Tiger Woods and Hank Haney: The Big Miss

I recently finished reading The Big Miss by Hank Haney, who was Tiger’s coach from 2004 until 2010. Given that I have developed a recent fascination for the game of golf, I’ve also enjoyed reading about those who play it well. Since Tiger Woods has been lauded as the greatest player ever to play the game (a statement that will always be open for debate), I wanted to read more about him and his game.

This isn’t an official book review, just some of my thoughts about Woods and the game. If you want an official review, here is a bit from Geoff Shackelford of Golf Digest.com:

Tiger Woods should be grateful Hank Haney wrote The Big Miss.

Not that the book will ever elicit any emotion from Woods other than a Mt. St. Helens fury of bulging-eye bitterness upon mention of the book’s tantalizing title. Nor is it hard to see why such a private, obsessive-compulsive control freak finds the new book to be the ultimate betrayal, even as he has shown little loyalty to those who’ve worked for him at meager wages considering the pressures involved. Yet after flying through this 247-page, mostly breezy and fascinating look into the life of a champion, I suspect most readers will ultimately have a newfound respect for Woods. I know I do.

OK, you get the idea. The book really exposes the underbelly of an obsessive-compulsive personality who happens to be extremely talented.

What struck me about the book is that it really exposed what a lonely person Tiger must be. With every relationship that is seen, from Haney’s, to that of his caddie, to his relationship with Elin, his former wife, everyone has to walk on eggs shells around him. Even those who are hired to criticize him so that he gets better, have to be so careful about that criticism or they will anger the Tiger. It’s truly sad. No one can be really open and honest with the man for fear of bringing about the wrath of that Tiger. I guess you could say he is aptly named, but that is not as it should be.

No one should have that right to live in such a manner where apologies are never accepted, and forgiveness is never given. Those aspects of a relationship are vital if the relationship is ever going to get beyond the surface level. Tiger is shown to be a person that if you cross him once, you are done. I can only imagine the wrath that has been poured out in Haney’s direction since the publication of the book (as Shackelford pointed out above). Instead of learning from the mistakes he makes with people, and forgiving them for their mistakes with him, Tiger simply cuts them off. The door to Tiger closes and that will lead to more loneliness in the end. For that reason, I pity Tiger. He will never have any true and lasting friendships because everyone will always be beholden to the Tiger for acceptance. They will never know the man behind the mask.

The other aspect of the book that just blew me away was seeing how truly talented a man he is when it comes to golf, and how difficult the game really is. Some of the practice drills that Tiger would go through on the driving ranges are incredible. Haney describes one drill he goes through using his irons where he hits the ball low to the left, middle, then the right, then medium height to the left, middle and right, then high in same pattern. For anyone who plays golf as an amateur, such control is simply beyond our comprehension. Every time I go to the driving range, my goal is simple: hit is straight. I don’t care if it goes 15 feet, if it’s straight, I won’t beat myself up too badly.

Tiger’s talent and commitment are to be admired. He has been given a gift, yet he never rested on that gift. Whereas most golfers are happy to get their occasional championship win, Tiger never was. He wanted more than just the occasional win. He wanted to be the best there is and was in the game. The sad truth is that it was this goal that really has led to his mediocrity in recent years.

Tiger got to the point of thinking: “It will never be enough.” In other words, no matter how many wins he achieves, it would never be enough and that is what led to the distractions that are dooming his career. Haney goes into great length to let us know about those distractions, like the desire to be a Navy Seal, to the point that he would train with them on a regular basis. Haney said that is what truly injured Tiger’s knee, not his golf swing. More often than not, it is the distractions that keep many of us from reaching our goals.

I remember getting to know some of the swimmers at A&M while I was there. At that time in the late 1980s, we had one of best swimmers in the butterfly in the country. Everyone expected him to make the Olympic Swim team for that stroke, but he failed to qualify. How was it that the best butterfly swimmer in the nation failed to make the Olympic Swim Team? He got distracted by the desire to grow a beard. The summer before the trials he grew a full beard that made the girls swoon. But the beard did something that neither he, nor his coach thought about. It changed his stroke. Instead of coming cleanly out of the water, he had to come up higher than normal in order to get air. This went undiscovered until after the trials, in which he did shave. But the damage was done. His stroke had been altered just enough to keep him off the swim team.

That is what Tiger has been doing since about 2008. He has allowed himself to become distracted, whether it was training with the Navy Seals, to the affairs. That is what has kept him from winning and what eventually led Haney to resign as Tiger’s coach. The greatness of his talent is all that he is resting on at this point and the reason he doesn’t win as much.

I don’t pity him in this area. He has all the money he could ever need and all the championships he needs to go down in history as one of the greatest players of the game. But his relationships with people still suffer. It’s like many people who become famous or powerful. Those who criticize, rightly or wrongly, are cut off. Tiger has done what many do, surrounded himself with “yes” men (another reason Haney stepped down. Tiger wasn’t listening any longer). That is sad.