I’ve read a lot of golf books in my day—frankly more than I’d like to admit. Everything from Tiger Woods: How I Play Golf to the nearly 400-page gem that is Dave Pelz’s Putting Bible. I’ve read books detailing struggling pros trying make a living on the European Tour, and I’ve read whimsical stories about falling in love with the windswept links in Scotland. Classics like Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book and Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons couldn’t escape me.
And or all the golf book’s I’ve read, Hank Haney’s The Big Miss was easily the biggest page-turner, and perhaps the most insightful.
Hank Haney was Tiger Woods’ coach for about six years, and The Big Miss is his account of their years spent together. The duo would eventually split shortly after the Tiger Woods scandal broke. Haney’s account of his time with Woods is absolute gold for any golf nerd – there’s all the detail you could ever want in there about Haney’s coaching strategies and his work on Tiger’s swing.
But at the end of the day what makes this book so remarkable is the insight it provides into the person that is Tiger Woods; a person so often veiled from the public as a result of his self-inflicted invisibility cloak. There’s no doubt that after reading this book I feel like I have a better understanding of Tiger Woods than I ever did before.
Before I dive in and give you a few juicy teasers, let me first address the critics of this book. Many assume that Hank Haney was fired by Woods, and that the publication ofThe Big Miss was a move made out of spite and an attempt to make a quick buck.
If you read this book, it seems as though nothing could be farther from the truth. Trust me, I’m not one to be easily sold – I’m about as skeptical as they come, and I certainly was as I began reading. “You can’t talk shit on Tiger!” was my general mind-set. Remember the look on your dad’s face when the 25-year-old came to pick up your 17-year-old sister to take her on a date? Double that. That’s how skeptical I was when I began reading this book.
And having finished it, I truthfully believe that Haney’s honesty was what makes this book such a great read. He shares many actual e-mails and texts that he exchanged with Tiger, and if he was lying I’m sure that it wouldn’t take long for a major lawsuit to come down on him. Let’s face it, Tiger is uber protective of his image. And at the end of the day, Haney readily admits that the publication of The Big Miss likely won’t win him any points in Tiger’s eyes.
The picture that Haney paints of Tiger Woods is generally what I had always suspected, but much more severe. Essentially Tiger has been surrounded by people from a very young age that have wanted a piece of him, typically for at least partially selfish reasons. Because of this, Tiger lives a life very much in a bubble. But what’s so surprising is that even those close to him, even those within his “inner circle,” are not immune to the bubble.
Tiger, even after years of working with Haney and spending 100+ days a year with him, would routinely be incredibly moody and would give him and everyone else around him the silent treatment. He wouldn’t return phone calls. He generally seemed to show little regard to those who were loyal to him and offered their friendship.
One minute example, which Haney goes back to many times in the book, is the issue of the popsicle (I know you can just feel the suspense building). Haney spent many a night with Tiger and Elin, and he recalls that in the beginning the TV was almost always on during dinner. Elin decided to instate a rule whereby the TV could not be on during dinner, only to have Tiger instate a rule that when he was done eating he could leave the dinner table. He would subsequently scarf down his dinner, leave the table, and go watch TV.
While watching TV after dinner, Tiger often sat with Haney and treated himself to a post-dinner sugar-free popsicle. For years he’d do this, and he never once offered or asked Haney if he’d like a popsicle as well. One day Haney wanted himself a goddamn popsicle, and he sat on the couch in bewilderment because of how uncomfortable he felt asking Tiger simply for popsicle. He finally asked Tiger, who looked at him like he had five heads then muttered, “Sure.” It’s this sort of thing that was very unbecoming to Haney.
With regards to Tiger’s game, Haney writes quite a bit about Tiger’s fear of “the big miss” – a big miss right or left, particularly with the driver, that would lead to bogey or worse. He sees this as Tiger’s biggest hurdle, and one he worked tirelessly to provide Tiger with a solution to. His solution was a stinger with a driver, as well as a fade with a driver that would cost Tiger distance but guaranteed him that he wouldn’t miss left. Tiger was reluctant to put either in to play.
Haney also vividly recalls one of Tiger’s first victories that Elin was around for. Elin met Tiger after the round and suggested that they throw a little party to celebrate the win because “that’s what Jesper (Parnevik) used to do,” when Elin worked for him. Tiger’s response was along the lines of “I’m not Jesper, and we’re not having a party. We’re supposed to win.”
Obviously the book is filled with details about the days leading up to and immediately after the Tiger Woods scandal broke. Haney vehemently states that neither himself nor Steve Williams had any idea of the goings-on.
But the scandal aside, there are plenty of other glorious first-hand details in the book. For example, Haney shares a text that Tiger sent to him after Ian Poulter bummed a ride back to Florida on Tiger’s plane. Yes, Tiger thinks Poulter is a d-bag.
Haney is also particularly protective of his record as Tiger’s coach. Many reflect on Tiger’s best years as being in the early 2000′s, and they undoubtedly were. And while Butch Harmon coached Tiger to eight major championship victories, Haney managed only six in his years with Tiger. That said, it is true that the swing Haney taught Tiger won a higher percentage of the time.
Ultimately it would be Haney’s call to break off his relationship with Tiger. He felt he had been as loyal as could be, and had genuinely tried to be the best friend and coach to Tiger that he could. But Tiger’s stand-offish nature, his reluctance to implement Haney’s ideas, and his general treatment of others drove Haney to end their relationship – an engagement for which Woods paid Haney only $50,000 per year.
But while much of what I’ve written about thus far sounds like sour grapes, Haney makes very deliberate efforts to not focus only on the negative. Haney is a man who has studied the great golfers in the history of the game as much as just about anybody, and he has no doubt that when Tiger plays at his highest level he’s far and away the best golfer that has ever lived.
But perhaps more importantly, he holds himself and the others in Tiger’s inner circle accountable – accountable for not putting Tiger in check and pushing him to be less guarded, more honest, and generally a more well-rounded human being.
In Haney’s eyes it was always all about Tiger with everybody around him, to the extent that no one dared question him or his actions. Tiger insulated himself, and ultimately if someone around him had stood up to him and prompted him to be better, perhaps “The Big Miss” that we’ve seen as of late could have been avoided.
If you love golf or Tiger Woods, read this book. It’s fantastic insight into one of the most enigmatic athletes to ever reach the highest level of sport.
Geoff Roberts is the Founder & Managing Editor of howiGit.com, a Boston sports blog.