LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Juggling his time at tournaments between pupils such as U.S. 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 next week and Foley will have three players there - Englishman Rose and Americans Woods and Hunter Mahan - ranked among the pre-tournament favourites.
”It basically comes easy,“ Foley told Reuters about how he divided his coaching time between his players, especially during the build-up to tournaments. ”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 and they typically play in all of golf’s biggest events, creating a potential headache for Foley.
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 U.S. 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,” Foley explained.
“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. These three will play together anyways. They all get along.”
Asked how he adapted if one of his players needed more coaching attention than normal, Foley replied: ”They all understand that because they are all going to be there. There is no way you are going to play this game well forever.
”So 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,” Foley added. “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 U.S. Open for knee surgery and then sidetracked following the 2009 revelations of a slew of extramarital affairs which shattered the golfer’s public image.
“I am very pleased for him,” Foley said of Woods, who had reigned supreme as golf’s number one player with an astonishing run of form in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“I know what he has been through and how hard he has worked. 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.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Peter Rutherford