April 7, 2012
Tiger's Canadian swing doctor
By Jon McCarthy, QMI Agency
Sean Foley was waiting for Tiger Woods on the driving range.
Woods had just put the finishing touches on a brutal 3-over par at Augusta National during the second round of the Masters.
A week that started with such promise had gone south. On Friday, Woods seemed to have no control over the swing that looked so good just two weeks earlier.
Five minutes after signing his scorecard, Woods arrived at the driving range.
Foley and Woods had work to do.
Canada’s most famous swing coach has the toughest job in golf. When Tiger plays poorly, it’s his fault. When he wins; well, anyone could have rode Secretariat.
Friday evening, Foley and Tiger were on the range past dark, hitting balls into the night sky.
Progress was made.
In the third round, Woods shot even-par and the out-of-control swing was gone. It was mainly small misses and too many putts that shot him out of contention.
After Woods was finished for the day on Saturday, Foley was spending some time by himself on the range and had time to reflect on the night before and the days ahead.
“I could see on the back nine he was really trying to super-figure out this and this and that,” Foley said about Tiger’s Friday struggles. “The fix was all posture and distance from the ball. If we didn’t figure it out on the range we could have been here until 10:00 last night.”
Working with players and figuring things out is what Foley does best. Intelligent and analytical, he is able to put things in perspective very quickly.
“Even though I wouldn’t have wanted it at three-over, it’s kind of a bucket list moment to be on the range at Augusta in the pitch black with Tiger Woods,” Foley said. “It was so dark we couldn’t see anything.”
Augusta National is a long way from the Clublink Academy at Glen Abbey where Foley worked until 2006. Canada is a tough place to forge a name in the world of professional golf but Foley never looked at it that way.
“I’ve always said I was surprised and not surprised,” he said.
It was his work with Canadian Stephen Ames that finally brought Foley to the big time but in his mind he was already there.
“When I first came out on tour I felt like I had been there for a long time because I had dreamed about it for so long. I was so used to seeing it happening in my mind that when I got out there I was like, ‘I know what this looks like.’ ”
Foley has heard people say over and over how unlikely his story is. How it doesn’t seem possible that a kid from Ontario could end up teaching Tiger Woods.
Frankly, he doesn’t see it that way.
“For me when people say it’s amazing all that has happened. Well, I grew up reading stories about Gandhi and Nelson Mandela and stuff like that,” Foley said on the range. “If Nelson Mandela can become the president of South Africa, it think I can certainly coach at the Masters one day.”
Born to a Scottish father and Guyanese mother, growing up in Canada and being known as the golfer at high school wasn’t going to win you any popularity contests. While everyone else was dreaming of being a hockey player, Foley had big dreams of his own.
He was driven by greatness. He read books about great men and tried to figure out what made them tick. Foley began to develop a philosophy for greatness.
“What separates great men from not great men? I tied it in to work ethic,” he said. “Now, what’s the only separator? Just belief, just dreaming.”
Foley is out here living his dream but he understands that the work isn’t near done. Recently, he has worked hard to live life on an even keel. Not to live and die with his players’ golf games. Keeping his emotions in check is rule number one because, “when you’re emotional you’re stupid and when you’re emotional you’re open,” he said.
Besides Woods, Foley works with Hunter Mahan and Justin Rose. All three players are in the top 10 in the world rankings. All three players have won on tour this year, Mahan twice.
He knows that his players are going to be emotional when they play poorly and they are going to be emotional when they play well. That’s why it is of the utmost importance that he stays, as he puts it, “baseline.”
When it comes to golf he understands that different players respond to different teaching styles and he needs to adapt.
“All their systems are different. The geometry that is applied in the swing is identical but they all have different keys and different cues and different ideas,” he said. “I mean one’s really feely and the other one is extremely auditory and the other one is as visual as I’ve ever met anybody so I’m trying to speak in the language that they learn in.”
Under Foley’s tutelage, Mahan is having a career year. He is the highest ranked American player in the world and in contention Sunday here at Augusta. According to Mahan, nobody does it better than his swing coach.
“A lot of guys know the swing, but he can teach it better than anyone else,” he said Saturday after shooting a 4-under 68. “He knows how to teach us and he knows how to talk to us.”
Foley attended Tennessee State University — a predominantly black school — where he played on the golf team. He has a very captivating personality and it seems if he didn’t know everything about the golf swing, he could just as easily become a sports psychologist. Observant and inquisitive, he has an ability to get on the same wavelength with people very quickly.
Foley has worked with Mahan longer than he has worked with Woods and the two are completely comfortable with one another.
“He’s just a fun guy to be around,” Mahan said of Foley. “In a lot of ways, I look up to him and I want to be more like him.”
Foley shares this mutual respect and says at this point in their relationship Mahan and him are like an old married couple saying they text each other at the same time or he will go to call Mahan and the phone will ring.
“We are so connected that way now that the way we flow in our communication is so simple,” Foley said.
He says he has a similar relationship with Rose but that with Tiger, who he hasn’t been with as long, they are still working on that aspect and admits, it’s not simple.
“Tiger’s intense so it’s easy sometimes to not want to go in when he’s doing his thing because he looks like he’s totally zoned in,” said Foley. “But we just have to be better at communicating.”
When it comes to his most famous student, Foley shares a sentiment that his boss frequently uses, that it’s a process. Despite the rough week at the Masters Foley is confident they are on the right path.
“Look, Tiger’s number one in total driving and ball striking and proximity to the hole. That’s every major hitting category, so we are on the right path we just got to keep sticking with it and sticking with it.”
At the beginning of the year Foley had plenty of critics, plenty of people saying his analytical ways were getting in the way of Tiger’s genius. Then Woods got hot and Foley was the genius. Now, after a bad week at the season’s first major, the critics are back out but Foley doesn’t seem to care.
“Who am I trying to please?” he asked rhetorically.
“Obviously, the people that pay me. If they’re happy, I’m happy.”