Masters Week Continued: Grand Slam Within Reach, Says Haney

[photopress:masters_logo_208_1_2.jpg,full,alignleft]From today’s National Post, since it doesn’t appear online…

Hank Haney has been waiting for three hours for his prized pupil to return from the gym. The break from his typical 12-hour day of working with the world’s best golfer has given him some free time to make a couple of quick calls, something he had not expected in the week leading up to the Masters.

The interview is ostensibly about Haney’s teaching appearance at an event called The Art of Golf in Toronto on April 29, but the golf instructor knows the subject everyone wants to discuss: Tiger Woods, with whom he began working in 2004. After they began, the golf world screamed at the mistakes Haney made in altering Woods’ billion-dollar swing. How could he possibly improve upon the near perfection that had allowed Woods to hold all of golf ‘s four major championships from the 2000 U.S. Open through the 2001 Masters?

After four years together, Woods has reached another level of domination. He has won 23 of his last 35 starts and there is no longer any doubt about the golfer’s decision to switch to Haney from former swing doctor Butch Harmon.

Though he’s not working with Woods as often as he once did — the pair spent more than 200 days a year together at one point — Haney says they continue to strive for the seemingly unobtainable.

“One thing Tiger won’t do is try to stay the same,” Haney says. “He will always try to improve. That is just his nature. He always wants to do better and know what he can fix. It is the way he thinks. If he thinks he can’t get better he’d be bored to death.”

Haney is actually convinced Woods is getting better. His short game is sharper and if he can get past his propensity to three-putt the occasional green, Woods would be closer to meeting his expectations, Haney says. If he didn’t stumble at the CA Championship in March, where he three-putted four greens, or fumble a similar number last September at the Deutsche Bank event, Woods would be playing perfect golf.

“Those are the only tournaments he’s lost in the last six months,” Haney says.

“You want to try to get to the point where things like that don’t happen, but if they do, then you can overcome them.”

Which leads us to this week and The Masters, a tournament where Woods’ opportunity at achieving the calendar Grand Slam will either start or end. Haney likes Woods’ chances, but he’s aware that weather and Augusta’s legendary greens could throw a wrench in their carefully conceived plans.

“Tiger can win at any score, on any course in any kind of weather conditions,” Haney says. “Last year at the Masters, if the weather had not been what it was, it is less likely Zach Johnson wins. And I’m not taking anything away from him. But if you have to shoot 16-under, a lot of guys are out of the mix. Tiger will still be right there either way.”

Although Woods does the unimaginable many weeks, Haney says there isn’t anything his student does that still surprises him.

“I’ve seen so much,” he says. “I play with him 40 or 50 days a year and then watch the tournaments and stuff doesn’t surprise you. When he does something amazing in a tournament it isn’t like I haven’t seen it before. The guy is just so good.”

So good that the Grand Slam is a possibility, Haney admits. It is unlikely, he adds, but given the success Woods has had on all four courses that host this year’s majors, the chances rise from remote to possible.

“It takes better courses for him and he has to put his game together at the right time,” Haney says. “He’s won four tournaments before. He’s had all four majors before. He’s already done it — all you have to do is change the dates around. It is not probable, but it wasn’t probable the first time he did it.”

With that, Tiger’s workout has apparently ended and he’s heading to join Haney on the range. The swing coach gives a perfunctory sign off and hangs up his cellphone, aware that he has a long day still ahead of him chasing perfection with golf ‘s greatest player.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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