Here’s all you need to know about Sean Foley, the swing coach who worked with Tiger Woods during the PGA Championship: One, he is not trying to “brand” himself, as anybody who has known him for more than a few days realizes. Two, while he has figured that he might get to work with Woods simply by being himself, he won’t change his life and ignore his many other players to do so on a regular basis. And three, he wasn’t all that caught up in how Woods was doing at the PGA Championship. He cared, but he didn’t get wound up in his every swing.
However, he did get wound up in what another player was doing. That player’s name wasn’t Tiger Woods. It was Jennifer Kirby.
Yes, Jennifer Kirby. She’s a teenager from Paris. Paris, Ontario, that is. She’ll be attending the University of Alabama as a freshman this fall and she was in the semi-finals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur in Charlotte, N.C., on the same day Woods was playing the third round of the PGA Championship. Foley has worked with Kirby since she was 12 years old.
“I taught her how to grip the club, I taught her the stance,” Foley said from his Core Golf Academy in Orlando a few days after everybody was all hot and bothered about his working with Woods. “I showed her how to work out. I helped her through 2 a.m. breakups with boyfriends. I was 10 times more nervous when she was playing her semi-final match than I was about how Tiger was doing.”
Foley checked his BlackBerry every five minutes for results, although, he said, “It takes 15 minutes to play a hole. The media was saying at the PGA that it could be the greatest week of my life because I was working with Tiger. I said, ‘Yeah, it could be the greatest week of my life if Jennifer wins.’ ”
Kirby was a 17-handicap when Foley started working with her. She won the 2009 Canadian Women’s Amateur and Junior championships, the only player to accomplish that double. So, of course, he was wrapped up in how she was doing. The eventual champion, Danielle Kang, beat Kirby, 1-up.
Meanwhile, this isn’t to say Foley isn’t interested in becoming Woods’ new coach. Woods said after the PGA that he liked what he’d heard from the 35-year-old, who was born in Agincourt, Ont., and now lives with his wife, Kate, and their 2-year-old son in Orlando. Woods intends to learn more about Foley’s ideas.
It’s common knowledge that Foley has felt he could help Woods. He said so during an interview in November 2007, well before many people outside Canada knew about him. He was already working with Canada’s Stephen Ames, and had helped steer him to a six-shot win at the 2006 Players Championship.
“I think I could inspire him to do amazing things,” Foley said then about Woods. “I don’t see why I should paint a small picture for myself. I believe it will happen.”
It has started to happen. Foley loves dissecting the golf swing and believes an understanding of physics and neurology are relevant to making it work. Woods is a swing geek, and nobody has ever questioned his love of getting deeply into it. No wonder Foley and Woods get along.
But can Foley help Woods straighten out his errant driver?
“If you can hit a 3-wood well, the math would say you can hit your driver well,” Foley said. “But we create stories for ourselves. You get over the driver and go into limbic turmoil.”
Some people have chuckled at Foley’s propensity for using such a term as “limbic turmoil.” A Canadian writer referred to him as a “wanker” a few years ago when Foley said he had read UCLA geography professor Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” among other books.
Foley fired back his views to the writer. “I guess sometimes intellects in society are perceived as pretentious,” Foley wrote. “I guess people condemn what they don’t understand, and I am fine with that.”
He’s still fine with criticism from people who don’t know him. He derides our celebrity-saturated culture even as he is becoming one in the natural order of things.
“I don’t care about all this attention,” Foley said. “All the nice things that might be said about me can go away in two weeks if some of my guys don’t play well. Whether or not somebody likes me won’t detract from my confidence.”
Maybe coaching Woods in a slump is as it would have been giving Michelangelo a lesson in painting when he was going through a rough patch. Foley is up for the challenge if it gets past his doorstep and into his house.
Whatever transpires, Foley says, “I’ll do the best I can. I’ll be attentive. I’m not going to change. Golf is a vehicle to do bigger things. It’s the same as always.”
Foley means what he says. He always has.