An Interview with Sean Foley

Canadian swing coach Sean Foley walks with Tiger Woods during a practice round at the PGA Championship

At the Canadian Open a couple of weeks ago, I sat with Sean Foley for nearly two hours and discussed his life, his swing theories and Tiger Woods for an article I’m writing for next year. I then spoke with Stephen Ames, Hunter Mahan, Sean O’Hair and Jon Mills about working with “Foles” as they call him. Given the interest in Foley this week and the notion that he may work with Woods as an instructor, I’ve taken some quotes from the interview and included them below.

Mahan’s comments were particularly interesting, especially about whether Woods would ask Foley to drop his other students. Traditionally Tiger has had a one-on-one working relationship with his coach.

Mahan was very positive about working with Foley. “There’s a time when I wondered if I should work with him,” he said. “I’ve invested in him and it has paid off – I’m a better ballstriker. I’m not going off talent, I’m going off flat biomechanical techniques. It isn’t a theory. He didn’t wake up and think, “Here’s how he should swing.’ He’s not making it up.”

As for working with Woods, Mahan said he didn’t think it was in Foley’s personality to work with one player and didn’t even make sense for Tiger. “Because I know Tiger has that policy … it would take a change, but if he doesn’t do it for that reason he’d be foolish.” Mahan says. “They both live in Orlando, and it would be an easy fit. Sean is no dummy. He’d know how to handle him. It would be easy, it wouldn’t be a big deal. Tiger could make it a big deal, but it doesn’t need to be.”

 Here’s is an exerpt from my interview with Foley. Note it can be kind of rambling, as Foley is a real talker, bouncing from one topic to the next. I’ll hopefully be able to contextualize the interview better in an article, but here’s part of what he had to say:

G4G: You have a real attachment to your students, but the teacher-coach relationship at the PGA Tour level is transitory.

 Foley: Sean and Hunter and Rosie have all improved so much that I have a feeling if they were all to drop me, I’d have two or three good players in two weeks. I have these guys that I work with and they pay the bills and I need to keep my focus on them. It can’t be a half-assed thing. I’d never have an assistant.

Butch [Harmon] told me – and I’m very close to Butch – he said, ‘Look, branding or whatever, you work with your players and they do well, a decade from now you build a golf school if you want to.’

G4G: Many of your critics think you’re some sort of snake oil salesman and that time will show you’re more self-promotional than real.

Foley: If you ask Sean or Hunter, they would say they are with me directly for my knowledge and friendship. How can I be so self-promotional without even having a website. Golf Channel asks me for interviews all the time and I turn them down. I’m never going to be on a range in front of my players. I’m the help, not the talent. At the end of the day you can have PGA Tour players without coaches, but you can’t have coaches without PGA players.

 G4G: Why do you have so many naysayers then?

Foley: I think that’s more a social idea of duality. Everything is black and white. It is kind of that way. The guy who says you are amazing, I don’t say, ‘Tell me more.’ And I don’t go at the guy who thinks I’m an idiot. I think with the media standpoint out on tour, is they first said a couple of years ago that I was the flavour of the month. And then that lasted a few years. Then they said I was efficient and perhaps one of the best at my craft.

 G4G: It has been said there are about 25 people who might fit as Woods’ instructor.

Foley: It would be smaller number than that. If it happens, cool, and if it doesn’t happen, then it doesn’t really matter.

 G4G: Would you consider dropping your players if  Woods said he needed a one-on-one coach?

Foley: I’d never leave my guys. Everything would be the same. You have to have equality in these things.You couldn’t throw a money figure at me – it is so ethically against what I’m about.

 G4G: Every commentator seems to have an opinion on why Tiger has struggled recently.

Foley: I guess that’s why the demise of his swing happened so fast – because he was listening to that crap, you know what I mean.

 G4G: It has been said that you change more than just the swing of your players.

Foley: The thing I try to do more than anything, and I’m fortunate to have these people work for me, is that look – we’re going to spend three hours on the range. In five minutes it is going to be obvious how we should approach things. We then have three hours to work together. And the guy will hit a shot and say, ‘I’m such a fucking asshole.’ And I’ll say, ‘Let’s analyze that. Do you understand how language affects self-image? Do you understand we’re basically neuro programs based off nouns and adjectives that describe and label?’ And the player will say, ‘How do you know that?’ And I’ll say I used to be really insecure and hate life and want it to stop. I just didn’t want it to go on anymore so I figured I had two options – get out of life or get into life.

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Jeff Lancaster

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