I use the word “revisit” but that’s mostly in reference to myself as I have yet to meet someone in California who actually “visited” Hank Haney’s tell-all about coaching Tiger Woods when it was released prior to the 2012 Masters.
So, for almost all of you, the passages I’m about to quote from the closing chapter of “The Big Miss” will be entirely new. For what I remember reading at the time, that chapter, titled “Adding It Up,” didn’t get any play in the press coverage of the book, which focused almost exclusively on injuries Tiger incurred while being fixated for a time on being a Navy SEAL and training toward that end.
That was the easy tabloid takeaway at the time from a book that actually gave quite a bit of insight into Tiger and his game, enough that you never watch him the same way again after reading it.
The title ends up having multiple meanings and applications in the book, but its literal meaning is “the big miss” the pros fear off the tee. In Tiger’s case, that’s a big duck hook that comes out under pressure and can ruin runs at titles, and, in the bigger picture Tiger is always measured in, majors.
Haney contends in the book that Woods has more or less become scared of his driver and controlling his otherworldly swing speed, thus the club he rode to greatness and domination becoming his nemesis as this point in his career.
That’s why Haney concludes that if Tiger is to break Jack’s record of 18 majors, he’ll have to do it via British Opens, where the courses are hard and fast and more conducive to iron play off the tee.
Eight majors have passed for Tiger since the book was published and so far the predictions in “The Big Miss” are 8-0. I thought about this after the Farmers, when Haney and Tiger got into a media tiff about how much his emphasis on weight training has hampered his swing.
Haney certainly seems to have plenty of appetite left for his issues with Tiger, who now has not won a major since his epic U.S. Open win at Torrey in 2008, leaving him stuck on 14 majors, five short of passing Jack.
As we all recall, Tiger bombed out of the Farmers this year, not even making it to Sunday on a week that many predicted would be just another victory lap at Torrey Pines for Tiger.
That wasn’t the way anyone expected Tiger to start up a new year that followed five wins and another Player of the Year honor in 2013. Momentum seemed to be building again for him and many looked at the Tiger-friendly majors line up and had already predicted, of all things, multiple major victories for him in 2014.
You haven’t heard much from those people since Torrey, but we have heard from Haney, whose book I recently tracked down and partially re-read. Since the Jack vs. Tiger debate is always just bubbling below the surface in golf when it’s not at a full boil, I thought I’d go back and quote a few portions of the book and see how it scores two years out.
I was going to wait to do this prior to the Masters, but Tiger and Hank’s media squabble prompted me to move it up.
So here’s some of what you missed in “The Big Miss” when you missed it the first time.
“The most asked question about Tiger is whether he’ll break Jack’s record for major championships. … Certainly there are questions of health, physique and technique to consider, but to me the most important issue is desire.”
Here’s where Haney picks up his familiar theme of questioning Tiger’s practice habits and it echoes those of people who wondered how much Tiger prepped for Torrey.
“I’ve never known a player who lost his hunger for practice to regain that same level of hunger. Nick Faldo, who in his prime was one of the most diligent and intense workers the game has ever known, said that after he won the 1996 Masters, he lost the drive to practice. … That drop-off marked the end of his career as a champion.”
But then Haney’s tone changes and he seems to forecast Tiger being an exception.
“If Tiger can keep his work ethic strong, he’ll sort out his golf swing. Whatever theory he’s using, he’ll find a way – either in concert with Sean Foley or another teacher or by finding his own accommodation of their theories.”
“However, I don’t think simply solidifying his technique alone will fix his problem with the driver. There is a mental issue there that needs to be addressed, and the odds are against it ever being completely resolved.”
And here’s what mean when I talk about this book changing how you watch Tiger. Remember the British Open last year when Tiger couldn’t keep up with co-leader Lee Westwood on Saturday? Westwood was hitting driver and blowing it by him, while Tiger was settling for 3-wood/5-wood/irons and finding traps and losing ground. According to an SB Nation column from the tourney, Woods didn’t hit his first driver until the 39th hole of the tourney. You can look up the column by Emily Kay that basically reads like it came right out of Haney’s book.
Which brings us to Haney’s British Open theory.
“(The driver issue is) a weakness that tells the most in majors. It’s why, unless he finds some kind of late-career fix with the driver, Tiger’s best chances in majors will come on courses with firm, fast-running fairways that will allow him to him irons off the tee. Of the four majors, the British Open best fits this profile.”
After a strong start, Tiger finished tied for sixth, five shots behind winner Phil Mickelson. His week at Muirfield played into Tiger’s new trend of fading on the weekends of majors.
And it’s largely due to putting. Tiger seems to lose his touch and feel for the greens, which he was already struggling with when Haney wrote his book.
Here’s Hank on Tiger’s putting:
“I’m not sure what to make of Tiger’s putting problems. Technically, he still looks good over the ball and has a textbook stroke. But putting is undone by the smallest and most mysterious of errors, and players rarely improve their putting after their mid-30s. … His putting, both his ability to lag long ones close and his solidness in holing from within six feet, was the foundation of Tiger’s ability to close out victories when he had the lead.”
And save for a few flurries of vintage Tiger putting in 2013, he largely didn’t look like the player we’ve known.
And if you can’t putt in the clutch, you can’t close, which is what leads Haney to doing a little math about how many majors Tiger will likely need to contend in to get five major victories. And this was Hank’s math going into 2012.
“He’s not quite the same closer kind of closer, or not quite as fortunate as he’s been, (so) it could take 15 or more such opportunities. It seems like a tall order for the Tiger who enters 2012.”
And now for the Tiger who enters 2014 staring at basically the same equation, but now at age 38.
Hank closes by playing into an argument Johnny Miller trumpets of how intense the media scrutiny will become if/once Tiger moves off 14 and gets his majors train moving again. And this is also where Haney sees the biggest difference from Nicklaus.
“A final factor to consider it that, whereas Jack Nicklaus’s final few majors were won in a historical vacuum and were essentially padding to his record, Tiger will face ever mounting pressure and scrutiny the closer he gets to No. 19. Assuming the erosions of age, for Tiger, the soon he can get to 18, the better.”
Haney then predicts Tiger needed a major in 2012 to put a restrictor plate on the pressure he’ll feel to go faster to catch Jack as the battle with age and time sets in. Well, we know how that turned out.
Haney closes with a hopeful note on never counting out Tiger’s genius, but then gets back to a central theme of how Tiger’s personal turmoil caused him to lose his mental edge – and caused his biggest miss, a shot at golf history.
“Unlike the Tiger who in his 20s and early 30s was virtually indomitable, today’s Tiger has discovered that in life real disaster lurks. … That realization creates doubt, and in competitive golf doubt is a killer.
“The big miss found its way into his life. If it’s ingrained, primed to emerge at moments of crisis, his march toward golf history is over.”
So there you have it. You can question Hank Haney’s motivations, and especially his ethics, for writing the book, but his observations to date are spot on.
Like I said, I found the book an insightful read, though a bit of a flat one, and it adds perspective to understanding of the greatest sports chase/storyline of our lifetimes and the debate that will never die until Tiger either breaks Jack’s record or hangs up his clubs.
We’ve got a lot of years left on this debate, but the score for “The Big Miss” going into year three post-publish is that it hasn’t missed yet.