"We call him the Dalai Lama"

Interesting Steve Elling piece on Sean Foley — though the only real surprise is that it has taken so long for Foley to get some strong American coverage. Thanks to reader “Geoff” (yep, tongue in cheek there) for the tip.

Steve Elling writes an interesting take on Foley, not that much of the information would surprise Canadian readers. There’s a bit of a different take on how he acquired Ames as a student, but that’s the part that varies most from the storyline. There’s no doubt that Foley has his fans, which is why David Leadbetter is now bringing him up in conversation. Call it competition. Nothing unhealthy about that.

Here’s Elling’s take:

“Around OCN,” PGA Tour veteran Greg Owen said, “we call him the Dalai Lama.”
Sean Foley had an idea he wanted to be involved in golf instruction when he was 13 years old.     
That’s not all he has going for him, which is nice.

Even in the here-today, gone-tomorrow business of swing gurus, the glib Canadian overnight has become perhaps the hottest coaching property around, an analyst to both rising stars and seasoned veterans. A little more than three years ago, he was an outspoken, slightly heretical teacher with no prominent clients who enjoyed questioning the stagnant status quo associated with teaching the golf swing.

Now you should hear some of the ear-catching names he weaves into casual conversation. No, not Hunter Mahan, Sean O’Hair, Stephen Ames or Justin Rose, a few of the tour players he schools.

We’re talking about Carl Jung, Buddha, Albert Einstein, Aristotle, Confucius and Abraham Lincoln. Foley sprinkles his conversations with quotations from iconic deep-thinkers like some of us drop in lines from Caddyshack. Forget the funny deathbed line from the movie — Foley, 35, seems to be working on gaining eternal consciousness right now, which is part of his appeal to his pupils.

It is Foley’s tendency to talk big that made me question him a few years ago.My opinion is changing. Last year one of Foley’s students, Jessica Shepley, told me that “Sean didn’t just change my swing — he changed my life.” Now that’s intriguing and perhaps made me take Foley more seriously. Fits nicely with the Dalai Lama notion. And for every pupil like Immelman, who flirts with Foley and then heads back where he came from, the Canadian swing coach seems to be winning others as converts.

I particularly like Ames’ comments on Foley’s reading habits, though I somehow doubt they are quite as extensive as the Calgary golfer suggests:

Right then, he effectively became the youngest swing apprentice in history. Many coaches are former, and often failed, professionals. Foley honed in on the coaching thing and devoured every piece of information he could get his hands on, sifting through the theories and discarding stuff he thought was pointless. That in itself is hardly unusual, since he possesses one of the most inquisitive minds in the game.

“He must read about 300 or 400 books a year,” Ames said. “And some of it is weird s—.”

Time will tell whether his success in three or four years translates into something greater. I keep awaiting the brand that comes along with most swing coaches. Maybe that doesn’t interest Foley, maybe he doesn’t want to be Butch or Lead or Pelz. Regardless, the success of his students is forcing U.S. media to try to find out more about him, thus this story.

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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.

7 CommentsLeave a comment

  • where’s Jessica? last time I saw her she was 15, in the Bahamas.

    bet she wishes she still had that swing! I thought she was the next Sandra Post!

  • Jessica is on the duramed futures tour and for the second year has conditional status on the LPGA Tour. Missed full card by two. But a failure and washed up and lost player in Gary Slatters book. What a !@#$ing goof this guy is.

  • Big deal about who Foley can quote. Anyone can google those names, insert the world ‘quote’ after the name and come up with a ton of quotes then commit a few to memory.

  • Nice hating Jason. The guy is the hottest coaching entity on the PGA Tour and he’s only getting started. He is one of those geniuse’s he quotes. His critics would gladly switch spots with him

  • TIM sorry I annoyed you by asking about Jessica. Happy to hear she is playing the Futures – she has tremendous potential and just needs the drive factor. Hard to keep track of som many shooting stars. I haven’t written a book yet but if you’ll send me your picture I’d be happy to use it when I do.

    My golfing gurus are usually the people who start young players, not the ones who run to their side when they have already qualified for the tour. Jack Grout taught Nicklaus, not Rick Smith. Sandra Post taught Jessica, etc. The club pros are my heros!

  • hat·ed, hat·ing, hates
    a. To feel hostility or animosity toward.
    b. To detest.

    Not sure how my comment falls into the hate category and I am secure enough in myself not to be jealous of anyone’s success, I applaud success of any kind. And yes, I have spoken to Foley on several occasions for lengthy and periods and found him to be a great guy and commended him on his success. My comment was more aimed at Elling’s gushing.

  • swing theory is always going to be just that; theory! why is it that there are so many different swings from Palmer to Hogan to Sneed and Jack. They all had their own way of doing and repeating their individual swing. A great swing is not what wins tournaments, a great mind does. It takes steely determination, drive, mental toughness, single minded focus and absolute self belief to win championships, hitting and getting the ball in the hole is secondary once you reach the top 100 world rankings. The separation when you get into that realm of athletic prowess is the 6 inches between the ear.
    I like What Lee Janson said about self belief. He said that before the 4 minute mile was broken, no one believed it was possible. Once it was broken, within a year hundreds of people broke it. The difference is that someone showed them that it was possible.
    I am not belittling Foley’s skill as a teacher, in fact I applaud it. He intellectually explains his theory and creates a connection of faith between his student and his ideas. He doesn’t deal only on the mechanics on the range, but on the psychological corrections needed to direct the physical actions. It always will come back to belief; belief in a method, a set of skills and a total belief that you can win.

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