BETHESDA, Md.— Tiger Woods isn’t at this week’s U.S. Open, but I briefly talked on the phone with his former coach Hank Haney about Tiger, the Open and his own new equipment deal. Oh, yeah — I also surprised Hank with a quiz of fun stuff he should know…
What are your thoughts on the eve of the U.S. Open?
You go down the world rankings, you can make a case that anyone inside the top 75 has a chance to win the Open. The winner may even come from someone further out than that. That’s a much different look than we’ve had in the past. When I was helping Tiger for six years and we went to the majors, we really thought there were 10 or 12 players who had a good shot. Now it’s 75 players who have a good shot. The number is huge and that’s a big difference for golf.
Is that good in the long run?
Well, it’s nice to develop other players and other names. If you’re not going to have a dominant player, the next best thing is having more stars, if you will, and more recognizable names. In the long run, sports with a dominant superstar or two who can compete against each other usually flourish the most. We may get there but right now, we’re in a place where we’re waiting to see who they’re going to be.
Tiger is missing from the U.S. Open. How disappointing is it to see a great athlete have his career slowed by injury? Tiger is starting to remind me of Mickey Mantle, a guy with all the talent in the world whose career was ultimately limited by physical problems.
Tiger has already been limited. People haven’t wanted to admit that or realized that. The first three years I helped Tiger, he practiced a lot more than he did the last three years. His knee was bothering him more and more, he couldn’t practice as much. Then he had the knee surgery. Before the knee surgery, he didn’t play for a few months, then he had the surgery after he won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, so he was off another eight months. Then he had another issue, so he was off again for six months. Now he’s off again for three or four months or however long this lasts. He hasn’t played a lot of golf in the last three years. And that’s only the golf you know about on the Tour. You’re not seeing how little he practices and plays at home compared to what he used to do. It was nothing for him to play 54 holes in a day. Now, I’m positive he doesn’t do anything close to that. You see him at a tournament, you don’t see him hitting balls after a round like he used to. It’s even become more common for him to play just nine-hole practice rounds.
He always joked about “Ranger Rick,” someone who couldn’t take his game from the range to the course but he is kind of a “Ranger Rick” in that, like Ben Hogan, he loves to hit balls and work on stuff. You take that away from him, that’s part of what made him so great.
It’s a big part of what made him so great. He’s not practicing like he used to, he hasn’t for quite some time because he can’t.
Tiger has two hurdles to clear, doesn’t he? First he has to get healthy, then once he’s healthy, he has to put in the time to get his game back to where he wants it.
Right. Everybody’s going, “When’s he going to play again?” Tiger has to be able to prepare before he can play. It’s when is he going to be able to prepare again and when is he going to be able to prepare again as much as he used to prepare. That’s the question people don’t seem to be asking.
You’ve got a new equipment deal with TaylorMade. How did that come about?
My relationship with Nike had come to an end and I was looking for someone who was interested in the things I’m involved in — my junior academy in Hilton Head and my new junior academy at Mission Hills in China. TaylorMade is a leader in the industry. I like that they’re an innovative company. I love their equipment and their CEO Mark King — I like his ideas and his initiatives to grow the game. It’s a great fit for me.
I remember when only players got equipment deals. Now teachers have them. Why don’t golf writers have equipment deals?
That’s a good question. I’ll put in a good word for you.
Are those new white drivers better just because they’re white?
It’s the adjustability of those white R11 drivers that is the best feature. Any golfer can benefit from an adjustable driver that he or she can fine-tune to their own game. Research says the white heads are easier to line up. They’re easily distinguishable, that’s for sure, and you see a lot of them. I think it looks cool.
I thought the color of the head was the only reason to buy a driver. You mean there’s more to it than that?
Yeah, there’s more to it.
Enough small talk. I’ve got a quiz for you. It’s all stuff you should know.
On the old Green Acres TV sitcom, what was the name of the annoying con man played by Pat Buttram, who actually sold the run-down farm to Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor?
The only one I know from that show is Mr. Haney.
Correct! What hardware store is America’s fourth-biggest hardware chain?
No, it’s Hardware Hank.
Oh. So these are all Hank answers, huh?
What NBA player set a record for the most three-point shots in a game without a miss against the Miami Heat in 1989? He went six-for-six in that game, a mark that was later broken.
I have no idea.
I’m not kidding. You can look it up.
Oh, my gosh!
Who played the role of Maurice in the 2006 movie Grilled, about two competing sales guys?
Ray Romano. You ever heard of him?
OK, then I know the answer to one of the next questions.
You only think you do. What noted golf instructor was named Gulf Coast PGA Teacher of the Year in 1984.
Wow, 1984? I don’t know. That might have been me.
The answer is, indeed, Hank Haney. I can’t believe you didn’t get that right away. I guess you’ve won too many awards to keep track of them all. You’ve won teacher of the year by everybody in the world, including the Italian Golf Federation.
I didn’t know that.
I guess they didn’t fly you to Italy for a free dinner.
No. I would’ve gone, too.
What major university was originally known as Henry Kendall College and was located in Muskogee, Okla.?
Your alma mater, that’s right.
I actually knew that one.
What do these people have in common: Olympic diver Christina Loukas, WWE wrestler Colt Cabana, rock musician Dean Bernadini of Chevelle and Pro Football Weekly publisher Hub Arkush?
I never taught them golf, so they don’t have that in common.
Like you, they are all alumni of Deerfield (Ill.) High School.
Oh my gosh. You’ve done some incredible research.
I can’t believe how little you know about your life!
Who’s the only golf instructor inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame?
The only golf instructor? John Jacobs?
Jacobs was known as a commissioner of the European Tour, too, but if you count him as an instructor, then there are two. Who’s the other one? He’s also from Texas.
Oh, Harvey Penick. There should be some other ones in, though. Especially Bob Toski.
What golfer, born in Goldsboro, N.C., was the only player to win the Lawrence Batley Invitational, the Australian Masters and the Argentine Open?
I was on the bag for the Lawrence Batley. I caddied for Mark O’Meara that week when he won.
You are correct. It’s O’Meara. When Tiger Woods won his last major in 2008, what year was it on the Chinese calendar? You know how they’re named after animals, like the Year of the… what?
Nope. Year of the Rat. Good guess, though. That was the last question.
That was good. I liked it.