Since Tiger Woods started working with Sean Foley, inquiring minds have had an insatiable appetite for understanding Foley’s teaching mantra, what he’s helping Tiger with and just more about the energetic instructor. In an engaging and extensive interview with PGATour.com’s Brian Wacker, Foley answers many of these questions (and makes you really like him).
Let’s take a look at some of the highlights. First, he discusses what he’s trying to teach Tiger:
More than anything, it’s a minimalist approach. I remember reading in Mike Hebron’s book, “The Art and Zen of Learning Golf,” it says there are things that you cause to happen and things that you allow to happen. When you start trying to cause what’s already allowed to happen, you’re going to run into problems. There’s a catalyst to certain things that you build in the backswing, and in the downswing there are things that are a catalyst to what happens in the through swing. If Jim Furyk‘s hitting it dead straight and Tiger’s hitting it dead straight, the alignments at impact are identical regardless of how it looks like they got there. Sean O’Hair can swing the way he does because of his flexibility, whereas Stephen Ames has to swing at it a little differently to get the same shot shape because of what he brings to the table with his body type. The reason no golf swing will ever look truly the same is that people’s hand length and arm length and strength and flexibility and how their body does or doesn’t work are going to be different.
Next, Foley talks about the hardest thing that Tiger’s had to adjust to:
The pattern of movement is much different than what he’s done. He’s always moved off the ball, except in junior golf, and then his arms were always out in front of him rather than working in on the arc. But when you have residual motor patterns, they always come back in. Making the swing I want him to make isn’t that difficult for him, it’s just that there’s always going to be traces of every shot he’s ever hit.
Foley, who also teaches Stephen Ames, Justin Rose, Hunter Mahan and Sean O’Hair, won’t be giving Tiger any special treatment:
The key is that you have to go and do your job, but then you have to dis-attach from it all. I still have to look out for Sean and Hunter and Justin [Rose] and Parker [McLachlin] and Stephen [Ames]. Tiger’s not going to get more of my attention than anyone else. I’m not going to stay up ’till 2 a.m. to see him play or whatever.
He’s not exaggerating, either. In the span of an afternoon at the Deutsche Bank Championship the day before the tournament, I watched Foley work with Stephen Ames, Tiger, Hunter Mahan and Justin Rose. The guy is like a machine! It was impressive.
Anyway, Foley explains his teaching philosophy:
Your teaching philosophy is going to be an underscore of your philosophy. The mantra for me is what Ghandi said in that we need to be the change we want to see in the world. So it’s not to condemn what we’re trying to change, and I think it was Aristotle who said, ‘A man can’t think his way to proper action; He has to act his way to proper thinking.’ Don’t tell me, show me. That’s some deep stuff I understand, but it’s definitely happening. I just try to lead by example with my guys. My swing philosophy is the same way. I’m not coaching golfers; I’m coaching human beings who deal with love and hate and fear and all those different aspects in the emotional arena. If you look at them as just a golfer, you’re missing out.
And finally, he’s a human being before a coach (the last few sentences about O’Hair are really interesting and telling about Foley’s instruction style):
The last thing I would ever want is to be sitting above my funeral and someone come up to my wife and say what a great swing coach I was, because I was a person. I’m an instructor that’s my profession, but I’m not even as much an instructor as a coach. How do you instruct the greatest player ever to hit a ball? If you’re out on TOUR, there’s so much more to the pie than that. Like my friend and Hunter’s sports psych guy, Neil Smith, has in his performance pie — balance and nutrition and all these things you wouldn’t think are important, they’re all in there. For example, I’d like to bring some attention to cause and effect behind poverty. And like the Gates’ are showing, it doesn’t take gazillions of dollars to get rid of something like malaria. I just want to affect things the most positive way I can. On the DVD, Sean says I not only changed his swing but that I changed his life forever and that came through loving Sean and dealing with him as a human being and not as a meal ticket. If we maximize his potential as a person, he plays better because there’s less conflict and more clarity.