Golf / Sports

Q&A with Hank Haney, Tiger Woods' former coach

Seconds into a conversation with Hank Haney, I'm scrambling for an online dictionary. Haney has called former pupil Tiger Woods a "sociopath," and I'm wondering if he's saying Woods is like Son of Sam or Freddy Krueger.

But, no, Haney has used the word correctly in describing the world's most famous golfer.

Sociopaths have "little regard for the feelings of others" and "extreme antisocial attitudes."

Haney documented that and much more in his 2012 book "The Big Miss." Golf writer Damon Hack spoke for many when he said he learned more about Woods from those 247 pages than in a decade-plus covering him on the PGA Tour.

"He doesn't have normal human feelings; that's why he doesn't choke at the end of tournaments," Haney said. "It's not normal for him to apologize or sign autographs or treat people well. None of that helps him win."

Haney helped Woods rebuild his swing and dominate the game from 2005 to 2007, during which he won five majors and 21 of the 52 tour events he played. His 2008 season ended with knee surgery after his last major victory, a Monday triumph over Rocco Mediate in the U.S. Open, and 2009 concluded with sex-addiction therapy after six tour victories.

They worked together about 110 days a year, with Woods paying a mere $50,000 salary and $25,000 bonus for victories. Haney resigned as his coach in 2010, believing Woods was tuning him out and blaming him for poor play.

"The last time I talked to him, he said, 'The most important thing is that we've been great friends and we need to stay that way,' " Haney recalled. "I never heard from him again. Not a text, anything. And this is way before the book came out."

Now retired from coaching individuals, Haney, 58, said his emphasis is to "promote the game."

He teaches at corporate clinics, gives free swing analysis on Twitter (@HankDHaney) and has a Sunday morning radio show on SiriusXM. He'll do his June 28 show from the Golfsmith in Schaumburg, Ill., offering a full-swing clinic.

Haney grew up in Deerfield, Ill., and his parents were members of Exmoor, the Highland Park club where he first gave lessons. This interview was conducted via FaceTime ("a free call," he said) from his house in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. He splits time between there and Dallas, home to his primary golf school.

Among the things that amazed me about the book is that Tiger has first-tee jitters and sometimes called himself "Ranger Rick."

People would say, "What's wrong with his swing?" Well, did you watch him warm up? He never missed a shot! But even at Torrey Pines (where he won the 2008 U.S. Open), he made a double (bogey) on the first hole three of the days. A lot of guys can play the first hole, but they get nervous at the end. He's so good at the end.

Q: What gives you the most pleasure now professionally?

A: My career has come full circle. I started off teaching the average player. Then I worked with touring pros, culminating in helping Tiger Woods for six years. I have not done an individual lesson since 2004. A busy teacher might give 1,000 lessons and teach 300 people. Last year I did clinics for over 15,000 people, and I love doing the radio show. I feel like I can reach the average guy and say anything I want.

Q: How often are you back in Chicago?

A: I'm back for work once in a while. I've lived in Dallas for 28 years. Compared to Chicago, the golf courses are not very good -- even the ones they think are good. There are so many great courses there, it's ridiculous. Exmoor is a Donald Ross course, pretty cool. One of my first days there, I taught all day and came home with $100 in my pocket. I thought it was the greatest job in the world.

I grew up playing at Sunset Valley and then all over -- Sunset Ridge and Skokie to name a few. One of my favorite courses in the world is Shoreacres (in Lake Bluff). If I could be a member anywhere, it would be at Shoreacres.

Q: You had some remarkable anecdotes in the book about how Tiger wouldn't even speak to caddie Steve Williams for hours at a time. What did Steve think of the book?

A: He thought it was great. He knows everything is true. He lived it. I know about his reputation (for being rude to spectators and reporters), but he's an ethical person and the greatest caddie there has ever been. Look at what he has done with Adam Scott, taken him to No. 1 in the world. I asked Steve how it is working with Adam. "Hank, it's so great. Every day when I get done, he tells me, 'Thank you.' "

Q: Quite a contrast to Tiger, who would not even acknowledge your emails.

A: When he returned from therapy and would not take off his sunglasses (at the Masters), I thought: That's not good. You've got to look people in the eye.

Q: Is there anything you wish you had omitted or included in the book?

A: Maybe the Ian Poulter story. (After Poulter talked his way on to Woods' private jet for a trip to Orlando, Woods texted Haney: "Can you believe how this (jerk) mooched a ride on my plane?") I like Ian. He took it as a knock against him, when I thought it didn't reflect well on Tiger.

Also, the Zach Johnson story. (Woods said he pranked the devout Christian, his Ryder Cup roommate, by purchasing the 24-hour adult-movie package.) Ben Crane told me that Zach said it never happened. But Tiger told that story to me and other people at least five times. He (apparently) made it up.

Q: Tiger has been stuck on 14 majors and won't play the U.S. Open after back surgery. You've predicted he will return in July to play the British Open. What are his chances of breaking Jack Nicklaus' record of 18?

A: He has to have Phil Mickelson's Hall of Fame career (five majors) and do it after turning 38 with four knee operations and a back operation. It will be hard but not impossible. I have him as the favorite in any tournament he plays. But people who say his next major will be the hardest to win ... no, this is the easy one. The hard one is to tie (Nicklaus), and it would be even harder to beat him.

Q: On the radio show, you discussed Johnny Miller's "wick" theory: Every player's burns for only so long.

A: Everyone has only so much in the tank, and Tiger started (competing) at an earlier age. He not only has to get healthy, he has to get healthy enough to practice. Does he have the motivation? If the desire is there, he will return to No. 1 in the world.

Q: If he saw you tomorrow, what do you think he would do?

A: I'm pretty sure he would just blow me off. That's kind of how he does it. He doesn't try to be a jerk. He just doesn't get it. ... There is a price for greatness. I think that comes across in the book.

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