After more than a year of working as the swing doctor to Tiger Woods, Sean Foley fully comprehends what it is like to live in a bubble. Everywhere you turn, there’s the hum of cameras from 24-hour news channels, Internet reports about your star pupil, and tweets that say you’re not long for the job.
Despite the fact Foley’s clients – most notably Hunter Mahan, Justin Rose and, ahem, Tiger Woods – have had outstanding years, with more than $7 million and four wins among them, the Canadian swing coach is staggered by the tone of the media coverage. Most notably, he’s stunned by the way people continue to react to Woods’ return to form.
“If he was doing terrible that would be one thing,” Foley explains. “But I was looking at him just before The Masters and seeing him as No. 1 in total driving, and No. 2 in scoring average and thinking, ‘Wow, what do we have to do?’ ”
There’s no doubt Woods is a polarizing figure, that some will never forgive him for his indiscretions. However, Foley thinks it is more than that. The golf media, he says, has lost the ability to bring perspective to stories. The quest for instant gratification has made a casualty of patience, and everyone expects Woods to suddenly emerge as the golfer he was a decade ago. If it were only that easy.
He points to the coverage of Woods at Augusta to back up his point. After the second round when Woods struggled with the swing he’s been reworking since the fall of 2010, he went to sort out his problems in near-dark conditions with Foley. Foley says the pair worked on tempo and posture – nothing more – and that Woods doesn’t carry baggage from the course to the range.
“He’s never come to the range after a round that didn’t go well and been upset,” Foley says. “He’s so much more mature professionally than that – when it is over it is over and we need to identify some things and move on.”
In this instance, the session ended, according to Foley, with a discussion of the early-season prospects of the New York Yankees. Reports played it a different way.
“The problem is there’s a daily referendum on Tiger,” Foley says. “I was reading an article about the Friday night range session at Augusta we had in the dark. The article said, ‘You could feel the tension between them.’ But we were talking about the Yankees. I killed myself laughing.”
Early in his tenure with Woods, Foley dismissed his critics, saying their columns and commentary didn’t warrant consideration. But as Woods failed to progress as quickly as expected, and injuries compounded his woes, the daggers came out, often pointed at Foley. The swing coach hit back in a handful of instances, specifically at Golf Channel commentator Brandel Chamblee and Woods’ former coach Hank Haney.
“My guys see I have a PhD in being criticized,” Foley says, laughing. “I used to say I didn’t care what others thought. And I still think I didn’t, but there were thousands of articles written and I bit back at a couple. But if you say you don’t care you probably do. I’ve come to realize most of the articles are so far off from what is happening. It is almost humorous.”
Soon after he started working with Woods, Foley said he intended to take the golfer to the top of the driving stats. At the time, it was an almost laughable notion, easily dismissed. After all, Woods had been winning for years by playing remarkable recovery shots from inside tree lines after wayward drives wildly missed fairways.
But earlier this year, Woods achieved Foley’s objective, and even after a poor Masters showing, the golfer ranks No. 5 in the total driving stat, a stunning improvement in what has been perceived as the weak link in his game. Foley says matching Woods attack angle and plane is the reason for the improvement. What’s more, he says Woods continues to make progress.
“(Reporters) write that I’ve been working with him for 18 months, but it was really 16 months and for six of those months he was in a walking boot,” he says. “To this point, am I pleased at where we’ve gotten to? Absolutely. In the big picture, though – not at all. But it hasn’t been a lot of time.”
Though Foley loves to talk – most conversations with him range from his family (he’s the father of two young children) to music or the books he’s reading – he’s increasingly critical of the short-term perspective the sports media has for Woods. Rather than breaking Woods down, they should be lauding what he’s done for the game, Foley explains.
“It is sad to see what they do,” Foley says, clearly exasperated. “Tiger is important to golf and we need to uplift and support him, and not break him down. I think all of it being said is a little upsetting because of Tiger – because the fact is he’s not treated fairly.”
Foley may be correct, but when you reside in a bubble, expect the scrutiny to be like golf itself – intense, challenging and occasionally unfair.