'Big Miss' says as much about Hank Haney as it does about Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods, Hank Haney
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
Silverman believes Haney's book reveals as much about Haney as Woods.

OK, so now Hank Haney's confirmed the game's worst kept secret: Tiger is tone-deaf to the human symphony. He's cheap, arrogant, reckless, narcissistic, selfish, immature, icy, defensive, entitled, walled-in, imperious, and a sore loser -- oh, the hits just keep on coming.

So, now, through Haney, we know -- for sure -- Tiger didn't just play Navy SEALS video games, he played them with the SEALS for real, likely damaging an already delicate knee and getting shot by a rubber bullet, leaving a bruise the size of a baseball, in the process.

We know his golf cart could zip around Isleworth, avoiding hydrants even at a peppy 28 mph, twice the usual; clearly, he could drive that cart better than either his SUV or his golf ball. We know -- from Haney's pen -- that Tiger doesn't much like Phil. And didn't much like sex-addiction therapy either.

Plowing through "The Big Miss" makes me, for one, thankful that I don't spend 100 days a year with my golf instructor, fabulous guy that he is, because you never know what somebody, even somebody you trust, is willing to say about you once they've had enough. For, in the end, what's so remarkable about the Haney testament isn't just the testimony itself but that the Pandora's Box of Tiger's complex life and personality has finally been pried open by someone within Tiger's orbit who isn't a client of Gloria Allred. Haney's accomplished the unthinkable: he's spit out the gag, the first worm from the inner circle to turn.

No great analysis is needed to figure out why; whether intended or not, Haney's motivation is evident in his lines and between them, especially in the book's final chapter, and we'll get to that shortly. But what about the golf? Hasn't Haney said all along that this is a book about golf?

Well, it is. The great majority, in fact, delves into the detail of what it's like to adjust the swing -- and experience the cold shoulder -- of a restless soul so dedicated to the pursuit of perfection. That makes the story as much Haney's as Tiger's, certainly, and Haney takes us where we've never been: eavesdropping on the practice tee, camping out in the living room and fastening seatbelts on Tiger's jet. Haney scrupulously defends his approach with Woods, and he carefully analyzes the major championships under his watch.

Each man brought to the relationship bits and pieces of what the other needed, though the concept of relationship is an odd duck here, best illustrated by the photo of Tiger and Haney on the back cover; there's an uncrossable canyon of air between them. Inconceivable as his accomplishments were into 2004, Tiger was still dissatisfied -- his ultimate Achilles heel -- especially with his wayward driver, and there was something about the quiet shadow presence Haney displayed when working with Tiger's pal Mark O'Meara that Tiger was drawn to, particularly after the charismatic Butch Harmon. For Haney, Woods was the megawatt showroom to display his theory -- less flexible than Harmon's -- of the swing plane; if he could elevate Tiger's game, he and his method would be hotter than a ticket to the Masters. Heck, he might even get his own show one day on the Golf Channel.

But Tiger's no easy pupil. He's stubborn. He has his own ideas, and he likes to experiment. On the other hand, he craves structure -- Haney's use of the of the Nine Shots drill is fascinating -- and was willing to go through periods of discomfort to fix a flaw. "What I came to realize," Haney writes, "was that Tiger had to be judged in the context of what he was trying to accomplish, which was to be not just the best golfer in the world, but the best golfer he could be… He was after something unique -- something others couldn't realistically aspire to -- and part of the price was having some missing pieces as a person."

Emotionally, Haney gave, but Tiger couldn't. He was stingy with any shows of appreciation for Haney's efforts, and when he didn't play well, was quick to lay it off on the instruction. Haney reminds us of that more than once. Still, they made progress. Despite the revelation that neither was ever comfortable when Tiger pulled the driver, Haney helped Tiger limit the damage -- the big miss of the title -- by working to eliminate the running left hook and ease the pressure on his left knee. And what he did with Tiger's chipping was genius.

Tiger could always pull off the miraculous shot around the green that he had to devote all of his attention to, but he had a knack of sloughing off the simple ones. Haney saw that. Realizing Tiger had no tolerance for a lecture, he related a story about a billiards champion who'd taught him there were no easy shots, just shots. Tiger absorbed the moral; his chipping improved.

Then there's this observation on Tiger's legendary focus; it's not so focused. "Tiger's makeup can dig that deep only so often." He conserves his toughness for when he needs it; hence, more mistakes on Thursday than Sunday, more early in a round than late, and as Tiger's game began showing signs of mortality in 2009, his inhuman work habits accompanied it; disheartened by his inability to translate good practice sessions into stellar rounds, Woods practiced less often and less intensely. His game suffered even more.

Then, at the end of the year, everything spiraled out of control for perhaps the biggest control freak in all of sports. Haney showed support, but Tiger remained withdrawn and distant. Haney held on through the 2010 Players, then ended things -- by his choice, he loudly emphasizes -- via text message, but only after first calling Jim Gray at The Golf Channel because Haney, under contract with the station, believed he had an obligation to tell them first. When Gray agreed to hold the scoop for a few hours, Haney hit the send button.

That he did it that way says a lot about self-service, as does the last chapter of "The Big Miss." Haney calls it "Adding It Up." It's a pro-active attempt at self-defense; he doesn't like the boo-birds anymore than his former boss did. He wants to make it clear that he did right by Tiger, and builds his case on stats. Consistently asserting how fine his precursor and successor are, he carefully chips away at their pedestals. He does make a case, but not entirely the one he's trying to.

Years ago, the great Roger Kahn of "Boys of Summer" fame wrote a vicious book about Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe, only revealing at the end that shortly after Monroe's suicide, a magazine offered him a small fortune to come back with a candid conversation with DiMag about her. DiMaggio demurred. Kahn's book reeked of getting even.

So does "The Big Miss." Maybe Woods and Haney were a better fit than anyone realized.

A regular contributor to SI Golf+, Jeff Silverman is currently writing the new championship history for Merion Golf Club.

 

Forecast
PGA Tour News
Trips
Travel & Courses
Lessons
Tips & Videos
The Shop
Equipment News & Reviews