Tiger Woods’ next instructor should be Tiger Woods, according to some of the game’s top instructors.
At the very least, the former World No. 1, who announced Monday that he was ending a four-year association with Sean Foley, should not take on a full-time teacher but work on his own, the teachers told Golfweek, and when he needs a closer look then find a good set of eyes.
“The last thing he needs is to go to another formal instructor,” Paul Azinger said. “He needs to see somebody that can just break it down.”
Woods, 38, missed two cuts and had a withdrawal in four starts after March 31 microdiscectomy surgery to repair a pinched nerve. After an early exit at the PGA Championship last month, he vowed to focus on his health and fitness and not return to competition until the World Challenge in early December.
Without offering specifics, Azinger claims he could fix the struggling Woods in 30 minutes. The 2008 Ryder Cup captain says Woods needs to take one side of the course out of play and then work on finding the fairway.
“Good players don’t come to you hitting skulls and chunks and popups and slices,” said Azinger, whose 12 Tour victories include the 1993 PGA Championship. “Good players come to you hitting blocks to the right and hooks. That’s when they have problems. And if you can’t get a guy out of a hook in 10 minutes, then you’re giving him bad information. I’m going to stick to that.”
Hank Haney, who used to coach Woods, said his former pupil knows enough to work it out himself.
“To me, he’d just be better off just doing it himself,” Haney said. “That’s my opinion. Because he’s the only one that he listens to anyways 100 percent. I mean, are we sure he was listening to Sean Foley? Who knows? We don’t know that.”
Haney said that Woods was the hardest student with whom he had worked, and he tested the instructor’s years of experience.
“He’s got to be willing to do it,” Haney said. “He’s got to listen. You just don’t learn these things in a day or two or a week or a month. It takes time to figure out how you’re going to get through to the student.”
Pete Cowen, an Englishman who works with Henrik Stenson and Graeme McDowell, among others, said Woods’ swing issues are secondary to his health.
“If he’s injured, there’s not much point in the coach trying to compensate for the injuries, really,” Cowen said from his home in the United Kingdom. “That’s one of the big problems that they’ve got at the moment. If he’s a fit Tiger Woods, then obviously it would be much, much easier, and he could do the things that you want.”
Cowen speaks from experience. Nearly three years ago, Louis Oosthuizen twisted an ankle and compensated for the injury by changing his swing, resulting in back problems. Only last month did Oosthuizen, a South African whose 12 worldwide victories include the 2010 Open Championship, find the cause of his back woes.
For Woods, who will turn 39 on Dec. 30, the predicament is much more complicated. His assault on the PGA Tour’s record book – he ranks second in victories (79) and majors (14) has stalled.
His back is only one of a number of health issues that Woods might have to face in the twilight of his career. His left knee, like his back, has been a chronic problem and been surgically repaired.
So, presuming that Woods restores his health, what’s next?
Azinger, Cowen and Haney said it would be a tremendous opportunity for any instructor to work with Woods. Yet, how any new swing coach might go about his business would test every instinct and lesson plan, and it still might not be enough.
“You don’t need people experimenting with Tiger Woods to see whether it works or it doesn’t work,” Cowen said. “I think you’ve got to make sure that what you’re telling him has worked – whether it’s the principle or whether you’re teaching the man – with all different types of players. That’s what he should be looking for: somebody that’s worked with all different types of players and not just method teaching. There’s a bit more to it than that.”