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Who'll be Tiger Woods's next teacher? Sean Foley seems like a great fit

Sean Foley
David Walberg/SI
In addition to their shared passion for golf, Sean Foley and Tiger Woods have much in common.

The blogosphere is a weird place, particularly if your name becomes associated with the words "Tiger Woods." (Google gives you 878,000 results when you pair "Rachel Uchitel" with "Tiger Woods.") Ever since the golf teacher Sean Foley walked around with Woods during a practice round at the Players this month, there's been a constant e-hum that Foley, a Canadian who lives in Florida, might succeed Hank Haney as Woods's instructor. Never mind that Foley walked with Woods that day because Tiger was playing with Sean O'Hair and Hunter Mahan, both of whom study golf (and life) with Foley.

Regarding a successor to Haney, Woods said last week, "I have not made any decisions on what my next step will be." Foley has never talked to Woods about coaching him. "If he calls me, he calls me," Foley says. "If he doesn't, it doesn't really matter."

He knows that hysteria these days is only a mouse click away. Haney got himself all churned up by the hum, but Foley's trying not to pay attention. Easier said than done. His kid brother called him after reading a blogger who claimed that Foley was bipolar. "That explains a lot," Kevin Foley told his bro.

As it happens, Sean Foley is not bipolar, although he does list Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela among his favorite books. He also likes Ben Hogan's Five Lessons, but mostly for the pictures. Foley, like Hogan, is fascinated by leg action, with a particular fetish for ball flight. Ball flight, he'll tell you, is the holy grail. Anyway, what golf teacher (aside from Haney) would not want to be Tiger's swing coach? It's easy to make a case for Foley. For starters, they're contemporaries. (Foley is 35, and Woods is 34.) They're both Nike guys. They're both fitness buffs. Foley has read widely on Eastern religions, and Woods is an avowed Buddhist. Foley is a good ­golfer. (In a recent game he hit driver in play 14 times and hit 18 greens in regulation.) Foley is local. (He and his wife, Kate, and two-year-old son — the mighty Quinn! — live in Windermere, near the gates of Isleworth.) Tiger is a swing geek, and Foley has spent days making Belichick-like frame-by-frame studies of the great swings (Moe Norman, Mickey Wright, Woods circa 2000). Foley is as interested in physiology as he is the swing, and Woods, it would seem, has physiological issues. But maybe the best thing Foley has going for him is that his greatest interest is the mind of man. Tiger's must be a minefield right about now.

David Leadbetter took the who-should-coach-Tiger chatter to a new level by recently nominating Foley for the job in a story in The New York Times. When Foley read that piece (somebody sent it to him), he found it flattering and a little strange. After all, when Foley was a teenager in suburban Toronto, he went to the Canadian Open, watched Leadbetter and Nick Faldo on the driving range and said to himself, "I want to be that guy." He didn't mean the No. 1 player in the world, but that player's teacher.

If it happens, if Foley and Tiger become teacher and student, Faldo could have at them, from the air-conditioned comfort of the CBS broadcast tower. Johnny Miller had a field day with Woods and Haney. Borrowed from pro football, hyper­analysis has become the dessert course of the modern, mechanized, televised dinnertime game. Along the way the golf instructor, who used to be as anonymous as the baseball hitting coach, has had a big upgrade and is now (by reputation) as important to the golfer as the trainer is to the racehorse. All the player has to do is execute shots. So easy.

If Foley — who teaches at Orange County National, a massive public facility in Orlando that has one of the world's largest ranges — works with Woods, he says he'd start with the golfer's medical charts. "I'd have to understand what's going on with his left leg, with his knee and his Achilles," Foley said the other day.

He was home, working with young Canadian amateurs, as he often does. Mahan and O'Hair were playing at the Byron Nelson, outside Dallas. Another student, Justin Rose, was competing in the European tour's PGA Championship. Foley's first prominent student, Stephen Ames, was taking the week off.

"Tiger looks like he's swinging at the ball with just his arms, and maybe that's a function of injuries," Foley says. "You might have to find a way to take pressure off." That's what Foley did with Ames. He took pressure off the golfer's aching lower back.

In August 2006 Ames, who lives in Canada, brought an international group of junior golfers together for a competition at the Granite Club outside Toronto called the Stephen Ames Cup. Ames watched Foley work with the kids. "I saw what he was doing for them," Ames said recently, "and I was impressed." Even though Ames had won the Players that year by six shots, he was often in pain and he was practically living on his chiropractor's table. In November 2006, Ames and Foley spent three days together at Orange County National.

"He was making good swings, but he was manipulating his lower spine to do it," Foley says. "I said, 'This could be so much easier than you're making it.' " Ames, who won the Tour stop at Disney World in 2007 and again last year, hasn't had lower-back issues since that first session at Orange County National. Foley moved Ames closer to the ball and taught him a simpler, rounder swing.

Foley had wanted that chance, the chance to work with an elite player, for a long time, and when he got it, he seized the day. One of his credos is from Henry David Thoreau: "I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. . . . I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life." For Foley, all you have to do is replace woods with practice tee.

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