Haney’s “Big Miss” is well worth reading

Please forgive me, but I must vent.

I’ve been a member of the national golf media for over 40 years, and I’m proud of it. There are times, though, when I don’t agree with the majority of my brethren and this is definitely one of those times.

It seems to me that most media members devoted to our sport — that’s print, broadcast, digital and anybody else who has a passion for golf and the spreading of information about it — are reverting back to an old theme: Put the focus on Tiger Woods because he matters the most.

Granted, Woods moves the needle more than any other player, but there’s a lot more good stories in golf than Tiger-mania. When he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational there was the immediate knee-jerk reaction that “Tiger is back!’’

And just in time for the Masters, to boot. Well, the Masters showed that Woods isn’t back yet — by a long shot. The Arnold Palmer Invitational was just one win, that’s all.

When will the broad-based golf world realize that the PGA Tour isn’t the “Tiger Woods Show?’’ That mistake was made when he was winning a lot. Then, when Woods had his problems on and off the course, there was — in far too many quarters — the sentiment that golf wasn’t worth following without Tiger.’’ That was ridiculous then, just as a premature focus on Woods is now.

Frankly, I’m just as interested in the stories of Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Lee Westwood, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell, Keegan Bradley, the good old names on the Champions Tour and Yani Tseng’s domination of the women’s circuit as I am in what Tiger’s doing. This isn’t meant as Tiger bashing. It’s simply an effort to tell it like it is: the pro tours have more good stories lines than they ever did, and Tiger’s is just one of them.

Speaking of telling it like it is, I most heartily recommend the just-released Hank Haney book as must reading. Haney’s “The Big Miss’’ (Crown Archetype, New York, $26) was released just before the Masters — an ideal time for the book to get maximum exposure. Haney was Woods’ swing coach for six years. He resigned in the aftermath of the personal problems that sent Woods’ popularity into a tailspin.

Given my stance on Tiger over-kill, calling attention to a book involving Woods might seem silly but “The Big Miss’’ is anything but that.

I’m not sure how many Chicagoans are aware of this, but Haney is one of us. He grew up in the Chicago area, playing high school golf for Deerfield. His first instructor was Jim Hardy, then the head professional at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park. Hardy, who has long since left the area just as Haney has, remains one of our sport’s foremost instructors and Haney has followed in his footsteps while building a much higher profile.

Haney’s career path took him to the John Jacobs’ Schools, then a job as golf coach at Southern Methodist University. He now runs four golf schools in Texas, has a regular gig on The Golf Channel, writes for major golf publications and is — of course — the former swing coach for the world’s most famous current golfer.

As soon as the book’s release neared Woods condemned Haney for writing it, claiming it was “unprofessional’’ for him to discuss their work together and insisting he’d never read the book. I’m not sure whether Mark Steinberg,Woods’ long-time representative, read the book or not but he was even more critical of this Haney project.

Enough about that nonsense. Those who haven’t read it might think Haney’s book is a hatchet job on Woods. It’s not. While I’m sure a profit motive was involved, I’m glad Haney took on the project. (He did so, I must say, working with Jaime Diaz — a long-time friend of mine. Jaime is a top-notch golf writer, one of the best in the business. He was recently named editor of GolfWeek magazine. It’s important to note that Haney calls Diaz his “collaborator.’’ Diaz’ name isn’t on the cover of the book, only Haney’s).

The gist of the book is this: Being Woods’ swing coach was never an easy job. In explaining why, Haney gives glimpses into Woods’ life that I haven’t seen so clearly presented before. We don’t get the sordid details of his sexual escapades, but we don’t need them. Instead we learn how driven, focused and single-minded Woods could be. You got them impression from Haney that it wasn’t easy being Tiger Woods, despite his enormous talent. And you also got the impression that it wasn’t always easy being around Woods, even in the best of times.

There were times Woods blamed his swing coach for his own shortcomings in competition. There were times Woods would give Haney the silent treatment on the lesson or practice tee without any apparent reason. When Haney came under criticism for Woods’ play, Woods wouldn’t support him.

There was an instance when Woods told then-wife Elin that there wouldn’t be a party after he won a big tournament because winning “is expected’’ for him. He was great at staying in the moment, which helped on the golf course. But that didn’t help him enjoy life off it.

One thing Woods apparently did enjoy was training with the Navy SEALs. His late father Earl was a career military man, and Woods’ fascination with the SEALs’ lifestyle led him to take some extraordinary risks. He’d go on SEALs’ training expeditions, both underwater and parachuting out of planes. He’d take long runs with heavy boots on. There was the definite possibility that these ventures contributed to the knee problems that slowed his golf career perhaps as much as his marital woes did. Haney warned Woods of impending peril, but to no avail.

Their breakup was declared by Haney, but Woods wouldn’t accept his resignation and then claimed that it was an agreement of mutual consent. It wasn’t.

“My departure was complicated,’’ Haney wrote, “but I’m proud of the way I managed it.’’

Haney insists he’ll never work with a touring pro again, but doesn’t regret time spent with Woods. “I wish him well,’’ was how Haney concluded the book.

That was a perfect ending. Appreciating Tiger Woods’ extraordinary talent is one thing. Understanding Tiger Woods, the person, isn’t so easy. He is, though, perhaps the greatest athlete of our generation. I’m glad Haney made the effort.

No BMW here, but this summer will be extraordinary

Maybe — MAYBE — this will be a quiet summer for golf in Chicago. At least there won’t be a PGA Tour stop. The BMW Championship will be played at Crooked Stick in Indianapolis this year, but the absence might not be long.
While nothing’s official as of this printing, the Western Golf Association is expected to announce that the 2013 BMW will by played at Conway Farms in Lake Forest. That’s the home course for world No. 1 Luke Donald when he’s in Chicago.
Vince Pellegrino, tournament director for the BMW, had hoped to name the 2013 site for the tourney a few weeks after last year’s event ended in mid-September. Complications arose, however, and the site paperwork still hasn’t been completed. It seems a foregone conclusion, though, that Conway will get the nod, and that will bring an end to Cog Hill’s reign as host of the tourney. The tourney, then known as the Western Open, moved from Butler National in Oak Brook to Cog Hill in 1991.
That’s next year, though. There’ll be plenty going on this year, though 2012 seems to be perceived in many quarters as a done one for local golf — largely because there’s no PGA Tour event, a rarity in these parts, and the Ryder Cup doesn’t take the spotlight until well into the fall. This sentiment disturbs me, so I thought I should set the record straight.
This Chicago golf season will be extraordinary — as in extraordinarily good!
Pro tour events are one thing. They’re nice, and we’ll get to them later.
For starters, though, consider that two of our golf facilities are undergoing complete renovations. Mistwood owner Jim McWethy closed his Romeoville course early last season to allow architect Ray Hearn to get at the business of updating it. Hearn did his job, a new learning center was also constructed and a new clubhouse could in the works soon.
Before long Oak Meadows, once the private Elmhurst Country Club and now part of the DuPage County Forest Preserve District, will get its facelift — and the work there will eventually include a new clubhouse as well. The process of choosing the course architect is well underway, so getting a new course is much more than a pipe dream now.
Given the recently difficult economic times, it’s encouraging to see the ownership of two long-respected public facilities taking such aggressive measures to make their places better.
As for the local tournament scene, I see postive develops there as well. Mistwood, expected to re-open in June, will be a better site for the Illinois Women’s Open after the renovation and the men’s Illinois Open will have a new site as well. The Illinois PGA is moving its biggest event back to The Glen Club in Glenview. I had no problems with Hawthorn Woods Country Club, and its membership’s support of the tournament the last four years was exemplary, but The Glen is better on several fronts and has been away from the tournament calendar for too long.
Now for the big tours. Chicago’s been spoiled in years past. It’s had stops from all the circuits, and it’s both puzzling and disappointing that the area has been increasingly excluded from their calendars the last few years.
Consider this, though. The Western Golf Assn. will put on its prestigious Western Amateur at Exmoor in Highland Park in July, and the U.S. Golf Assn. is bringing another of its championships here, the U.S. Mid-Amateur being scheduled for Conway Farms in Lake Forest in September. And two weeks after that the Ryder Cup comes to Medinah.
Those events are hardly small potatoes, and you don’t have to go far to watch some other biggies this year. One of the Champions Tour’s major championships will be played a two-hour’s drive from Chicago, in Michigan, and the U.S. Women’s Open — the biggest major on the Ladies PGA circuit — will be about as far away, in Wisconsin. Andl a PGA Tour event that promises to be one of the most historically significant of the season, will be within the Illinois borders and the BMW Championship, seemingly in limbo site-wise the next few years, will only require a four-hour drive to Indianapolis this time around.
While the events held in the immediate Chicago area may not be as numerous as they have been in some past years, I can’t remember any year in which four very big events have been scheduled so close to home and they’re nicely spaced throughout the season, too. Here’s a closer look at them:

SENIOR PGA CHAMPIONSHIP, May 24-27, Benton Harbor, Mich — It’ll be coming to the spiffy new Harbor Shores course, which was designed by Jack Nicklaus. This event, presented by KitchenAid, will be played for the 73rd time with a field highlighted by defending champion Tom Watson. Harbor Shores will also host the tournament in 2014. For ticket information and other details on the Senior PGA Championship check out www.pga.com.

U.S. WOMEN’S OPEN, July 5-8, Kohler, Wis. — The 67th staging of one of the majors for the Ladies PGA Tour will be played at Blackwolf Run, just a few miles from Whistling Straits, already the site of two PGA Championships.
Blackwolf Run, one of the most celebrated works of architect Pete Dye, hosted the U.S. Women’s Open in 2001 and that championship was one of the most memorable in the history of women’s golf. It came down to a playoff between Korean professional Se Ri Pak and amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn that Pak won on the second extra hole.
All the players found that Blackwolf Run layout extremely difficult, as Pak and Chuasiriporn both played the regulation 72 holes in 6-over-par. Blackwolf has changed a bit since then, as two more nines were added to provide 36 holes for the resort’s guests. Those courses, known as the River and Meadows Valleys, underwent renovations over the last three years and 2012 will mark the first year since 2008 that all 36 holes are available.
While the nines were divided when the additional holes were added, the U.S. Women’s Open layout of 2001 will be restored for 2012 tournament week as the Original Championship Course.
The Women’s Open, conducted by the U.S. Golf Assn., has a long history of exciting tournaments and last year’s was no exception. It came down to a battle of Koreans with 21-year old So Yeon Ryu winning a three-hole playoff from Hee Kyung Seo.
For ticket information and other details on the U.S. Women’s Open check www.usga.org.

JOHN DEERE CLASSIC, July 12-15, Silvis, IL. — This PGA Tour event will again be played the week before the British Open at TPC at John Deere Run, one the outskirts of Moline. While the JDC has become a rare small-market fixture on the PGA Tour, this event will be one for the history books as Steve Stricker tries to win the title for the fourth straight time.
Last year Stricker’s birdie on the 18th hole, set up by a spectacular second shot from a fairway bunker, was a feature on the PGA Tour’s season highlight reel. For details check www.pgatour.com.

BMW CHAMPIONSHIP, Sept. 6-9, Carmel, Ind. — The WGA moved the BMW tourney after Medinah landed the Ryder Cup, the reasoning being that there’d be too much competition for spectator attention and corporate hospitality dollars.
The BMW is the third of four tournaments in the PGA Tour’s Fed Ex Cup season-ending playoff series. It’ll involve the top 70 on a season-long point list, with the top 30 at Crooked Stick moving on to the Tour Championship two weeks later in Atlanta, Ga., so extremely big money will be on the line.
England’s Justin Rose is the defending BMW champion, but he won his title at Cog Hill.
Crooked Stick is no stranger to big tournament golf. Another Pete Dye design, it hosted the a milestone PGA Championship for the men in 1991, when then-unknown John Daly burst onto the golf landscape with a stunning victory after getting into the field as the ninth alternate. The U.S Women’s Open was also played at Crooked Stick in 1993 with Lauri Merten winning the title and Fred Funk won the U.S. Senior Open there in 2009. In addition, Crooked Stick was the site of a U.S. victory in the 2005 Solheim Cup matches.
For ticket information and other details on the BMW Championship, check out www.wgaesf.com.

RYDER CUP, Sept. 25-30, Medinah — The matches between the top professionals from the U.S. and Europe were first played in 1927. While the U.S. team dominated in the early years, the event has been invigorated by a European emergence in more recent years and that has led to one of the most emotional, exciting competitions in all of sports.
This 39th Ryder Cup will be the biggest event ever played at Medinah, and that’s saying something since the venerable club hosted three U.S. Opens and one U.S. Senior Open prior to being the site of PGA Championships in both 1999 and 2006. Tiger Woods won both.
While tickets are no longer available, more information on the Ryder Cup is available through www.pga.com.