfield, and learned at Exmoor Country Club under Jim Hardy, the former PGA Tour player and now well-known instructor. Haney started teaching soon after his playing days at Tulsa University ended, first at Exmoor, then with the traveling John Jacobs-Carol Mann schools that Hardy founded, then running the Pinehurst Resort’s schools. Though he and Hardy have drifted apart and have different teaching philosophies, Haney credits Hardy for instilling passion and launching his career.

“Hank was very curious, energetic, ambitious and knowledgeable,” said longtime Chicago-area pro John Cleland, who hired Haney as an Exmoor teaching pro. “If he couldn’t fix you, he’d stayed up at night trying to figure it out.”

Haney says his first “big break” was learning from Jacobs, the renowned British pro recently selected for the World Golf Hall of Fame. Jacobs taught Haney to base swing diagnosis on ball flight.

“That’s the thing that’s been so critical in my teaching,” Haney said. “You figure out what happened at impact to make ball do that. Then you figure out what happened during the swing to make impact happen.”

Haney’s rise began at 26 after a chance meeting with O’Meara at Pinehurst near the end of the 1982 season. Haney helped O’Meara make three cuts down the stretch and keep his card at No. 120 in earnings. Then O’Meara, his upright swing rounded off and less flippy at the bottom, rose to No. 2 and No. 10 in Tour earnings in 1984-85.

“All of a sudden everybody thought I had the secret and I was teaching a bunch of touring pros,” Haney said. “I’ve had so many good things happen to me in golf and none of that would’ve happened without Mark O’Meara. If not for Mark, nobody would have ever heard of me.”

O’Meara’s not so sure. He credits Haney for providing the “drive and knowledge” to improve a swing that would carve out 16 PGA Tour victories.

“Without his help, I wouldn’t have had that success,” O’Meara said. “What makes Hank stronger than other teachers is that his understanding of ball flight is better than the rest of them.”

O’Meara would go on to win the Masters and British Open in 1998, and Haney would go on to teach 250 days most years and build an empire in the Dallas area, where he groomed the games of, among countless other top players, siblings Trip, Hank and Kelli Kuehne.

“The big high was when Mark won the Masters,” Haney said. “To see him come through after all the years we put in, that was huge.”

Now that Haney has curtailed his teaching, he has become something of a junkie as a player. Haney says he played only five rounds from early 1990s to the early 2000s. He estimates he played 20 times in 20 years. But he cured his full-swing yips – he says he couldn’t hit the next fairway over off the tee – and now plays at least 120 times per year. And he plays well. He’s a member at Vaquero and plays often with Woods.

Jerilynn Haney says her persistent husband has to be the “best in whatever he does.” She says he’ll do something a “million times until he’s got it down.” She says she’s never met a more positive person.

She was a receptionist at a Dallas radio station when she met Hank in 1995. They married 21⁄2 months later on the spur of the moment at Las Vegas’ Little White Chapel, where celebrities such as Michael Jordan and Liz Taylor had tied the knot. They decided to wed the night before their 10 days in Vegas ended. Haney’s divorce from first wife, Joannie, had been final only about a month.

“He’s serious, but he has a dry sense of humor that makes me laugh every single day,” Jerilynn said. “He’s a very nice man with a huge heart.”

Abbott, the Vaquero GM, concurs. He has known Haney since their teenage years at Exmoor, back when Abbott at 16 had a fake ID that said he was 24, good enough for admittance to the Wooden Nickel bar in Highwood. Haney was of legal age but couldn’t get in “because they didn’t think he was old enough.”

Abbott recalls Haney as a “terrible gin player” at Exmoor but so good in putting contests that “I still owe him about 2,400 root beer floats.” He says Haney forever has had a chocolate powdered doughnut for breakfast and considers Italian beef sandwiches and pizza “fine dining.” Miller Lite used to be a staple, too.

Later the pair would teach together at Pinehurst. Abbott owned a Chevy Vega, so rusted you could see the road through the floor. Haney had a DeLorean from which he demanded Abbott’s Vega keep its distance, even though the DeLorean once had windshield wipers that didn’t work and a door that didn’t close.

“We kid about the Haney Lip,” Abbott said. “Sometimes when he’s passionate talking about something, his lower lip starts shaking. He’s so passionate with whatever he does. He’s kind of guy who has about 400 yellow legal pads and he’s always jotting on them, trying to figure out the next deal.”

These days Haney is figuring ways to help Woods win major championships. You can deduce that lack of effort won’t be a problem.

“I’ve always been a real hard trier,” Hank Haney said when asked about the secret to his success. “If you’re a real hard trier like I am and things aren’t going good, you just try harder. I don’t have time to worry about what might not go right. I just have time to think about trying hard.”

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