Book Review: 'The Big Miss' by Hank Haney


At the end of 247 pages, you're left to wonder how Tiger Woods and Hank Haney stayed together for five minutes.

The pro was unreachable and inscrutable, ruling everyone around him through silent aggression.

The teacher was almost comically needy and thin-skinned, taking umbrage when Woods got a Popsicle out of his refrigerator and failed to offer Haney one. Or when Woods signed a yardage book from the triumphant 2006 British Open and didn't offer a personal salutation.

And yet Woods and Haney were a dynamic partnership for more than six years in golf, years in which Woods attained a higher winning percentage and a higher rate of contention in major championships than he did with any other coach.

The relationship tore apart from the bone in the spring of 2010, with Woods flailing to contain his personal life and golf swing.

If one sentence in "The Big Miss" cannot be disputed, it is this one by Haney: "My guess is that the publication in this book won't bring us much closer."

No, the best way to ingratiate oneself to Woods is probably not to tell the world every break in Woods' personal green, from his interaction with ex-wife Elin to his obsession with becoming a Navy SEAL to his startling lack of generosity.

Haney writes that he made only $50,000 per year for coordinating the swing of an athlete who won almost $11 million in 2007.

Amid all his meticulous detail, Haney somehow forgot to note the untold fame and fortune he gleaned from the Woods years. There is no "Haney Project," with Hank teaching Charles Barkley and Rush Limbaugh on a Golf Channel series, without Tiger.

But then that has become the safe play of all the disparagers. There is no ticket out of Woods' doghouse. So why not say whatever you want and make yourself comfortable there?

Rick Smith, Phil Mickelson's former teacher, was outraged that Haney would betray such conversations, and, indeed, Haney gives such vivid detail that one must conclude he was planning to write this book even if the good times had lasted forever.

Still, "The Big Miss" is the most extensive and interesting portrait of Woods as you're ever likely to read.

The marketers of "The Big Miss," of which Golf World editor Jaime Diaz is the ghostwriter, have been quite clever. They dribbled out excerpts that showed Woods quite likely damaged his knee when he underwent SEAL training. Haney interpreted this as a reaction to the death of Navy veteran Earl Woods and to Woods' reckless nature, which led him to ski slopes and to personal disaster.

Haney also thinks Woods pumped up his muscles and carried himself in such alpha fashion because he basically grew up bookish, skinny and socially awkward. A friend of Haney calls Woods' travails a "geek tragedy."

Haney most fondly remembers the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, which Woods won despite a shattered leg. The impossibility of Woods' quest somehow relaxed him, convinced him to let the championship happen in Zen fashion instead of commanding it to leap into his pocket. It was a moment of rare peace.

After Woods' surgery he couldn't rediscover his putting, and he was jarred, and distracted, by the personal walls closing in.

"The more that I was exposed to him, the more I began to think he was an incredible mixture of extremes,' Haney wrote. "(He had) an extraordinary ability to focus and stay calm under stress, but (also suffered from) selfishness, obsessiveness, stubbornness, coldness, ruthlessness, pettiness and cheapness."

The Ness Monster, in other words.

"When they were all at work in the competitive arena, they helped him win," Haney wrote. "And winning gave him permission to remain a flawed and in some ways immature person."

But this is very much about Haney, too.

A recovering alcoholic, he identified with the forces that pulled Woods apart. He also was addicted to his own legacy, and lived in fear that Woods' bad performances would sully his reputation.

When Woods did what Haney told him, he won. When he strayed, he lost. Egocentric golf teachers can be found anywhere, to be sure, but Haney's self-obsession is almost viral. In the end he goes to great statistical length to compare Woods/Haney with Woods/Harmon.

Now it is Woods/Sean Foley, and last week Tiger won at Bay Hill with the solid driving that Haney thought he could never recover. In becoming one more mouth to shut, Haney probably has benefited Woods again.

"The Big Miss" is a two-car wreck of a book about a one-man meltdown. The sequel, about the redemption, will have to come from someone else.

Still, Haney's correspondence shines a light on the most opaque celebrity in sports. For that reason alone, it's a can't-miss.

Show Full Article

Related Topics