Hank Haney Has Coached The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Former Coach Of Tiger Woods, Hank Haney Had A Lot Of Very Intriguing Thoughts To Share During The Callaway Golf Learning Summit At Morgan Creek GC - Image Credit Bryan Outram/BC Golf

By Brad Ziemer, British Columbia Golf

Hank Haney figures he knows a thing or two about golf instruction. “I feel like I am uniquely qualified,” Haney told a clinic at Morgan Creek Golf Course in Surrey this week. “I am really the only instructor who has taught arguably the greatest player in the history of the game in Tiger Woods and the worst player in the history of the game in Charles Barkley.”

That line drew lots of laughs from clinic participants -- mostly Vancouver-area club pros -- who had gathered at Morgan Creek to hear four of Callaway Golf’s heavy hitters talk golf.

Haney was joined by fellow instructor David Leadbetter, wedge pioneer Roger Cleveland and putting guru Sean Toulon. The foursome visited Morgan Creek for what was billed as a Learning Summit in part to mark the opening of Morgan Creek’s new Performance Golf Academy.

Haney doesn’t teach anymore. Woods was his last client and the two parted company nine years ago. These days, Haney lives the good life of semi-retirement. He hosts a morning show on Sirius XM PGA TOUR radio, plays some pickleball and then often heads to the golf course for a round with friends.

Even though he has stopped teaching -- other than at corporate outings like the one he attended at Morgan Creek -- Haney has lots of opinions. One of them is that golf instruction has become too complicated. Haney says that no matter what level of the player, there are really only three keys to improving a person’s golf game.

“And they are three very basic things,” Haney said. “The first thing you have to do is eliminate penalty strokes. That is No. 1 first and foremost. No. 2, you have to eliminate what I call 'two-chips' -- or 'two pitches' or 'two sand shots' -- and then the third thing you have to do is eliminate three-putts. You don’t have to make a lot of putts, to be honest with you, but you have to eliminate three-putts. Even at the highest level these three things always hold true.”

image credit Bryan Outram/BC Golf

From L-R: Sean Toulon, Roger Cleveland, David Leadbetter, Hank Haney & Moderator Jason Logan Of Score Golf

Haney used last month’s Masters tournament -- where his former star client prevailed -- as an example. “I look back to the Masters and the big key is you have to get around there without any penalty strokes,” Haney said. “Tiger Woods had no penalty strokes. Brooks Koepka had four penalty strokes. You have to limit your three-putts to two or less for 72 holes. Tiger had two three-putts, Brooks Koepka had four three-putts. So when Brooks Koepka looks back and sees that he lost to Tiger by one he will lament the fact that when he added up his penalty shots, his two-chips and his three putts they totalled nine and he lost the tournament by one shot.”

Although Haney and Leadbetter have built their reputations off teaching big-name pros, they both worry that too much instruction is geared these days to good players. That focus, they said, must shift to helping the vast majority of weekend warriors play better. “They talk about growing the game,” Leadbetter said. “Well, if you want to grow the game you have to get people playing the game better. The better they play the more they enjoy it. If they are not enjoying it, they are going to give it up and do something else.

“It’s a tough sport and the problem is today people have less time to play and practise than they have in the past. Somehow we have to get the message across. So much of the instruction today is geared toward the good player. We know that is important, that is how we create our profile working with the top players, but 99.9 per cent of golfers out there just want to hit the ball a little better, play more consistently. I think we have to be careful that is the message we get across.”

In a question-and-answer session with clinic participants, Haney and Leadbetter acknowledged that even though high-profile clients have been their bread and butter, they are not always easy to work with. “Tiger was the most amazing student to work with because he was the best student, he was the most talented student, he was the most challenging student, he was the most difficult student, he was the most frustrating student, he was the most fulfilling student, he was everything all in one,” Haney said.

image credit Bryan Outram/BC Golf

David Leadbetter Explains That The Most Important Distance In Golf Is The 6 Inches Between Our Ears

“That is just the way you would expect it to be. I think a lot of people have a misconception of what it is like to teach touring pros . . .you just don’t walk out there and tell them what you are going to do today. That is not the way it works. You have to have some discussion, you have to do some convincing.”

“The secret actually is to get the message across so they think they told you what you told them,” Leadbetter added with a chuckle.

Haney said he was warned by Woods’ previous coach, Butch Harmon, about how challenging life would be as Tiger’s coach. It was and Haney wrote a best-selling book called The Big Miss which chronicles his years with Woods. “I remember when I started with Tiger and Butch said to me, ‘Hank, good luck. It’s a lot harder than it looks. It’s a tough team to be on. It was a great team to be on, too, but that’s just the way it is.”

Despite their parting of the ways and his book -- parts of which Tiger did not like -- Haney said he still roots for Woods and does not think he is done winning majors. Haney said some of the courses scheduled for upcoming majors suit Woods well. He’s won at Bethpage Black -- site of next week’s PGA Championship -- and Pebble Beach, where the U.S. Open is being held in June.

St. Andrews is coming up, he has got TPC Harding Park, Kiawah Island, he has a lot of great golf courses that kind of fit his game,” Haney said. “So I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins more.”