Sean Foley, Canada’s great golf-instructing hope, has been working with America’s once-great golfing hope, Tiger Woods, since the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. Under Foley’s tutelage, Woods has failed to earn a single major victory and has only won three times on the PGA Tour.
Regardless, Sean Foley is helping Tiger Woods.
This isn’t to say progress has been made as quickly as all involved would like. It hasn’t. Nor is Foley necessarily the best man for the thankless job of coaching the most heavily scrutinized golfer in history. He is, however, most assuredly participating in the resurgence of the former world No. 1.
The Tiger Woods that Sean Foley inherited was objectively worse than the pupil Butch Harmon or Hank Haney began instructing. As an unbylined Associated Press piece syndicated on PGATour.com indicates, “Much is different under Foley, unrelated to what he is teaching. Unlike the previous two changes, Woods did not have to cope with physical scars (four surgeries on his left knee) and emotional scars (public ridicule from serial adultery that led to divorce).”
Is Tiger as dominant as he was while Butch Harmon was coaching him? Obviously not. Does this mean he should reunite with Harmon because he is the coach who oversaw his best play? Not necessarily.
Foley has the appropriate philosophical foundation and approach to Tiger’s swing. Asked recently by Sports Illustrated’s Farrell Evans what he’s trying to get Woods to do with his swing, Foley replied, “Simplify it. Minimalist theory. Get rid of all the unnecessary pieces and get to the causes instead of trying to fix the effects.”
This is the best approach for a golfer who has rebuilt his swing multiple times and who has developed compensatory maneuvers in every aspect of his golf swing because of a litany of injuries. Further, this is the best approach for a student whose life was profoundly out of control and overcomplicated at the genesis of their professional relationship.
Additionally, Foley certainly seems to have his star pupil’s back. Speaking about Woods earlier this year, Foley said, “Tiger is a wonderful person, and he is a good dude, and he lives a complex life. I think things have got to slow down, and it has got to stop, the daily referendums and the criticism.”
His public criticism of Hank Haney’s behavior since splitting with Woods (including Haney’s book The Big Miss) seems to indicate that he is reaching the golfer in a way that Haney could not, which is as important for a teacher as flinging the right information at one’s pupil.
Foley’s assessment of Woods’ on-course demeanor is also largely correct (Masters club-kicking tantrum excluded): “When I see him on the course now, I just see him in a better flow.”
Woods seems capable of getting into “the zone,” or “a peak performance state,” in a way he wasn't during his final years working with Hank Haney. This, of course, could likely be the product of Tiger’s extracurricular interests, but ultimately (and perhaps not fairly), the buck stops with the teacher.
Woods is putting the pieces together under Foley. His recent discussion with Rory McIlroy, captured on camera at their exhibition match in China, is evidence of this and is in line with writer Robert Lusetich’s assessment: "[Woods is] very sharp with long and middle irons. But, strangely, the closer he gets to the green, the less dependable the swing becomes.”
The relatively minor nature of Woods’ major “swing problem”—and the fact that he is working to remedy it—is further evidence of the productive nature of the Foley/Woods relationship.
Beyond the subjective determination that Sean Foley is helping Tiger Woods, Woods’ key statistics from 2010 (Woods and Foley began working together in August) and 2012 lead to the same conclusion.
Tiger has improved significantly in his GIR percentage (64.07 percent to 67.58 percent), driving accuracy (57.21 percent to 63.93 percent), strokes gained putting (109th place to 36th place) and scoring average (70.32 to 68.9). Additionally, Woods won three times in 2012, compared to zero in 2010.
Sean Foley is definitely helping Tiger Woods.