Hank Haney, The Big Miss; My Years Coaching Tiger Woods (New York: Crown Archetype, 2012), 262pp.
Hank Haney was Tiger Woods's swing coach for six years (2004–2010). Along with Tiger's agent Mark Steinberg and caddie Steve Williams, he was one of the three people closest to the legendary golfer, although one of the sad truths in his memoir is that nobody was close to Woods. As his coach, Haney stayed at Woods's home about thirty days every year, and was with him about 110 days a year at tournaments. He was present at his wedding, took skiing trips with the family, and played 150 practice rounds of golf with Wood. So this is an insider account about "the human being who's fallen farther faster than anyone else in history."
Life around Tiger Woods was always awkward for everyone, including his former wife Elin. No one was spared "the treatment." "There were never any substantive life conversations between us," says Haney. Woods, an only child, was always a loner, emotionally detached, even with his good friend Mark O'Meara. He played by his own set of rules, was self-centered, a "terrible tipper," and was always all business and no small talk. So what is the real Tiger Woods like? Haney says that's "the least satisfactorily answered sports question of the last twenty years" because even those closest to him don't know.
Golf nuts will love reading about the technicalities of the game, and about a coach instructing the greatest golfer ever on how to improve — like the "Nine Shots" drill, based upon the nine ways a golf shot could be sculpted according to three curves (left, center, right) and three trajectories (low, medium, high). Tiger would hit all nine shots with every club. For me the more interesting story was Tiger the person rather than the player. Why the catastrophic meltdown? Haney takes his share of responsibility: "I was one of his enablers… I never challenged Tiger to become a better human being." His best explanation makes at least some sense, that to be successful at that level requires an absolute obsession that ignores everyone and everything else in your life. In this sense his book reminded me of Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, and the wise crack of a Stanford friend that "behind every great man lies a trail of human wreckage."
Beyond these two story lines of great golf and personal tragedy, Haney's book is also an exercise in self-justification to set the story straight on three controversial matters. First, he insists that he never knew about Tiger's sexcapades (nor in his view did caddie Steve Williams). Second, he wants us to know that he quit as Tiger's coach and was not fired. Finally, at the end of the book he rebuts the many criticisms he took for re-making Tiger's game by showing that Woods won more tournaments under him than he did under his previous coach Butch Harmon. Doubters can consult his chart at the end of the book: "Tiger Woods's Worldwide Performance Record While Hank Haney Was His Coach, March 2004 to May 2010." So there.