Woods, Foley had gone as far as they could together
AUG 25, 2014 6:00p ET
When celebrity marriages end in Hollywood, the reason given is usually irreconcilable differences.
It’s a phrase only a lawyer could love.
It doesn’t reveal anything, and yet it says everything. But that’s what it should say on the divorce papers Tiger Woods served to Sean Foley on Monday.
After four years – almost to the week – the conclusion was inescapable: They’d gone as far as they could go together. They had no future.
But, just as in some marriages that end in divorce, that doesn’t mean either of them is totally to blame. To trot out Woods’ favorite filibustering phrase, it is what it is.
There were bright spots – Woods won five times last year, lest anyone forget – but there was simply too much failure and too much dysfunction.
Woods, it should be noted, is no stranger to (professional) dysfunction.
His last days with Hank Haney were so awkward that Haney became convinced Woods would intentionally hit bad shots on the range prior to tournaments in order to see what his coach would say or do.
During their final day together, before the last round of the 2010 Masters, Haney decided to simply say nothing as Woods hit bad shot after bad shot. I remember looking at Steve Williams, who was then on Woods’ bag, as he rolled his eyes and shook his head back at me.
Haney saw the writing on the wall and jumped before Woods did what he didn’t ever get around to doing to Butch Harmon, his first coach: firing him.
Woods just stopped answering Harmon’s text messages.
Foley, at least, got to throw in a quote in the statement announcing their parting.
"My time spent with Tiger is one of the highlights of my career so far, and I am appreciative of the many experiences we shared together," Foley said.
"It was a lifelong ambition of mine to teach the best player of all time in our sport. I am both grateful for the things we had the opportunity to learn from one another, as well as the enduring friendship we have built. I have nothing but respect and admiration for him."
Woods, for his part, thanked Foley as “one of the outstanding coaches in our game” but said that, with his next tournament not until December, “This is the right time to end our professional relationship."
That, of course, says nothing about why their relationship had to end.
But maybe it says everything, too.
The fact is Foley is not a bad teacher. He’s being blamed for everything that’s wrong with Woods – including the most ludicrous idea, that he’s causing injuries - when the fact is he didn’t get the Tiger Woods Harmon got or even the one Haney inherited. He got the guy scarred from a scandal and beset by injuries and tried to build a swing to accommodate those injuries.
But it is true that they just weren’t a good mix.
Foley’s methods are based on science – The Geometrist, I liked to call him when he’d start scribbling parabolas on pieces of paper with great enthusiasm – but maybe there’s more to golf than just science.
Tiger at his best wasn’t a technician; he was Pavarotti singing “Nessun Dorma”; his play wasn’t explained by physics as much as aesthetics, or maybe even spiritualism given the way he willed his ball into the hole.
Under Foley, Woods lost his imagination; his swing was a product of muscles and forward shaft lean, hardly a thing of beauty.
But is this Foley’s fault?
Was it not ironic that Woods announced he was firing Foley the day after Hunter Mahan – a long-serving Foley disciple – won The Barclays? And what of Justin Rose’s rise to prominence? Rose says it wouldn’t have been possible without Foley rebuilding his swing.
The least understood element about Woods is that there is -- and has ever only been -- one captain of the Good Ship Tiger.
It wasn’t Earl Woods, or Tida, or Mark Steinberg, his agent, or Harmon or Haney or anyone other than Tiger Woods.
Woods took only what he wanted from Foley.
It wasn’t Foley’s decision to remake the chipping, pitching and bunkering technique so as to mirror the tenets of the full swing. That was Tiger’s idea. And, yes, it was a bad one, rendering the world’s best short game into a hodgepodge that couldn’t be saved by a deteriorating putting stroke.
Just as it was Tiger’s stubborn idea that aiming 40 yards left and hitting some sort of educated slice – that half the time went dead straight, burying into the left rough – constituted a reliable “go-to” shot.
Yes, it was an idea based on Foley’s science, but it didn’t take a genius to see it wasn’t working. Yet neither of them could find a workable alternative, just as they couldn’t stop Woods from digging holes halfway to China with his wedges.
In the end, it wasn’t swing techniques that destroyed this marriage, it was the fact they couldn’t get from each other what they needed and, from that perspective, it’s best for both of them to go their separate ways.
With Foley gone, the question now becomes who takes over.
Be sure, Harmon has no interest. Beyond the fact that Woods burned that bridge – and the fact that Harmon would choose Phil Mickelson over Woods – what could he gain from reuniting?
Woods isn’t close to the same player at nearly 39 with a deteriorating body. The odds of his winning seven of 11 majors again are, shall we say, remote.
Other names will be trotted out – Pete Cowen, the dry, no-nonsense Englishman, would be the best fit given the work he’s done on reclamation projects like Lee Westwood and Henrik Stenson – but perhaps Woods may choose to go it alone.
It’s a risk because he’s always relied on a pair of eyes to oversee what he’s doing, and there’s safety in having someone to bounce ideas off.
But wouldn’t it be something if all these years later, after cycling through the most disparate of swings – none of them innate – he journeyed back to what made him who he was and just … swung the club like Tiger Woods?