Hank Haney Golf Teacher: Swing Renovator to the Stars

    Getting the call to remodel Tiger Woods’ golf swing is akin to being commissioned for a little touch-up work on Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. How do you improve on the original?

    That was Hank Haney’s task, and it turned out to be as thankless as it was rewarding. Taking over from Butch Harmon as Woods’ personal coach in 2004, Haney made numerous adjustments to a swing that had produced eight major championship victories and dozens of iconic moments between 1997 and 2003.

    There’s certainly no arguing with Woods’ success under Haney. Over a six-year period, Woods added six more majors and 32 PGA Tour victories. Yet, many observers quibbled with Woods’ revamped action, which was flatter and less reliant on the hands than he’d been with Harmon.

    In early 2010, Haney parted ways with Woods in the wake of scandalous revelations about the superstar’s personal life. Two years later, Haney released The Big Miss: My Years Coaching Tiger Woods, his account of the trials, tribulations and triumphs that came with the territory.

    Of course, one doesn’t get the opportunity to coach the likes of Tiger Woods without owning a pretty good track record. Haney earned a sterling reputation through his work with Mark O’Meara, the 1998 Masters and Open Championship winner, who happened to be good friends with Woods. All told, Haney has served as swing shepherd to more than 200 touring pros worldwide.

    Haney began teaching in 1976, and attributes much of his success to early mentor John Jacobs -- “the greatest teacher in the history of the game,” Haney says. In 1991 Haney opened his own academy; he now operates five schools in Texas and a junior academy in South Carolina. According to Golf Digest, which ranks him the fifth-best teacher in America, personal lessons with Hank will set you back $10,000 a day.

    Coaching Woods may have been difficult, but it was surely easier than refining the swings of former NBA star Charles Barkley and actor/comedian Ray Romano. Haney took on those challenges as part of his Golf Channel series, The Haney Project, and is scheduled to tutor swimming sensation Michael Phelps for the next season.

    As long as he doesn’t change Phelps’ butterfly stroke, everything should be fine.

    Famous students: Tiger Woods, Mark O’Meara, plus more than 200 pros on worldwide tours

    Core philosophy: Haney focuses intently on swing plane, which is evident in his work with Woods.

    The most obvious difference in Woods’ swing pre- and post-Haney was a more “rounded” appearance, with the club shaft on a flatter (more horizontal) plane than Woods displayed under Harmon. Rather than re-routing the club to begin the downswing – which often shows up in a slight backward or forward movement of the hands at the top -- Haney prefers his students to swing the arms on the exact same path coming down as going up.

    Haney’s theory shouldn’t be confused with the one-plane swing espoused by Jim Hardy, another of his mentors. While the one-plane swing finds the left arm matching the tilt of the shoulders, Haney’s students may exhibit a two-plane motion, where the left arm is more vertical than the shoulders. He simply preaches swinging the club back and down on the same plane, wherever it falls.

    Classic Haney-style tip: It’s possible to have the club’s shaft on
    with a clubface that’s not square to the target line. Ideally, the back of the left wrist is flat and perfectly aligned with the clubface at the top of your backswing.

    Check your position with the aid of a full-length mirror or glass door. Take a stance with your reflection to your right (left for a lefty) and swing the club to the top. If the back of your left hand is:

    • Flat, with the angle of the clubface flush with hand and forearm – congratulations, the face is on plane.
    • Cupped, with the club’s toe pointing down – the face is open, potentially causing a slice.
    • Bowed, with the club’s toe pointing toward the target line – the face is closed, potentially causing a hook.
    • Achieving a square clubface can be a difficult proposition, requiring a good grip and proper arm rotation. Your best bet is to enlist the help of a PGA pro for guidance.