Tiger Woods: "The Most Coachable Student"

Tiger Woods is ready, his coach says
By MIKE KERNPhiladelphia Daily News

Renowned golf instructor Hank Haney got a surprising wake-up call the other day. The voice on the other end belonged to his most renowned pupil, Tiger Woods, who is recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. Tiger dialing his number is hardly news. But the timing was.

"I don't think he knew I was [at home] in Dallas," said Haney, who was in town for a CBIZ Business Clubs of America event, as the featured speaker for some 300 Philadelphia business executives. "When the phone rang, I looked at the clock and it was 7. He usually works out in the morning. He doesn't start practicing until 9 or 10. So he was out early. That's a good sign.

"He said, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'Sleeping.' "

Woods underwent surgery on April 15, two days after he finished second in the Masters. It's the third time the knee has been scoped. The U.S. Open gets under way June 12, at a course - Torrey Pines, near San Diego - where he has won a jabillion times.

Haney believes Tiger will try to play in the Memorial, where he also has enjoyed all kinds of success, 2 weeks before that. The only thing Haney knows for sure is, he won't compete again until he believes he's ready.

"We've talked about what his plan would be, if he can't play before the Open," Haney explained. "And what it will be, if he can. He's kind of pointing toward playing. Just so long as he can prepare like he normally prepares. That's all he cares about. The guy works so hard, it's incredible.

"Rehab takes a lot of work. But that's not something that's difficult for him. He'll do above and beyond anything anyone else could possibly do to get ready. He'd like to play [pre-Open], but it's not totally necessary. He's come back after layoffs before and [won]."

Tiger has won 13 majors, second on the all-time list, five behind Jack Nicklaus, the man he's been chasing since he was a kid growing up in Southern California. He has won nine of the last 12 times he's played. To go with two seconds and a fifth. Pre-Masters, there was talk of a calendar grand slam, to go with those four consecutive majors he won in 2000-01. Now that can't happen. Doesn't mean it still can't be another special summer.

"This was the only window he had [for a procedure], without missing a major," Haney said. "He wanted to make sure he'd be OK for the other three. [The knee] had been bothering him for awhile. But he's not a big complainer. At Augusta he hit 13 greens [on Thursday], 16, 18 and 14 [the other three rounds]. It's hard to blame it on your knee . . .
"It's one of the reasons he changed his swing a few years ago, and started working with me. He felt like he was snapping his leg, putting too much pressure on the knee. It's a long-term situation. This is just [about] damage that's been done over time. It's nothing that's going to prevent him from [being Tiger again]."

Good news for Tiger, not so good for the rest of the food chain.

"He's the most coachable student I've ever had," Haney stressed. "I've never seen anyone who wants to learn more. He couldn't care less about anything that he's [already] done. All he knows is, what are we doing today to get better than yesterday. And what are we going to work on tomorrow. That's the way he is, every single day. It's an absolute challenge. My job is to just try and point him in the right direction. He'll figure it out [from there].

"That's what great ones do. With Michael [Jordan], if a guy would say he was going to shut him down, he'd go for 60 [points]. If nobody said anything, he'd just go for 30. So whenever anyone says something I make sure Tiger knows about it.

"For Tiger, this is just another hill to climb. He likes to climb hills. That's what he does. That's why he's Tiger Woods. I've never been around anyone who's such a genius.

"And I'm the guy who can screw it up," he went on, smiling. "[Someone] said it's about the equivalent of being Scarlett Johansson's plastic surgeon."

See you in San Diego, if not before. And beyond. *