SHEBOYGAN, WISCONSIN | There’s a special new person in Tiger Woods’ life. No, not that kind of person.
Canadian Sean Foley is, right now, the hottest teacher in golf. He is confident enough to dictate his own terms. He is quirky enough to have a little “stack and tilt” DNA in his swing methodology. And he appears to be perfectly poised to lead Woods out of his prolonged professional funk.
The upside Foley brings to the world No. 1’s immediate playing future is as big as it is important. But the devil will be in the details if Woods and Foley are to agree to agree.
The 35-year-old Foley, who not all that long ago was giving lessons to juniors at Glen Abbey near Toronto, won’t ask, “How high?” if Woods says, “Jump.” And if he and Woods hammer out the particulars of an ongoing player-teacher relationship, it won’t be until both sides have made critical working compromises.
According to people close to both camps, there are issues.
Not the least of them is that Foley – whose stable includes rising stars Hunter Mahan, Justin Rose and Sean O’Hair – won’t take on Woods without a contract. And he never teaches for free.
“When they make money,” Foley has said of his players, “I make money.”
All of which makes the potential pairing of the two that much more intriguing. It’s not that Butch Harmon and Hank Haney were pushovers. Hardly. But Woods’ leverage isn’t what it once was. And those who know Foley, say this won’t be lost on him.
Meanwhile the pervasive and persistent fogs that delayed each of the the first two rounds of PGA Championship last week were more than just obvious metaphors for the low-lying clouds Tiger has been living under all year.
Woods, in case you’ve been locked in a dark room somewhere watching Merv Griffin re-runs, arrived at Whistling Straits hip deep in months of unshakable off-course controversy and lost in a mist of disappointing on-course failures.
Then the sun came out.
Four holes into Thursday’s round, Woods had three birdies to his name and, temporarily at least, a perch on the top of the first page of the leaderboard.
“Everything,” he said, “was better.”
No, he wasn’t talking about his personal problems. Those won’t be lifting anytime soon. Woods was talking specifically about the recent trail of wreckage he had left behind at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio where, on one of his favorite courses, he had played the worst golf of his life.
The end result in Round One at Whistling Straits was an encouraging, 1-under 71 that few had seen coming. Then it was off to the range for a very public post-round session with the unofficially official Foley.
By the time Woods left the grounds Thursday there was a palpable sense that just maybe there was a new and real light at the end of the tunnel.
And quicker than you can say “new lead” the assembled media at the year’s final major were googling, texting, tweeting, posting, phoning, hustling and straining for dish on Foley, the heir-transparent to Harmon and Haney.
It was learned that when a Woods’ associate approached Foley at last month’s British Open, Foley said, yes, he would look at Woods if asked. Foley also told Global Golf Post senior correspondent John Hopkins that one condition of his contract with Rose is that Rose live in or near Orlando, Fla., where Foley teaches. Rose resides next to Orlando in Lake Nona.
The proximity thing is significant because Woods is expected soon to move from Orlando to his sprawling new Jupiter, Fla., estate. Jupiter is several hours, by car, from Orlando.
This could be one of those issues. Loyalty could be another.
Asked if he was looking forward to having Woods as a stablemate, the personable Rose was polite but less than enthusiastic. “Maybe,” he said. “I guess.”
And who could blame Rose if the thought of sharing more of Foley’s time with a high- maintenance player like Woods wasn’t the best idea he’d ever heard? Mahan’s reaction was softer. “I think it will work fine,” he said.
Or will it? Foley is not shy about talking to the press. Woods likes his people quiet and private.
This much is certain: Foley’s players love his approach that includes bringing off-the-course information and philosophy onto the range.
“He’s fun to be around and he’s well-read.” Rose said.
“He knows how to talk to us,” Mahan added.
The chatter over whether Woods and Foley will be a good fit rose in volume Saturday when Woods finished at 3 under after 36 holes Saturday morning and spent more range time with Foley during the break before going back out for the third round.
There was an air about Woods’ body language that said something was changing for the good.
Meanwhile, the picture that emerges of Foley is one of a no-nonsense guy who can talk more than just golf and is comfortable inside his own skin. It looks to be clear that for as long as his relationship with Woods lasts, Foley will be telling Tiger what he thinks, not what he thinks Tiger wants to hear.
And by the way, who would have thought a year ago at this time that Tiger Woods would be needing a guy named Sean Foley more than Sean Foley needs Tiger Woods?