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Foley’s Best Defense Is A Good Offense

Tiger Woods is on his way to winning three times in five starts on the PGA Tour – and the best is yet to come. That’s Sean Foley’s perspective. Despite an impressive start, Woods’ Canadian coach says he expects the golfer to improve in the coming months. Woods, it seems, is still many range sessions from nailing all the key elements of the golfer’s overhauled swing. “We’ve done a good job of having no injuries or flare-ups with Tiger,” Foley says from his Orlando home where he spent the day working with Justin Rose. “But eight months from now I’ll watch him hit a ball and go, ‘That’s it.’ So we are not even there yet.” With that in mind, Foley admits it seems ridiculous that people last year questioned if Woods would return to form. “For people to lose their faith in his abilities to the extent that they asked out loud whether he’d win again – come on,” Foley says with an exasperated tone. “Do they know anything about golf? Do they have any clue about what he’s done since he was 8 years old? Or that he’s won five times in his last 18 events? Hunter Mahan has had a great career to this point – and he’s won five times in eight years. Tiger has won (the same number of) times in the last 18 events than Luke Donald has won in his entire time on the PGA Tour.” The remark is pure Foley, effusive and opinionated, often coming across as one part philosophical guru, but one with biomechanics expertise who also is a part-time cheerleader for those he works with. In the past, he has lobbed verbal volleys at pundits such as Brandel Chamblee and Johnny Miller, who both questioned the path Woods was pursuing in working with Foley. He’s a fascinating mix of protector and pragmatist, a swing coach who lauds his players on one hand, but can be bitingly critical and honest on the other. He says if there’s one thing he’s been most successful at while working with Woods is that he has kept him healthy. Woods, whose left knee has been troublesome since he was a teenager, struggled with it in recent years. “We don’t want to over-tinker or go down the wrong road,” says Foley. “Change without knowledge is a dangerous thing. And these are different days for Tiger. The kids are a priority and he’s 37 with four knee surgeries.” What has Foley learned from working with Woods? Many thought Woods’ demands for privacy wouldn’t sync with Foley’s outgoing and outspoken nature. The swing coach admits that finding equilibrium with the golfer has been key. “I’ve learned how I need to be and I’ve learned when he wants to ask questions and when he wants me out of the way,” Foley says. “I’ve helped him swing efficiently that’s created power without hurting his body and that his understanding of what he needs to do is strong.” Foley will always be linked to Woods for as long as he remains his swing coach. But before he worked with Woods, he had a solid stable of golfers, most of whom continue to use him. It isn’t unusual to see a couple of Foley’s students – which includes Mahan and rising Korean star Seung-Yul Noh – flirting with the top of leaderboards, but it is Rose who has emerged as a potential rival to Woods and Rory McIlroy. Before speaking with me, Foley has spent the day working with Rose, who had just come off a T8 finish at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. “He said he wasn’t quite swinging well,” Foley says, chuckling. “Which shows where he’s at when he finishes in the top 10 and didn’t feel right.” A tweak is all Rose needed, Foley says. “The best I’ve ever seen him hit it was last year at Memorial,” Foley says. “All the weeks where [Foley’s students] hit it really well I take video and then download them on the V1 and draw lines and send them to them. It gives us a reference.” The goal, he says, is to provide his protégés with relevant information that allows them to have a sense of their swings. To some who have heard Foley talk, dropping in biomechanical terms and discussing Trackman data like it was a baseball box score, it might seem improbable that anyone but those fully immersed in spin rates and attack angles could comprehend what’s he’s on about. But his students say Foley has a way of connecting with them even if they don’t speak Trackman. The point with Rose, as is the case with Woods, is for the students to have ownership over how they hit the golf ball. Which brings it right back to Tiger, who initially struggled while making the switch to working with Foley. Critics questioned the strategy of overhauling Woods’ swing yet again, and whether the endless tinkering could possibly hope to match the peaks of when the golfer worked with Butch Harmon at the start of this career. Foley says the key isn’t the coach but the golfer. The naysayers were questioning a player who may well turn out to be the best to play the game. “At some point people will realize it wasn’t the Butch Harmon swing or the Hank Haney swing, or the Sean swing,” he says. “It was Tiger the whole time.”


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