By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 12, 2010; D06
During the most turbulent time in his life, the only constant over the past six months for Tiger Woods has been upheaval, and that continued this week with the announcement that renowned swing coach Hank Haney has resigned his position. The move leaves the world's top golfer without one of his most important advisers as he approaches an uncertain summer in which he must simultaneously try to overcome a neck injury and put aside unprecedented turmoil in his personal life.
Haney, who had worked with Woods for six years and helped him institute a major swing change, informed Woods of his decision Monday night, and then released a statement to the Golf Channel announcing the move but offering no specifics. When Woods struggles -- as he is now, having missed the cut and withdrawn from his two most recent tournaments -- there is typically speculation about which member of his team might be replaced. But both Haney and Woods -- who made a brief statement on his own Web site Tuesday -- took steps to portray the split as amicable.
"Just so there is no confusion, I would like to make it clear that this is my decision," Haney said. "I know Tiger Woods will be successful in the future no matter who helps him. He is an incredible athlete with an incredible work ethic."
Last week, Woods addressed speculation about Haney's future by saying, "according to the press, I've fired him five times by now," adding that he spoke with Haney every day. But in his statement, Woods said he and Haney "have agreed that he will no longer be my coach.
"Hank is an outstanding teacher and has been a great help to me, but equally important he is a friend," Woods said. "That will not change. I would like to thank him for all he has done for me the past six years."
Haney, 54, worked with Woods for six of his 14 major championship victories, and his departure leaves Woods without a coach as he not only deals with the neck injury that forced him to pull out of the Players Championship on Sunday, but as he tries to regain his form -- form that has not returned since he ended the self-imposed, 4 1/2 -month exile he took following revelations of a sex scandal. In his statement, Haney acknowledged Woods's off-course struggles -- "Tiger has been through a lot in the last six months," he said -- but did not lean on them as a reason for his departure.
"In many ways because of all the time I have spent with Tiger, I may have learned more from him than he has ever learned from me," Haney said. "However, I believe at this time that it is in both of our best interests for me to step aside as Tiger's coach. I will always look back upon our past half dozen years together as my best days in professional golf."
As Woods prepared to return to tournament play last month at the Masters, Haney traveled to Woods's Orlando-area home to begin practice sessions. The pair were together frequently on the course at Augusta National as Woods played four practice rounds leading up to the Masters. At an appearance Monday in suburban Philadelphia designed to promote the July tournament that benefits his foundation, Woods tried to joke about altering his swing -- "Don't hit it left, don't hit it right," he said -- but largely dodged questions about whether he needed to make fundamental changes.
"I think you can probably pick apart every golfer and they will have flaws in their golf swing," he said Monday. "I know I have my flaws, and I'm trying to get those better as well."
Woods's first coach as a pro was Butch Harmon, the charismatic instructor who now works with Phil Mickelson, Woods's chief rival. Woods fired Harmon in 2004, and subsequently turned to Haney to help rebuild his swing -- a process that resulted in no major championship victories that season, but six over the next four years.
Now, Woods -- a notoriously hard worker who enjoys lengthy practice sessions -- must figure out his swing as he battles the neck problem. Though he said Monday he would undergo an MRI exam as soon as he returned home to Florida, his team had no update on his condition Tuesday, even as his immediate future on the PGA Tour remained unclear. The season's next major, the U.S. Open, is six weeks away and will be held at Pebble Beach, Calif., where 10 years ago Woods produced one of the signature performances of his career in winning the Open by 15 shots, the largest margin of victory ever in a major championship.
"Still got a lot of work to do, and a lot of it is I can't make the same moves that I could before because this neck's not allowing me to do that," Woods said Monday. "I need to get that organized. I need to get healthy in order for me to swing the club properly."
When Woods said that, Haney was still his coach. Now, if he is going to get healthy and re-learn his own swing in time for the Open, he will either do it with another instructor -- or on his own.