But with all of them, Foley falls back on another area of his expertise: science. A familiar scene on PGA Tour ranges is of a coach with a computer seemingly hovering above the ground. A product known as TrackMan can track, via radar, the speed and flight path of any shot. Foley will often take video of his player’s swing on his phone, then store it in a file with the data from the radar.
“It’s not pseudo-science,” he said. “It’s straight physics, geometry and biomechanics. When I show them, they can’t really argue.”
So when Woods wanted to overhaul his swing in 2010 — knee injuries suffered in 2008 cost him nine months, and his knee still wasn’t fully healed — he turned to Foley to engineer the process.
“I didn’t want to play the way I did because it hurt, and it hurt a lot,” Woods said. “Was I good at it? Yeah, I was good at it. But I couldn’t go down that road, and there’s no way I could have had longevity in the game if I would have done that.
“Four knee surgeries later, here we are. I finally have a swing that it doesn’t hurt, and I am still generating power.”
The swing is the one Foley and Woods built together, the one Woods will use this week at Congressional Country Club. The two statistics that best reflect how players are hitting the ball when taking a full swing are total driving (a combination of driving distance and driving accuracy) and ball-striking (a combination of total driving and greens hit in regulation). Woods is second in total driving and tied for second, with Mahan, in ball-striking.
“Eventually, I get to a point where the full game becomes very natural feeling, and I can repeat it day after day,” Woods said. “And [then] I can dedicate most of my time to my short game again.”
That, then, is what the golf world is waiting for, for the full swing and the sharp short game to merge at a major. But most of the process of teaching and changing swings happens without the world watching. Still, many of the goals are the same: make changes that might not be seen in the short-term, but will help a player over months and years. So part of a coach’s job is selling that process.
“It’s can be very difficult,” said Matt Killen, who coaches J.B. Holmes and Josh Teater, both in the AT&T National field, among others. “Most of the guys are really, really good players already. For them to go out on the limb and change things, they have to have faith that it’s going to work, and they have to have confidence in the person that’s helping them make the changes.”
That faith is built not only on the range, but at dinners and in phone calls. And what is left unsaid can be just as important as what is.
“These guys were really good before they could spell ‘physics,’” Foley said. “There’s an inner genius going on there. I think, as teachers, people think if we’re talking, people are learning. That’s just not true.”
What is true: On the range at Congressional this weekend, a coach will be talking, a player will be listening, a swing will be tweaked, and an industry will churn on.