If there was an element of surprise to the announcement Monday that Tiger Woods and Sean Foley had ended their professional relationship – that’s a Tiger call, not a Foley call – it’s how unsurprising the news felt.
It seemed inevitable, at least from the outside looking in.
Among the things we’ve learned about Woods through the years is that he changes coaches. Butch Harmon came and went. Then Hank Haney came and went. Now it’s Sean Foley’s turn to step aside.
Before anyone casts Foley aside as a failed experiment in Tiger’s career, it’s worth remembering that Woods won eight events with Foley as his coach. That’s just less than 10 percent of Woods’ 79 career PGA Tour victories but Foley only had Tiger for two full seasons. Woods played 35 events in 2012-13 when he won eight times but, otherwise, he spent more time coping with injuries than playing tournament golf.
The Tiger news dropped less than 24 hours after Hunter Mahan, who made a spirited defense of Foley last week, won the Barclays. Mahan is the 19th-ranked player in the world while Justin Rose, another long-time Foley associate, is No. 5.
Foley may have his own way of doing things – he loves TrackMan and its numbers – but it works for many players. Woods was the PGA Tour’s player of the year in 2013 so something was working, at least for a time.
Recently, though, nothing has worked for Woods, neither his swing or his back.
The rap on Foley’s tenure is Woods’ failure to win a major championship – they went 0-for-13 together. It’s a fair criticism because Woods is built to win majors. He’s been stuck on 14 for six years now and, injuries aside, a rich window of opportunity has passed with no major championship trophies to show for it.
Because he’s Tiger and because of all he’s done, he remains the most fascinating personality in the game. His swing, especially recently, has become a subject of eternal debate. Golf Channel analysts Brandel Chamblee and Frank Nobilo locked into a sharp debate during the PGA Championship about whether Tiger’s on-course difficulties have been caused more by his swing or by his continuing back issues.
Chamblee blames the swing. Nobilo blames the back. Somewhere in the middle the answer probably lies.
The question now is what – or who – happens next.