Saturday 25 January 2020

Woods wasting time on wrong battle

A new book on Tiger Woods has generated a predictable response, says Dermot Gilleece

Leading US golf writer, Jaime Diaz, is to be honoured later this year with the PGA of America's Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. He is also about to be ostracised by Tiger Woods.

The latter distinction stems from the book, The Big Miss, to be published on March 27 and on which Diaz has collaborated with Hank Haney, Woods' coach for six years before being replaced by the incumbent, Sean Foley. Essentially, the book is an attempt by the two men to provide some insight into arguably golf's most secretive figure.

The initial reaction from the Woods camp, based largely on the very notion of the venture, is predictably hostile. Haney has been accused of purveying "ridiculous armchair psychology" while caring only about self-promotion.

Woods watchers will be familiar with that particular barb. It is understood to be the reason the player parted company with his first caddie as a professional, Mike 'Fluff' Cowan, and why he and coach Butch Harmon later had an acrimonious split.

Short excerpts from the book were released online last week by Golf Digest where Diaz is a senior writer. And if the intention was to select the more headline-catching bits, one is tempted to conclude that the book's contents are more informative than lurid.

For instance, Haney claims that his job as coach became more difficult in 2007, when Woods' total of 12 Majors brought him within sight of the record 18. "There was more urgency and less fun. . . . He never mentioned Nicklaus's record, but it started to weigh more heavily at every Major," the excerpt said. "And Tiger's actions indicated he believed he had less time to do it than everyone thought."

There is also the suggestion that Woods was seriously considering becoming a US navy SEAL, following the lead of his father, Earl, who was a green beret in the US army during two tours in the Vietnam War. "I didn't know how he'd go about it, but when he talked about it, it was clear he had a plan," claims Haney.

All of which brought a sharp rebuttal from the ever-faithful Mark Steinberg, Woods' agent at Excel Sports Management, who dismissed Haney's assertion of the book being about golf as "clearly false." Steinberg said: "Because of his father, it's no secret that Tiger has always had high respect for the military, so for Haney to twist that admiration into something negative is disrespectful."

Then, alluding to the launch, a week before the Masters, he added: "The disruptive timing of this book shows that Haney's self-promotion is more important to him than any other person or tournament. What's been written violates the trust between a coach and player and someone also once considered a friend."

But for the involvement of Diaz, it would be easy to dismiss all of this as a public spat between the best of enemies. For a start, the PGA award is not misplaced. He is widely regarded as a gifted writer of unquestioned integrity, who has gained the respect of golfers and colleagues through his extensive work, not least about Woods in recent decades.

Explaining how the idea of the book grew steadily in Haney's mind from the start of his relationship with Woods until their parting in 2010, Diaz readily acknowledged last week that he himself wasn't first choice to do the writing duties. "I'm aware Hank approached a few writers," he said. "At first, I wanted some time to think about it but after some time, I accepted."

He went on: "The consequence of being denied access [to Woods] in the future was certainly in the front of my mind. I spent a lot of my career talking to Tiger, and I wrote stories about him that were personally fulfilling to me and I hope the audience as well.

"It was something, a privilege I wasn't easily giving up. At the same time, however, I was aware that this was golf history. I wanted to understand as much as I could about Tiger. Always have. I wanted to understand Tiger himself. And I felt this opportunity with Hank was going to give me that chance, better than any other. It was something from which I had more to gain than lose."

So, what will the reader learn? "People think I know Tiger well, but I know him only in a professional setting over the years," Diaz replied. "There were very few moments that were personal and unguarded, except maybe when he was a little younger. I think it's one of the burdens of his life that he created a lot of wariness and mistrust.

"There were interesting things from Hank, like how quiet Tiger can be in unguarded moments. How often, after something is said, he will simply ruminate. Tiger will not engage in conversation, presumably because he doesn't want you to know what he thinks. That was something of a surprise, the consistency of it."

In summary, Diaz made it clear that Haney was invariably well-intentioned. "Hank really wants to explain Tiger as well as he can, as opposed to having any agenda," he said. "I don't think Tiger is going to enlighten anyone and I really feel that now, he is a more intriguing figure in golf than any other in the history of the game."

Their approach to the book involved an initial get-together for a few days at Haney's home in Dallas where they talked, played some golf and talked some more. While encouraging the flow by making only brief notes, Diaz saw his primary function as prompting memories about Woods which Haney could later expand upon. Areas the coach hadn't previously considered exploring.

Through an enjoyable process, he found Haney to be a very intense person who cared a lot about the project and didn't approach it in "any compartmentalised way."

Of course from a Woods perspective, the actual content of the book is irrelevant when set against what he sees only as Haney's treachery. And by expressing disappointment at something he hasn't even read, he is treading very familiar ground.

"His initial reaction was a predictable one to some extent," Diaz acknowledged. "If Tiger can get past that and actually read the book, I think he'll find that the information in there, while it won't necessarily be to his liking, is presented fairly."

For a player who has tended to dominate Masters week since his amazing, 12-stroke triumph in 1997, this year's offering from Woods promises to be refreshingly different. Even if he has nothing to say on the matter.

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