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Don't chide Foley for Tiger's woes

Bob Harig
August 26, 2014
Woods parts company with Foley

The sun came up on Monday morning, Sean Foley well aware of the impending reverberations to hit the golf world, his tenure as Tiger Woods' swing coach having been brought to an end with a news release that was posted on the golfer's website.

If Foley was despondent or shocked or upset or even solemn, he certainly did not let on during a phone interview in which he mostly thanked Woods for the opportunity and acknowledged that sometimes a parting such as this is inevitable.

"We both sensed it," Foley said. "I know the world won't want to believe that two people can go in different directions without being upset with each other. It was a wonderful opportunity. I'm very grateful. This is not a sad day."

Foley knew what he signed up for back in 2010 when Woods called him on the Saturday night of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, his struggles on a Firestone Country Club course he otherwise has owned a clue that his game was a mess at the same time he was trying to put his personal life back together.

Woods would need more than a year to win again, but he captured nine worldwide titles under Foley's guidance, including five in 2013, a player-of-the-year season in which he had the second-best scoring average, the best all-around ranking, as well as the season money title.

Woods has missed four majors under Foley due to injury © Getty Images
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But Woods didn't add to his 14 major titles under Foley, posting four top-10s in 12 attempts while also missing four majors due to injury.

And while Foley has become fodder for a multitude of critics as Woods failed to win one of the four biggest tournaments and his struggles with the driver continued, he should not be blamed.

While the golf swing experts can pick apart the various nuances of the swing and try to decipher what Woods is doing right or wrong amid Foley's influence, the fact is that there is too much that is unknown.

Woods' former teacher, Hank Haney, was suggesting as long as four and five years ago that the golfer was not putting in the work necessary to succeed. Practice sessions were less, commitment not the same. That's one man's opinion, but if that is the case, then how is it Foley's - or any teacher's - fault?

And then there is what happens behind the scenes. Woods' practice sessions aside from tournament play are not open to the public to be poked and prodded. While Foley might have offered advice, who said Woods always took it? He is his own man, with his own thoughts, and many players use bits and pieces of what they are offered.

A coach can only do so much. He can't give advice between the ropes. He can't necessarily control how much a player practices or even works on his short game. It is an individual sport, and the blame almost fully rests with the guy hitting the shots.

It is true that Woods' inability to figure out the driver and how to get it in play consistently has been a vexing problem. And yet, how much better was it five years ago when Woods won seven times worldwide?

In 2009, Woods ranked 86th in driving accuracy, hitting just over 64 percent of the fairways. Last year, he was 69th although his percentage was just 62.5 percent.

That didn't stop the criticism, the calls for Foley's dismissal. It was a constant source of conjecture in the golf media and an easy target. Was Woods struggling because of his back problems or were the back problems in some way caused by Foley's teachings?

You might get a dozen different answers to those questions.

"It's comical the power some people have without doing any sort of homework," said Hunter Mahan, a Foley student who won the Barclays on Sunday, his sixth PGA Tour title. "It frustrates me and kind of angers me a little bit. That's the world we live in. Foley is better for it because he can handle a guy like Tiger - a lot comes with that and I think he's done a pretty good job of containing himself and not letting it bother him. He just does his job every day and does it better than anyone."

"I'm mature enough to know that's how things go. And sometimes coaches get fired because players are being lazy and sometimes coaches get fired because they're not doing a good job. It just depends"
Sean Foley
To illustrate how the issue has hovered: Mahan was asked about Foley and Woods' relationship last Thursday. He wasn't aware of the breakup until everyone else found out Monday, Foley not wanting his clients to have to deal with the inevitable questions during a tournament.

Earlier this year in an interview with ESPN, Foley was asked how he might react if Woods told him he wanted to go in a different direction.

"If [that happened], ultimately it's a business, so it's fine," Foley said. "I'm mature enough to know that's how things go. And sometimes coaches get fired because players are being lazy and sometimes coaches get fired because they're not doing a good job. It just depends."

Woods said all the right things in the announcement Monday, praising Foley for his work and calling him "one of the outstanding coaches today." When he split from Butch Harmon in 2002 and Hank Haney in 2010 - coaches under whom he had considerable success - there were no parting words of praise.

Although Woods remains friendly with Harmon, their separation was complicated, and was due in part to Woods' desire to find a golf swing that protected his left knee - the one that still required reconstructive surgery in 2008. That split was far more subtle.

Haney actually jumped before he was pushed, sensing an imminent parting. The two were not jelling in 2010 when Woods returned from his personal issues, and following the third event at the Players Championship, Haney elected to call it quits. Woods went a few months without a teacher before hiring Foley.

For now, Woods is "completely focused on making sure he gets healthy," said his agent, Mark Steinberg.

Whether Woods hires someone new or goes solo will be fascinating to watch. One thing he won't be doing is calling Harmon, who turns 71 on Thursday. Harmon works with the likes of Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker, has a golf school in Las Vegas and does commentary for Sky Sports in the UK.

He is plenty busy and Harmon has repeatedly said he is not interested in a reunion. And given the various reasons for their initial breakup, Woods is looking ahead, not backward.

None of it matters unless Woods can swing fully and without pain. He said on the day he missed the cut at the PGA Championship two weeks ago that he had trouble making a backswing. No teacher can fix that.

Perhaps it is good for Woods to forge ahead on his own by trying to rediscover his natural swing, ridding himself of all the technical thoughts that may or may not have cluttered his mind in recent years. He's got some time now to figure it out, alone.

This article originally appeared on ESPN.com

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