Shortly after Sean Foley succeeded Hank Haney as Tiger Woods' swing coach in August 2010, the 39-year-old Toronto native told me he would bet his house on Tiger breaking Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships.
"I want to simplify Tiger's swing," he said. "And get rid of all the unnecessary pieces and get to the causes instead of trying to fix effects." Nothing made sense to Foley about Tiger's Haney-built swing. Foley was going to be the architect of the 14-time major champion's new swing, fulfilling a personal goal of working with arguably the greatest to play the game.
Foley was the smartest kid on the driving range: a hyperarticulate mix of old-school hip-hop, Malcolm X, philosophy, biomechanics and swing theory history.
Now his grand experiment to revive Tiger's fortunes in the majors is over. Tiger's announcement on his website that he had parted ways with Foley was not a surprise, as Tiger was both unhealthy and lost in his golf swing.
Under Foley's tutelage, Tiger won eight PGA Tour events, but no majors. In 11 majors with Foley, Tiger had just three top-10s.
With prized students such as Hunter Mahan and Justin Rose, Foley will comfortably move on with his career. But whom will Tiger hire next to shepherd his game back to the elite level?
This person will require not just a proven track record of helping current elite players, but also a willingness to enter into Tiger's orbit of intense scrutiny and celebrity.
Here are six teachers with the resumes and heart to inhabit Tiger's complicated world.
Harmon, who was Tiger's teacher from 1993 to 2002, could help Tiger accomplish some of the simplifying that Foley envisioned for his swing. But Harmon has said he's not interested in a reunion and that Tiger wouldn't ask for one. Harmon has had recent success with Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker. Harmon's methods work and Tiger knows it. Still, it's hard to imagine them ever getting back together.
Anderson is a low-key guy who recently lost his biggest client, Brandt Snedeker, to Harmon. Anderson is a regular presence on the PGA Tour and might be the kind of understated personality Tiger could use at this point in his career. And Anderson's home base in privately owned Sea Island, Georgia, could serve as a retreat for the intensely private Tiger to practice and spend time with his two children.
The 50-year-old New Zealand native works with Charles Howell III, Aaron Baddeley and previously helped Mike Weir. Baddeley was lost for a few years after trying the stack and tilt method, but under Waite's tutelage he is showing some of the form that took him to three tour wins. As an accomplished former PGA Tour player who won the Kemper Open in 1993, Waite brings a tournament perspective to his teaching that could help Tiger meld practice with competition.
Foley was a hot commodity when Tiger hired him in 2010 and the media created much of the buzz surrounding him. Cook, 69, is the latest media darling, featured in August's Golf Digest alongside students Luke Donald, Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley. A seasoned pro who helped Tom Kite, Payne Stewart and Corey Pavin to major championships, Cook could provide a no-nonsense presence for Tiger, who could use a stern, grandfatherly type to set him straight when he loses focus with his swing and fitness goals.
The Texan - who has worked with a number of tour players, including Justin Leonard, Gary Woodland, Ryan Palmer, Harrison Frazar and Colt Knost - learned from another famous Texas teacher, Harvey Penick, that less is more. Smith's straightforward, simple approach might not be geeky enough for Tiger, but simplicity is just what the 79-time tour winner needs at this point. For better or worse, Smith would be a significant departure from the data-driven Foley. Palmer recently said that he and Smith don't use TrackMan or video in their lessons.
The 41-year-old, four-time tour winner is a Golf Channel analyst. He's not widely considered to be a swing guru, but he knows the history of Tiger's swing as a former Stanford team-mate and close friend through the years. Begay could help Tiger sort through some of his swing thoughts to settle on an approach that helps him consistently compete. Begay could perform this job best as Tiger's caddie.
Tiger is an obsessive student of the golf swing. After all the injuries, he knows better than anyone what his body will allow him to do in his swing. Perhaps he'll act as his own coach and on occasion get an extra set of eyes to look at his swing and analyse his video.