While planning a title for this book review, my editors included the word "shocking"—as in, what I expected to find out about Tiger Woods while reading it. But that didn't turn out to be the case.
So, we left it out because I really didn't find anything shocking about the book. It certainly would've welcomed more reads, but it also would've been extremely misleading.
In fact, the most shocking discovery I made after reading Hank Haney's new book, The Big Miss: My Years Coaching Tiger Woods, may have been that Tiger has a golf cart that goes 28 miles per hour. Or maybe that he wears a size medium golf shirt. Or that he's a terrible tipper.
Now, before you assume the book isn't worth checking out if there isn't anything particularly shocking inside, think again. It's a great read.
I had been anticipating The Big Miss since the beginning of the year and I received my review copy from Crown Archetype last week. I started reading it before I even got out of the post office.
Much of what I read about Tiger's personality I already knew—or, at the very least, I surmised. When you're one of the most popular athletes on the planet, there is little that hasn't already "gotten out there"—good or bad.
As advertised, The Big Miss is loaded with detailed information about Tiger's golf swing throughout his career—and naturally, more so during his time working with Haney. The book describes the training techniques used and the many nuances of Tiger's swing. It's incredibly interesting—especially if you play golf.
As is the case with many golf writers, the thing I've written a lot about lately is Tiger's golf swing. Why the coaching changes through the years? Why the drastic swing changes?
I didn't go so far as to break down his golf swing and offer my opinion from a technical standpoint like the teaching experts. But after listening to them, I developed a greater understanding of why Tiger Woods invites change. And this book confirms it.
Tiger gets bored without change. He prefers makeover to maintenance.
Haney said: "He wanted to always be consciously doing something to get better. It was as if he needed the stimulation and the challenge to stay motivated."
I was somewhat surprised to learn that, according to Haney, part of why Tiger Woods changes his swing so often is that it gives him an excuse to play poorly, to "escape the pressure cooker he lived in or at least turn the heat down."
More on that in a moment.
A lot has been made over the years about Tiger's injuries and Haney makes it pretty clear those ailments were initiated away from the golf course. In fact, they probably had nothing to do with golf.
The Big Miss excerpt in Golf Digest last month laid the foundation of Tiger's obsession with the military, his Navy SEAL experimentation and the toll it took on his body. What absolutely blew my mind was Tiger's answer to this question from Haney:
"Tiger. Man, what are you doing? Are you out of your mind? What about Nicklaus's record? Don't you care about that?"
Tiger's answer—which, OK I'll admit, it's shocking—is worth the price of the book.
That conveniently leads me into Tiger's enigmatic personality.
I think Haney does a great job of simply telling it like it is.
Here is a guy—a very successful and popular golf teacher—who was and to a certain extent always will be in awe of Tiger Woods, the golfer. He had to grow out of that, though, and he realized if he was going to teach (arguably) the greatest golfer to ever live—or at least try to—he would need to stop looking at him as a legend.
Haney tried to understand Tiger, who was typically not the most receptive pupil. He wanted and welcomed a closer relationship with his student—a friendship as most would define friendship—but it never really materialized because Tiger never let Haney (or just about anyone else for that matter) get very close to him.
"There is a lot going on behind those eyes, but very little is shown," Haney wrote.
Tiger and Haney never had any meaningful conversations about life. Haney thought their relationship might eventually grow into something like that, but it never did.
Tiger's long-time agent, Mark Steinberg, proclaimed that Haney was one of Tiger's best friends, but advised him: "Don't get too close."
The "why" behind the mystery of Tiger's perplexing personality weaves its way through the entire book.
It's only natural to start from the beginning, with Tiger's parents, Earl and Tida Woods. Haney wrote: "They'd raised an outsider and sent him on a singular journey." That's a powerful statement and it made me stop reading for a moment to think about it.
Tiger has spent much of his life "watching, weighing and figuring out whom he could trust."
Haney went on to describe Tiger's public persona and how Tiger felt forced to operate in a very tight box, to be wary of being in public or engaging with people other than the few in his "inner circle." He felt Tiger resented his own life situation.
Let's face it. It can't be easy to be Tiger Woods, even though to some that seems like a ridiculous statement. No other golfer in history had ever faced such high expectations. According to Haney, Tiger would say, "Nothing is ever good enough."
When Tiger's career is over—and let's just say he breaks Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major championships—I wonder how much of that time he would honestly admit to being truly happy. And if he wasn't truly happy, why not?
Tiger would eventually let on that the obligations imposed on him during his life had taken a considerable toll. I spent half the book feeling sorry for Tiger and the other half thinking he's a jerk.
When Haney first started working with Tiger, Tiger went into boss mode. "I realized he was marking his territory, showing the new dog that he was the alpha," Haney wrote.
The picture Haney paints is that Tiger was going to be a difficult student, that he wasn't just going to accept what Haney was saying. Trust would have to be hard earned.
The message Tiger wanted to send was clear: "When I play bad, when I don't win, it's your fault."
It was a blend of selfishness, obsessiveness, stubbornness, coldness, ruthlessness, pettiness and cheapness that somehow turned out to be both good and bad, depending on the situation he was in.
Haney admitted to being one of Tiger's enablers, though. He never really challenged Tiger to be a better human being, but he never really saw anyone else do it, either.
Elsewhere, the book includes a fascinating (and painful) account of the events leading up to, during and after Tiger's win at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
It describes, in no uncertain terms, Tiger's career-long battle with "driver anxiety."
And yes, it includes some information about the infamous scandal, most notably the aftermath and the ripple effect Tiger's actions caused.
I also learned a few things about the author. Haney was an alcoholic. But he hasn't had a drink in 25 years. And at one point in his life, during a 15-year span, Haney played golf no more than once or twice a year.
I like Hank Haney. And I like Tiger Woods. I'm not more or less a fan of either after reading the book.
I think Haney is an outstanding instructor and a good person—a sensitive man who honestly told a story as he saw it. I think Tiger is the most talented golfer who ever lived. He's always been one of my favorite players and any golf tournament is more interesting when he's involved.
The two really seemed like an odd couple who made things work. And boy did they—six major championships in six years and a winning percentage not equaled in Tiger's relationship with any other coach. Yet.
After yesterday's five-shot victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Tiger of old appears to be back. Only time will tell, of course.
I wonder how long it will be until Sean Foley's book comes out?
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