Sean Foley moves on from Woods, and observations on his current players

foley_woodsI had a very interesting chat with Sean Foley about a week ago that I turned into a column for the international edition of Global Golf Post.

The intent of the interview wasn’t to talk about Tiger Woods, but the conversation naturally went that direction.

Here’s what Foley had to say:

It’ll be a long time before Sean Foley’s name isn’t intrinsically linked with that of his famous former student, Tiger Woods. Even though his latest protégé, Matt Every, won for a second consecutive year at Bay Hill only months after starting to work with the Canadian golf instructor, Woods’ shadow looms ominously over Foley.

It’s eight months since Woods put out a press release saying he was ending his professional relationship with Foley after four years. Then, as now, Woods was struggling with both injuries and his game. Foley became one of the golfer’s biggest defenders, trying to deflect the invectives lumped on his prize pupil.

One might think that being dumped unceremoniously by Woods after coaching him to eight wins might have left Foley with a bad taste in his mouth. But even now, with Woods’ game in complete disarray and timing of his return to the sport unclear, Foley is sympathetic to the superstar. In fact, he has nothing but positive things to say about Woods, even though many pundits have pointed to Foley as the source of some of the golfer’s recent struggles.

“You know what, it might have taken me three minutes to get over,” Foley says in a straightforward tone bereft of any negative overtones. “I’ve never gone back there. When we talked when we worked together, well some of the things he said to me will stick with me for the rest of my life. And when I was a young kid if you told me Tiger Woods would say such kind things to me…”

The full column is here.

Of course there were lots of quotes (from a 40-minute conversation) I couldn’t cover in the column. I’ll say this: Eight years ago I wasn’t as convinced of Foley. He had huge self-confidence and I was skeptical and said as much. There are dozens of comments on my article from 2007 questioning Foley. I’d say I was wrong, but I was ahead of the curve in being critical of the Canadian swing coach. Once he started working with Tiger, the floodgates opened.

For what it is worth, when Tiger was healthy he played well while working with Foley. Justin Rose has one a major and Mahan is one of the game’s most reliable players. And after working with Matt Every for a few months there’s a win at Bay Hill. Hard to argue with success.

Here’s a little of what Foley had to say while talking about Hunter Mahan, Justin Rose and Matt Every, his current three PGA Tour pro students:

G4G: How’s the year been going?

Foley: For my three players it wasn’t the start we wanted to see, but sometimes that presents us with an opportunity to get to the next level. You have to struggle to help you find the path. You’d love to go through every week where there’s no drama, but that’s not probable.

G4G: You once told me you had video of the ideal swings of Rose and Mahan that you could turn to. Do you use them now? What’s their mindset when things don’t go well?

Foley: There were two or three years in a row where they hit it so good, that they get frustrated when it isn’t that. But that’s almost improbable. You’d say, in probabilities it isn’t likely you’re going to hit it this well. So I think it happens once a year where they have about two months where it is a bit confusing. But there’s a lot going on. When we start struggling as people, the goal isn’t to try to fix it. The brain is clouded and trying to fix it is just clouding it further. It is like a kidney stone. Despite all the medical advances, you still have to pass a kidney stone the same way your ancestors did twenty generations ago. You know the process will be painful, but it will pass.

I try to empower them to realize they are part of the solution. I come out to work with them, but they become self-sufficient. When they get a little panicky, you have to remind them that it isn’t a big deal and they’ll get by it and that great stretches don’t happen that often.

G4G: You’ve had students, like Lee Westwood, Sean O’Hair and others, come and go. How do you deal with that?

Foley: I just think when I was a young kid and my girlfriend would break up with me, I learned that hindsight mentality is what can get you confused. I think we can turn pain into suffering my reliving it. All the times when I’ve split up with players it has always remained classy and respectful. I take it seriously, but I don’t take it personally. When I’m doing my job I’m always trying to be clear I’m not working to keep my job. I’m just trying to be honest.

G4G: How many students did you have at your peak?

Foley: Six and that wasn’t a good idea.

G4G: What’s the ideal number?

Foley: Three or four. I’m happy with three right now.

G4G: Matt Every has a fascinating swing (the interview occurred before Every won at Bay Hill):

Foley: He’s no different than Bubba or JB Holmes. They generate their torque in that manner. I’ve tried to increase his awareness of rotation. But the thing about Matt is that he has an exceedingly high vertical leap, so that’s part of it. I’m trying to get him very vanilla. When we started his head was to the right and his clubface was closed and that looked normal to him. But it went against the shot he was trying to hit, which was a small fade. It took him about a month to address the ball properly and another month to adjust to seeing the face square. It looked 30 degrees open to him. He hit some funky shots for about a month. But we’ve worked on vanilla—ball position, club position and face. To his credit and sometimes his detriment, he doesn’t hit one shot scared. He aims at every flag. I like that mentality.

G4G: Why Every?

Foley: I like Matt. I had a couple of opportunities to work with a couple of guys. But I’ve changed from how I’d pick guys 10 years ago. When I took Matt to the club he was the kindest and classiest guy to the waitresses and the guys in the back shop. That made my decision.

G4G: Is there anyone you’d like to work with?

Foley: It has been a long time out here and at this time I think I’ve kind of earned the right not to chase after guys. I’ve seen the illusion of success and once you’ve seen that it is hard to chase after it.


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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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