2005 Hank Haney Interview Quite Revealing

By: Tony Dear


All this brouhaha surrounding publication of '"The Big Miss," Hank Haney's book about the years he spent teaching Tiger Woods, reminded me of an interview I did with Haney in February 2005, about a year after the pair had started working together. Representing a British magazine, I visited Haney at his Golf Ranch in Lewisville, Texas, and actually paid for a lesson ($400!) before sitting down in his office for a two-hour conversation.

Gaining access to Haney was surprisingly easy. Even though he was Woods's coach, I'm not sure he had many "people" at that stage. I went to Texas to do a feature about the lesson and Haney's teaching methods as much as I went to learn more about his working relationship with Woods. There was an understanding the interview wouldn't all be about his prize pupil, but I couldn't help myself and probably ended up asking more Tiger-related questions than I should have. At one point, I was fairly certain Haney was going to stop the tape and show me the door.

Though studious and reserved throughout, Haney was a little more revealing than I had anticipated - nothing like as revealing as he is in "The Big Miss" of course, but then he hadn't been coaching Woods for long so probably didn't have much to reveal. A lot of what we talked about focused on the swing changes Woods was trying to ingrain at the time. Remember, this was in the days before Woods's "one-legged" victory at the 2008 U.S. Open, his subsequent health issues and, of course, the 2009-10 scandal, so there wasn't much to talk about besides his swing.

I think it still makes interesting reading seven years later and, rather than just pick out the questions about Woods, the whole interview is reproduced here. Sadly, I no longer have the images from the article that was published (in a long-deceased magazine) in April 2005, but they showed Haney using the same drills on me as he used with Charles Barkley, Ray Romano and all his other projects.

Here's that article and interview.

$400 an hour!? Are you kidding me? Brain surgeons and captains of industry don't make that sort of money.

Hank Haney doesn't come cheap these days. Actually, he hasn't come cheap for a few years now. Golf instructors, revered figures in a market flush with affluent punters willing to pay anyone with a decent reputation for whatever it takes to buy them a good golf game, are simply raking it in. Haney has a very good reputation and no doubt it will continue to soar as his prize pupil Tiger Woods continues to contend in and win the game's biggest prizes.

The University of Tulsa graduate started out in 1978 working for the John Jacobs Golf Schools, where he learned the methods and ideology so in demand today. "I was very fortunate to work under John Jacobs," says Haney. "He was the greatest teacher in the history of the game."

Jacobs, of course, was the first to identify how the club-head path and clubface angle determine the flight of the ball - the basis for much of what Haney teaches. "I actually like to work backwards," he says. "We start out looking at the behavior of the ball, then look at the angle of the clubface to learn what caused the ball to fly as it did. Then we look at the swing, the swing-plane in particular, to see what caused the position of the clubface at impact."

Haney dissected my own swing (which took some pretty sharp scalpels) and, while I gagged at his fee, it was easy to see why his peers and the tour players rate him so highly. Haney's meticulous approach and scrupulous manner rarely, if ever, fail to get to the root of a student's problem. My problems were too profuse to list here, and I doubt you're the slightest bit interested anyway. Suffice it to say, he gave me plenty to work on.

As well as having my swing pulled apart, laundered and hug out to dry, I also had the opportunity to sit down with Haney and talk about his background, his profession and, of course, Tiger.

Tony Dear: What distinguishes you from the $60-an-hour guy down the road?

Hank Haney: A certain amount of experience. I was put forward for an award last year and was totaling up how many lessons I've given in my career. I estimated it at 40,000. When you've taught that many people and seen every swing imaginable numerous times and dealt with so many different personalities you inevitably have far more experience. It's not just about mechanics. Anyone can teach mechanics. It's about people. You need the ability to teach different people. Knowledge of the golf swing is the easiest part of teaching. It's good communication that separates the good teachers from the bad. We had 25 pros here from around the world last week. We were teaching them how to teach.

TD: How did you hook up with Tiger?

HH: I've been friends with Tiger a long time. For five years I taught the Southern Methodist University team at the same time Tiger was at Stanford. So I saw him at a few college events. And I knew him before that too because he was friends with the Kuehne kids, who I used to teach. And I would obviously see him when I went down to Isleworth to work with Mark O'Meara. Tiger called me one day last year and asked if I would have a look. He said he needed help with his swing and asked me what I thought he needed to do. I explained a few things that I thought he needed to do and the whole process began.

TD: What are the biggest mistakes you see other teachers make?

HH: A fatal mistake is standing to the side. I learned early from John Jacobs that teachers should stand behind the student. When the instructor stands to the side they can't see the target, the swing-plane or the student's posture. All they can see is ball position, really. I like to be down the line so I can see the golfer, the target and the ball. The other problem I see a lot, especially among younger teachers, is that they talk way too much. Some feel it's necessary to tell their students everything they know about the golf swing. I like to say one or two things and repeat them over and over. Even some of our less-experienced teachers at the Hank Haney Golf Ranch can talk a little too much.

TD: The situation we had today wasn't ideal, me breezing in for the day, having a lesson then leaving town.

HH: Not necessarily. A lot of my students fly in from other parts of the country, and I may see them only twice a year. They concentrate really hard and get a lot out of it. If they understand what I tell them and can take it away and practice the right things then I consider that better than if a guy comes to see me once a week. That guy ends up wanting me to do it for them.

TD: You estimate you've spent about 60 days with Tiger over the last year?

HH: It's about that. I don't know exactly, but I have seen him a lot. Sometimes I'll go to Isleworth; other times we'll meet someplace else. He's come to Dallas a couple of times, and we'll meet up at various tournaments. Like the Byron Nelson which he played last year. On the Friday after his round we went over to Vaquero, which is my club. Sometimes I'm already at the tournament doing TV. I go to Isleworth before the majors.

TD: Did you expect Tiger to adjust to the changes you suggested a bit quicker?

HH: You never know how long it will take for a player to get comfortable with something new. People probably thought that because it was Tiger Woods he would pick it up quickly. But it takes players a while to pick new stuff up, even him.

TD: What did Tiger ask for specifically?

HH: He didn't ask me to totally retool his swing. Really, he just asked what I thought he could do better. That's always his attitude. Even last night when I spoke to him on the phone (after beating Phil Mickelson by one to win the Ford Championship at Doral) he asked what he could have done better, and what he needs to be thinking about this week. That's really all he cares about. The small talk - good shot, well played, etc. - is really just a brief prelude to the question about what he can do better.

TD: So what did you tell him?

HH: I made a couple of observations about his swing - things that we've been working on. We have a laundry list of things to work on and he still has a long way to go.

TD: Really, even after a performance like that?

HH: Oh yeah, he's not done yet by any means. He's going to get a lot better; better than he was in 2000 for sure. I believe it and I think he does too. But remember there were a lot of factors that go into a season like what Tiger had in 2000. To have a year like that you have got to make an awful lot of putts and also have a little luck. And the other players weren't nearly as competitive as they are now. Plus, the major courses in 2000 were ideal for him - Pebble, St. Andrews and Valhalla. When he plays at Royal St. George's, Carnoustie, Shinnecock Hills, Southern Hills that sort of course then things change a bit. It's not like he can't win on those courses - he can win anywhere, but the odds might change a little.

TD: So with the Masters in the bag, what do you expect from him in the majors for the rest of the year?

HH: I would expect him to have a very good year, of course. He's done well at Pinehurst. St. Andrews is his favorite place, and Baltusrol will be long and very demanding - ideal for him. The courses suit him very well indeed.

TD: Do you think the changes you have made, have made his game more suitable for links golf?

HH: I think so. One of his favorite shots is the low, penetrating shot and he's playing it better than ever now. Hopefully we'll have typical Open conditions at St. Andrews this year as a little wind obviously favors the better shot-maker. He has the ability to control the trajectory of his shots so well and that definitely gives him an edge.

TD: Tiger took some criticism last year. TV analysts Lanny Wadkins and Johnny Miller questioned what he was working on and your fellow teachers Jim McLean, Peter Kostis and Butch Harmon all weighed in. They were criticizing you indirectly, of course. Did that hurt?

HH: Sure. It wasn't pleasant, some of it. And these people should really know better. They know it takes a long time for swing changes to really sink in. And I never told Tiger this is what he had to do. I just suggested a few things. And no one else knew what we were working on anyway. So they shouldn't have commented. But I understand why they felt they had to. It comes with the territory and I'm sure a lot of it was professional jealousy.

Golf magazines are really into rankings. You appear in the top 10 of all the top-instructor lists. But do you take all that seriously? Is No. 28 significantly better than No. 71 for instance? It's always nice to be included. To be high up nowadays you almost have to be teaching tour players. But there are a lot of really good teachers who never get the opportunity to teach tour players. And, by the same token, just because you teach a tour player doesn't necessarily make you a great teacher.

TD: When Butch Harmon was with Tiger, he was ranked No. 1. Now that you are with Tiger, are you going to be ranked No. 1?

HH: Oh, I don't know. That sort of thing matters to some people more than others. I just feel pretty good about what I've done in teaching and about what I teach. For those things, you are always voted for by your peers, and very few of them have ever seen me or had a lesson with me. I'm not sure what goes into all the ranking stuff, and I certainly don't seek to be number one. I just teach to the best of my ability and, as the players often say, that takes care of everything else.

TD: Would you consider yourself friends with the other well-known teachers?

HH: I wouldn't say I was friends with the other teachers. I do have a great deal of respect for them, but friends no, especially after the way I've been blasted for my work with Tiger. The teachers I respect the most are John Jacobs and Bob Toski because I feel they were the guys that really got the ball rolling for teachers like me. And I have a lot of respect for David Leadbetter. I feel like he has elevated our profession.

TD: Is teaching a job or a calling for you?

HH: Both. I consider myself to be a good teacher and golf just happens to be my subject matter. I went to the University of Tulsa and got a degree in Education with a view to teaching golf. I've always been fascinated with the swing. I started teaching soon after leaving Tulsa. Actually I received college credit for teaching golf in recreational centers for the city of Tulsa. As soon as I completed school in 1977, I began teaching and became a PGA member in 1980. My greatest opportunity was to get a start in the John Jacobs Golf School.

TD: How did that come about?

HH: Jim Hardy was my coach and he was part of the John Jacobs School. When I finished school they needed more teachers so I joined them. It was so great to work with John, the greatest teacher the game has ever known. He was phenomenal. But you can work as hard as you possibly can and not get the luck. I was extremely lucky to meet John Jacobs and then Mark O'Meara.

TD: How did you meet O'Meara?

HH: I met Mark at Pinehurst in 1982. I was there with the John Jacobs Golf School and before that contract ended, the management at Pinehurst asked if I would like to go back as their head pro and director of instruction. In my first or second year at Pinehurst, they held a PGA Tour event and that's when I met Mark. It was his second year on tour and he was really struggling. He had been rookie of the year the previous season but he was in jeopardy of losing his card. He was 124th on the money list with three events to go. He asked one of my staff for help, but he thought Mark should talk with me. We worked together some and, two years later, Mark finished second on the money list. I think that was the start of the teacher/pupil relationship. When that sort of thing happens, others think you must have some sort of secret so I started working with a few other players.

TD: How many tour players would you say you've taught?

HH: I'd say about 200.

TD: Who is your typical pupil?

HH: I really don't have one. I teach anyone with a good attitude and who wants to learn. I've taught tour pros and countless beginners. It doesn't matter to me who they are or what their standard is, as long as they want to learn. It's fun for me no matter what.

TD: Has demand for your services risen sharply seen you teamed up with Tiger?

HH: Demand for my services has been high for many years and really hasn't been affected by my working with Tiger Woods.

TD: What about your fee? Has that gone up?

HH: I charge $400 an hour and have charged about that for the last five years. I don't actually teach that many days anymore because I am so busy with other things. Quite honestly, though, I don't just want to teach the wealthiest people in the world.

TD: Being a Texan you know all about Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan. How do you think Tiger compares with them?

HH: It's very difficult to compare them, but I do know neither Hogan nor Nelson had anything like Tiger's power. Hogan had such a phenomenal swing but he wasn't nearly as strong as Tiger. Tiger is still so much about potential. He's only 30 but has the potential to become the greatest ball-striker in the history of the game. He's certainly the greatest athlete I've ever worked with.

TD: How "bad" do you think his swing was when you started working together?

HH: I don't think it was terrible by any means, but it certainly needed to be better. I'm not going to add anything to what Tiger's already said and it serves no purpose to talk about it. But, of course, that hasn't stopped people from being critical of him. One minute they criticized him for not telling anyone what he was working on, the next they are saying he's working on the wrong things. How does that work? The scrutiny he and I are under is just insane. But he believes in what we are doing. It just needs a bit of time. You can see a few of the things he's working on with the practice swings he's making.

TD: The move he does when he exaggerates the height of his hands, and the club being laid off, for instance?

HH: Yes, that's definitely one of them. He practices the laid-off move quite often but people don't know why he does it. Maybe it's because he wants to hit a cut or some other shot. You know, in San Diego Nick Faldo was saying how laid off his club was, but he was really struggling with his swing and trying to hit a simple cut shot. I don't know where Nick thinks the club should be to hit a cut but it's certainly not across the line. It's unrealistic for Tiger to make a perfect swing every time, especially now with the changes. Sometimes he's shortening his swing just to keep the ball in play.

TD: Your former teacher Jim Hardy is teaching something called the "One-Plane Swing" in which the arms and shoulders swing on the same plane. Given your past association with Hardy, can we assume that this is what you are teaching Tiger?

HH: No, I am really not familiar with what Jim is teaching these days. We haven't discussed the golf swing in 20 years.

TD: It has even been suggested you are trying to make Tiger's swing more like O'Meara's.

HH: I've heard that and it's craziness. The people who say that really have no idea what Tiger is trying to do. Mark has always drawn the ball and Tiger plays a gentle fade with the driver, especially if he wants to keep the ball on the fairway. What could be more different than that?

TD: His bad shot has always been a block.

HH: Yes, but that's because he is so fearful of hitting a hook and the ball going way left.

TD: So he didn't specifically ask you to help him stop hitting a block?

HH: Not at all. He just wants to hit the ball better. Our work certainly hasn't focused on eliminating the block. He's not scared to change the swing he had in 2000. His whole attitude is, "If I'm not getting better, I'm going backward." The competition is getting better certainly, so Tiger feels he has to make changes to improve and stay ahead. The way people talk about 2000 you'd think he never missed a shot. It was phenomenal but he thinks he could still have done better. He just wants to stay on top.

TD: So now he's slowly getting back to his best, is he going to top Nicklaus's record of 18 majors?

HH: It's impossible to say, but he's still young. He has plenty of time to do it. It's not a given by any means, but if he stays healthy I certainly wouldn't bet against it.

Tony Dear is an Englishman living in Bellingham, Wash. In the early 1990s he was a member of the Liverpool University golf team which played its home matches at Royal Liverpool GC. Easy access to Hoylake made it extremely difficult for him to focus on Politics, his chosen major. After leaving Liverpool, he worked as a golf instructor at a club just south of London where he also made a futile attempt at becoming a 'player.' He moved into writing when it became abundantly clear he had no business playing the game for a living. A one-time golf correspondent of the New York Sun, Tony is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, the Pacific Northwest Golf Media Association and the Golf Travel Writers Association. He is a multi-award winning journalist, and edits his own website at www.bellinghamgolfer.com.


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