May
6
2010
Tiger: Haney Out, Foley In?
By Stephanie Wei under General

Who was the fourth guy walking alongside the group of Tiger Woods, Sean O’Hair and Hunter Mahan in Wednesday’s practice round at TPC Sawgrass? Looks like it might be Tiger’s future swing coach after he dumps Hank Haney. According to a well-placed source, Sean Foley, a leading instructor who looks after some of the best swings in the game, including O’Hair and Mahan, is rumored to replace Haney.

Since Tiger missed his sixth-ever cut by eight shots at last week’s Quail Hollow Championship, there’s been a ton of chatter that a Tiger/Haney break-up is imminent. When asked for his status with Haney in Tuesday’s press conference, Tiger replied, “I’m still working with him.”

GolfWeek’s Jeff Rude asked Haney about the speculation:

Asked for an accurate portrayal when reached by telephone Wednesday, Haney said, “Didn’t he answer that yesterday?”

So, you’re still together? Haney was asked Wednesday.

“As far as I know,” Haney said. “I don’t know anything else. I did get a paycheck for the next quarter. You don’t pay someone for the next quarter and then fire them the next day, do you?”

But two sources independent of each other told me the word inside the ropes is just the opposite. One source said, “It’s common knowledge Hank is out even though [Tiger] hasn’t announced it publicly yet.” When I asked another, the reply I received via text was, “Yeah. I heard a rumor Tiger is going to work with a guy at Orange County National.”

It just so happens that Foley, known as “one of the most ecletic swing instructors on the PGA Tour,” works out of Orange County National in Orlando, FL, merely 9 miles from Tiger’s Isleworth home.

And it happens that Tiger played in a practice round with two of his students, one of whom is a good friend of Tiger’s — O’Hair, who has credited his work with Foley for the tremendous improvement of his swing, particularly with regard to consistency. Tiger and O’Hair frequently play practice rounds together and when O’Hair sank a putt to beat him at Quail Hollow last year, Tiger watched by the 18th green and waited for him to finish to give him a congratulatory hug.

It also happens that Foley was spotted with the group for all nine holes the threesome played (anyone who watched the practice round likely saw him). But he was not working with Tiger and reports are that conversation between them was purely incidental.

My source said Tiger teaming up with Foley is still just a rumor, but added that other insiders familiar with the inner workings of Team Tiger have said it will happen, as well. But with the rather loud whispers, it sounds like it’s a strong rumor that might soon materialize.

The always-caustic Johnny Miller told the Golf Channel, “[Tiger] definitely needs to change coaches. I like Hank Haney, but not every coach is good for every player and his technique is more for a guy that’s got more hand action — it’s not a modern type of swing at all.”

Miller could be proven right (unfortunately). But what about Tiger going back to Butch Harmon, who was his coach from 1993 through 2004? Well, that would probably be a conflict of interest — or just extremely awkward — considering Butch now works with Phil Mickelson. If you’re Butch and the iPhone lights up with Tiger’s name, do you take the call? Huge? Quickly?

[Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images]