x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

British Open: Swing coach Sean Foley striking a balancing act with ease

Juggling his time at tournaments between clients Tiger Woods, Justin Rose and Hunter Mahan has been an easy balancing act for swing coach Sean Foley.

Sean Foley, left, says scheduling his lessons between Justin Rose, right, Tiger Woods and Hunter Mahan requires a little bit of juggling but is not as hard as one might think.
Sean Foley, left, says scheduling his lessons between Justin Rose, right, Tiger Woods and Hunter Mahan requires a little bit of juggling but is not as hard as one might think.

Juggling his time at tournaments between pupils such as the US Open champion Justin Rose and 14-times major winner Tiger Woods has become, for the most part, an easy balancing act for swing coach Sean Foley.

The Canadian says his task has been made easier by the fact his players get along so well, though he accepts he will always feel the pressure of time management a little more during golf's biggest events.

The British Open, the third of the year's four majors, will be held at Muirfield in Scotland from Thursday onwards, and Foley will have three players there – Englishman Rose and Americans Woods and Hunter Mahan.

"It basically comes easy," Foley said about how he divided his coaching time between his players. "They key to good coaching is not to have to sit there and say things over and over and over.

"More of what I am doing is just observing and if need be I will talk. But our rule together is basically, 'Guys I am here. If you have a question, ask me.' I'm not going to go in and say, 'Hey, do this, do that, do this, do that.'

"It's also easier too because with Rosey and Hunter being around for so long, I feel like I can almost turn around sometimes and know where the ball finished after they've hit it, just from the sound of it."

Foley, who is known for an eclectic approach to swing instruction that draws on his knowledge of philosophy, physics, psychology and even hip-hop music, has been coaching Mahan for five years and Rose for four.

He began working with Woods after the 2010 PGA Championship as the American embarked on the fourth swing change of his professional career.

All three players are currently ranked in the world's top 25 with Woods at one, Rose at three and Mahan at 23.

Hardly surprisingly, the Canadian swing instructor finds the majors the biggest challenge, though even that generally works out well with regard to his time management.

"Because for their whole life as players they have always added value to a major, I think inherently there is probably more subconscious stress for them there," Foley said.

He then described how he divided his time between all three players before last month's US Open at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, where Rose clinched his first major title.

"I called Rosey before the first practice day, 'When are you going to get in?' And he said, 'I'll be in by four o'clock'. Called Tiger and said, 'What are you up to bud?' He said, 'Coming at noon'.

"Called Hunter, 'When are you coming to the course?' And Hunter said, 'Seven o'clock in the morning'.

"To be honest with you, it just works out like that a lot. Human behaviour is so patterned so the earliest is typically Tiger. Rosey can go either early or late, and Hunter is the same way. If all they are playing well, it's never an issue."

Asked how he adapted if one of his players needed more coaching attention than normal, Foley replied: "I can easily say to Hunter and Tiger, 'Hey look, Rosey is struggling off the tee, I need to spend extra time with him'. There is no drama, ever, because I have done that with all of them.

"A lot of times they just think they are struggling more than they actually are, but it doesn't matter if they're actually not. If they think they are, they're about to [struggle], right?"

Though Woods has not won a major title in more than five years, he has been the most dominant player on the 2013 PGA Tour, winning four times in just nine starts.

However, Foley said he did not take any personal satisfaction from that impressive record in his role as swing coach to arguably the greatest player of all time.

"I don't really look at it like that because I don't really feel like I am a big part of that equation," he said. "I am happy that he has played injury-free. That's my ultimate goal."

Woods was sidelined immediately after winning his 14th major title at the 2008 US Open for knee surgery and then sidetracked following the 2009 revelations of a slew of extramarital affairs that shattered the golfer's public image.

"I know what he has been through and how hard he has worked," Foley said. "In 1999-2000, he was not a father of two, and the [golf] business and his own foundation weren't as big as they are now. Tiger spends a lot of time doing many things."


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