“The scrutiny, it’s part of the job,” Foley said.
Woods’s golf swing is as analyzed as any athletic motion on the planet, broken down as often as Tim Tebow’s throwing mechanics, more than Stephen Strasburg’s windup or Usain Bolt’s stride. In winning 14 major championships, he has helped make his previous teachers, Butch Harmon and Hank Haney, golf celebrities. Foley, with whom Woods began working late in the 2010 season, is the latest to rise to prominence, being credited or blamed with Woods’s every success or failure.
But in any given week on any given range, Foley — or Harmon or David Leadbetter or Pete Cowan or on and on — could be spotted, working with a noted pupil, in the days and hours leading up to a tournament. Woods’s swing changes — one under Harmon, one under Haney, and the latest with Foley — are the most well-documented in history, but the reality is a cottage industry long ago developed around pro golfers and their swings.
“If you look at the world rankings or whatever,” said Nick Watney, counted as a member of Harmon’s stable, “everybody has a coach.”
This isn’t an entirely new phenomenon, because men such as Jim Flick and the late Harvey Penick instructed pros more than half a century ago. But with one notable exception — Masters champ Bubba Watson — instructors appear ubiquitous now. Watney said he sees Harmon, who lives near him in Las Vegas, nearly every day. Marc Leishman, an Australian who is the most recent winner on the PGA Tour, has used the same coach for a decade. That Denis McDade, that coach, lives in Australia isn’t a problem.
“If I called him now,” Leishman said, “he can be here Friday.”
Such is the dependence, for so many top players, on their coaches. When Jack Nicklaus was in the prime of his career, he said he would have a few lessons with his teacher, Jack Grout, at the beginning of the year, just to reset himself. But he then preferred to be on his own.
“I needed to be able to fix things on the golf course,” he said. No longer. Being on their own is an anomaly to most top players, regardless of talent or personality.
“Different players learn in different ways,” Foley said. “That’s one thing we have to realize as coaches, 100 percent.”
Six years ago, Foley was waiting tables and teaching golf in Toronto. “I had a bunch of crazy jobs,” he said. None might be as crazy as the one he has now.
“He knows a lot about a lot,” is how Woods described the native of Ontario last spring. Foley and his primary students — Woods, Hunter Mahan and England’s Justin Rose, all winners on tour this year — have received plenty of attention over the past year. Foley, then, has talked a lot about his theories and interests. He reads books, he said, delving into the coaching styles of John Wooden and Phil Jackson and Scotty Bowman. He studies how different students react to different scenarios, and adjusts.