|Woods is unsentimental about his focus on the game, part of his gift and his limitations. (US Presswire)|
ORLANDO, Fla. -- This has to be the first time, and we mean ever, that a golf-related publication has become a mainstream topic. That would include the Natalie Gulbis swimsuit calendar, too.
Swing-coach-turned-author Hank Haney has been everywhere this week, on TV and radio chat shows, appearing on sports and traditional network programming, hawking his latest wares.
This time, it's not a swing widget, instructional DVD or an invitation to enroll at one of his many golf schools. He's wearing a suit and tie, looking downright professorial, not a short-sleeve short and golf cap.
The most anticipated book in golf history, The Big Miss, was released Tuesday, an inside look at the Tiger Woods phenomenon as described by Haney, his teacher and quasi-confidante for six incredibly consistent seasons.
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After plowing through all 247 pages last week in a single sitting, and despite a few personal reservations about the disclosure of some delicate inside information, it was obvious that tell-almost-all tome will be zooming straight to the top of the book charts. Because, love him or loath him, Tiger Woods is the biggest lighting rod in sports, a fact that was underscored and painted in bold type when he won Sunday at Bay Hill.
Haney is likewise running around like Ben Franklin, with a key to the Woods castle tied onto the tail of his kite. Some of this stuff is purely electric.
If Woods felt pain from his Achilles a couple of weeks ago, this will cause even more discomfort. After showing up at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week with an advanced copy, three different reporters with other media outlets borrowed it on consecutive days and also tore through it before dumping it back on my desk the next morning.
One by one, we stood around and debated both the merits of the book and our comparative comfort levels with what Haney disclosed. But that's a moot point now, isn't it? Because the book's already been serialized in a national magazine, and Haney is pitching this thing harder than Roger Clemens when he was on the juice. You can't unblow a whistle, and Haney is tweeting like a traffic cop.
The Woods camp, in yet another ham-handed attempt at a pre-emptive strike, on Monday strongly denied one of the more damning assertions in the Haney tome, that Woods had actually blown out the ACL in his left knee while playing war games with the Navy SEALs. Of course, given all the inside dirt Haney has filed away in his noggin, calling this guy a liar might be a dangerous proposition, because it's a fact that Haney didn't remotely dish everything he knew about the injuries and myriad other issues relating to his tenure.
As Woods' manager, Mark Steinberg, said Monday: "Despite repeated claims [by Haney] that this is a golf book, it's not."
Thanks goodness for that. There are far too many of those already. And Steinberg just helped ensure a second printing.
Rather than proceeding with another in a largely predictable series of book reviews slamming/praising Woods or Haney for their perceived contributions to/crimes against humanity and published literature, we're taking a different tack.
This week's New World Order list is composed of 10 items from the book we found the most illuminating, illustrative or insightful -- either as it relates to the complex psyche of Eldrick Tont Woods, his Texas-based swing coach or both.
10. Tiger and his playmates
Woods has a complicated relationship with many of his professional peers, but Haney makes it clear Tiger's friends only with those he doesn't perceive to be a threat to his dominance. That's got to make pals Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker feel pretty good, huh? The most damning passage relates to Ian Poulter, the cocky Englishman who once asked Woods for a ride back to Orlando on the former's private jet, showing up unannounced at an airstrip. While seated on the jet, Woods purportedly sent Haney a text message that read, "Can you believe how this dick mooched a ride on my plane?" Poulter wisely declined comment -- which might be a personal first -- when questioned by U.K. scribes about the passage last week.
9. Toilet humor and Tiger
This is not a real revelation, since Woods' comedy leanings are scatological and sophomoric at best and his infantile gas-passing duels with former caddie Steve Williams were often overheard by galleries and TV microphones. "Sometimes he was clever or droll, but often what tickled him most was something as mindless as belching," Haney wrote. Haney said Woods watched the episode of South Park -- one of his favorite shows -- that featured him plowing into the fire hydrant and oak tree, and seemed somewhat honored to have been featured on the bawdy series.
8. Is the book's title a big miss?
In one lengthy passage, Haney details why he thinks Woods will have trouble reclaiming any previous level of dominance, and all but says the former world No. 1 has been battling a case of the yips with his driver. The Big Miss, in one regard, is a description of the booming foul balls Woods often hit off the tee. Interestingly, Woods of late has been driving the ball straighter than at any point in his career, and he currently ranks among the PGA Tour leaders in several driving categories, a true eye-opener for most experts who have watched his progress over the past few weeks. Haney might ultimately need a splash of Tabasco to eat his words relating this portion of the book.
7. Tiger is not a money player
There are a hundred stories about Phil Mickelson's largesse. He tips big, makes donations to needy folks with anonymity, etc. Not the case with Woods, who still acts very much like the son of a military pensioner. Haney, for all his trouble, was paid a salary of $50,000 annually and was expected to be on call, like a physician, whenever Woods was ready to practice or play. Haney claims Woods was upset when Williams asked for a raise, and complained about it privately. Woods, Haney asserts, seemed to take a perverse pride in being cheap when walking past the proverbial tip jar. When they ate take-out meals in Orlando, Haney was expected to pay. Pretty pathetic for a guy making a reported $40 million annually from Nike alone.
6. Haney and the dimpled crystal ball
Many have wondered why Haney was selected as Woods' coach in the first place, since the Texan didn't have a lengthy roster of PGA Tour players, like some other well-known teachers. Woods knew Haney well through mutual friend Mark O'Meara, so he was around and available. But Haney also notes that Woods read a magazine story in which Haney, then a college coach, predicted Woods would lead the PGA Tour in earnings in his first full season. Haney was right. Woods saw the quote and often reminded Haney of his Amazing Kreskin act. Something that inconsequential, a largely spontaneous throwaway observation, eventually helped put Haney at the epicenter of the game's greatest hurricane.
5. Haney's personal defense
In an odd way, just as Woods is acutely sensitive to criticism and holds grudges like no other, Haney is a similar creature. For years, the coach was stung by comparisons to Woods' previous coach, Butch Harmon, with whom Woods won more majors. Haney spends an entire chapter underscoring and highlighting the leaps in improved consistency that Woods made in their six years together, spitting out convincing facts to counter the "argument that I hurt Tiger or retarded his progress," as the coach put it. It's a very convincing affirmative defense. "People are entitled to their own opinions," Haney wrote. "But they're not entitled to their own facts."
4. Tiger's anti-SEAL of approval
Most of the early blowback coming out of excerpt releases relates to Woods' headshaking involvement in Navy SEALs training and weapons courses and his obsession with the military, which probably stems from his father's Green Beret days. Since the thrust of this information has already been dissected elsewhere, there's no need to exhume the body of work here. But Haney also notes Woods was jumping out of airplanes and snow skiing on the damaged leg, two incredibly high-risk sports that made the coach think Woods was needlessly courting disaster and trauma. How did he really hurt his ACL or tear up his Achilles tendons? As Haney makes clear, we'll probably never know, because Tiger isn't exactly a fountain of truth.
3. How much is left in the Tiger tank?
There's no need for a specific citation here. Haney rightly questions whether, given the extent to which his game deteriorated during his comeback from the scandal, Woods is inclined and able to invest the time required to climb back up the ladder. Physical limitations have forced Woods to change his training regimen. There are days when his body won't let him practice certain shots. His family takes up more of his time. Add it up, and it's a thought-provoking premise -- does Woods still care as much as he used to, and can he invest the same energy he once did? Much of what Haney asserts in this regard has been echoed by Woods himself, for those who have been listening.
2. Stuff that won't be on Tiger's tombstone
Woods was told by his father that he had been placed on this planet to do extraordinary things, to be bigger than Gandhi, a quote everybody recalls with rolling eyeballs. Raised as an only child, the degree to which his environment shaped his psyche and caused him to blossom as a player prompted the most remarkable passage in the book. "But those qualities, foremost among them an extraordinary ability to focus and stay calm under stress, also included selfishness, obsessiveness, stubbornness, coldness, ruthlessness, pettiness and cheapness. When they were all at work in the competitive arena, they helped him win. And winning gave him permission to remain a flawed and in some ways immature person." Nailed it.
1. Now, the career obit part
The final pages summarize Haney's feelings about where Woods might go from here, and the coach says his former star pupil is damaged goods. "Unlike the Tiger in his 20s and early 30s was virtually indomitable, today's Tiger has discovered that in real life, disaster lurks. Plans don't come true. Things can go wrong. That realization creates doubt, and in competitive golf, doubt is a killer. ... The big miss found its way into his life. If it's ingrained, primed to emerge at moments of crisis, his march toward golf history is over."