Team Foley talks fitness at Summit, not Tiger

Sean Foley talks with Tiger Woods at the 2010 PGA Championship.

ORLANDO, Fla. – No Tiger. No discussion of Tiger. No inquiries about Tiger. No analysis of Tiger.

At Thursday’s opening session of the World Golf Fitness Summit, there was no mention of Tiger Woods. It was somewhat mysterious, considering that Woods is an exercise junkie often credited with making fitness a cool and productive pursuit among golfers.

Adding to the intrigue was the identity of the first headline speaker – Tiger’s new swing coach, Sean Foley.

Team Foley (he was joined by trainer Craig Davies and mental advisor Neale Smith) took the stage at the JW Marriott Orlando Grand Lakes for an hour and 15 minutes. The final 25 minutes were reserved exclusively for questions from the audience. Nobody asked about Woods. 

This hands-off attitude seemed to reflect a philosophy of exploring and discussing golf fitness in depth while using superstar individuals merely as illustrations. The overall mission of the Fitness Summit, after all, is to help all golfers of all abilities by promoting physical training, mental preparation and proper nutrition.

It was a no-nonsense atmosphere, reflecting the seriousness of the three-day gathering. Sponsored by Titleist, the event has attracted 550 fitness, medical and golf training experts from around the world.

Foley, something of an intellectual in golf circles, quickly reflected the earnestness of the occasion, making references to Socrates, Plato, Gandhi, Leonardo da Vinci, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandella and Newtonian physics.

Could any other instructor in the world get away with this? Probably not.

Foley is an unusual character. He is not your ordinary golf teacher. He has an admirable ability to relate golf to life in general, and he can be disarmingly honest and straightforward when he does it.

Take, for instance, his story about what happened after he first learned of the importance of fitness.

“I refunded about $10,000 of lessons,” he said. “They (his students) were not even capable of doing it (the prescribed body movements). It just wasn’t right that I had charged them for inaccurate advice.”

In other words, the students needed fitness help as much as they needed swing help. This revelation led to the creation of Team Foley.

Foley, Davies and Smith never talk about how much they charge PGA Tour players (they work with Hunter Mahan, Sean O’Hair and Justin Rose, in addition to Woods). However, Davies did explain, “We all bill according to our own time. We do it as individuals. On Tour, I understand that’s almost always the way it is done.”

The most important observation here is the existence of formal instruction teams. Foley was smart enough to realize he couldn’t do it all by himself, so he joined forces with Davies and Smith.

Although the members of Team Foley had nothing to say about Woods, they did present a brief profile of Mahan.

Foley called Mahan “one of the best ballstrikers in the history of golf.”

Davies called Mahan “physically gifted because of what he can do with his body during the golf swing.”

That would be Gumby with power.

The most revealing story came from Smith, who caddied for Mahan in a 36-hole sectional qualifier for the 2007 U.S. Open. An unhappy Mahan shot 73 in the first round.

“I had as honest a discussion with a player as I’ve ever had,” Smith said. “I was giving him permission to fire me.”

Smith’s commandment: In the second round, Mahan would give Smith a high-five for every good or acceptable shot. For every lousy shot, he would remain emotionless. He would not complain. He would not speak. He would not make faces or bang clubs into the ground.

Mahan shot 64 to advance through the qualifier. Three weeks later, he won his first PGA Tour title.

What the audience received was a healthy dose of Hunter insight, compared to zero Tiger insight.

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