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Haney’s defense counsel misses the mark

May 7th, 2010 · 1 Comment

I enjoy reading John Huggan because he sticks his neck out and has no fear of saying what’s on his mind – he’s the Johnny Miller of the print world with a touch more of hyperbole, and a dash less of knowledge.

Sometimes I cheer him, but on others he makes my blood boil. Recently, for example, he took Nicklaus to task for not committing to a silly four hole “competition” during this year’s British Open. Nicklaus, long retired from competition, has better things to do with his precious time – like designing courses, playing with his grandkids, and fishing.

My latest Huggan Moment came yesterday when he defended Hank Haney against the onslaught of media criticism in his column titled Effective Argument, in which he wonders why Butch Harmon is immune from criticism. Let’s take it from the top.

He says that Phil Mickelson is the same player that he was before he worked with Harmon:

Mickelson was a long-hitting short game genius who routinely won four or five times a season. Today, three years on, Mickelson is a long-hitting short game genius who routinely wins four or five times a season, but is otherwise prone to inconsistency and more than the odd wild shot.

He’s right about the wild shots. But as for routinely winning  four to five times, which he repeated for emphasis? Not even close. Since he started playing the tour full time in 1992, Mickelson has never won five PGA events in a season, and has only won four in a year three times. In the other 15 seasons, he’s won two or fewer. Question: how long does it take to type Phil Mickelson into Google and proceed to Wikipedia? 20 seconds? And yet, despite this shoddy work, he has the nerve later in his column to refer to his peers as “uniformed media hack(s).”

He then argues that Mickelson, with his “enormously entertaining” game, won the Masters in a “cavalier way,” ignoring the fact that the extremely intelligent Mickelson and his caddy Bones discuss and dissect each shot as if they were fours star generals planning an attack.  Simply put, not even Mickelson can win a Masters without thinking his way around Augusta National.

Next point: Harmon gets a pass while Haney is roasted, which he says is unfair. For starters, Woods is the one who’s won 14 majors and is the candidate for Best Ever, so his coach is naturally going to come under closer scrutiny. It goes with the territory. Besides, most analysts agree that Mickelson, thanks to Harmon, is swinging better now than ever before. And, when he does make a bad swing with his driver, his tee shots are not nearly as far off line as Woods’.

Mickelson also never finishes as poorly as Woods, who lets go of his club or twirls it in his helicopter finish, often followed by slamming it to the ground. Bottom line: Mickelson’s driving is a little better under Harmon while Woods, thanks to his too-flat Haney swing, is far less accurate than in the Harmon years.

Huggan then roasts Johnny Miller for saying that Woods should dump Haney and go back to his Harmon swing:

The two-time major champion apparently feels that Tiger — who, based on Grand Slam victories, is seven times the player Miller ever was — should immediately jettison his coach and return to the Harmon swing.

His use of numbers is deeply flawed. Woods is not seven times better than any pro. On the 100 scale, let’s say Woods is a 98. That would make Miller about a 96. As anyone knows, it’s that extra one or two percent at the top that makes all the difference. Huggan is also inferring that Miller, because he’s won only two majors, is not qualified to advise Woods. If that were the case, then neither is Haney, who’s won zero. Point: you can be super knowledgeable about the game without being anywhere close to being the best player.

Next: “But, as Miller should surely know, overreacting to a particular moment or swing or shot or round is hardly a sound basis for reasoned analysis. A longer-term view is required,” says Huggan. Well, how about six plus years of wild tee shots? Here are the numbers:

Woods’ Driving Accuracy (year – % – ranking)
04  56.1  182
05  54.6  188
06  60.7  139
07  59.8  152
08  57.9  169
09  64.3  86
10  51.2  178 (6 rounds)

Is that not a long enough time frame with which to determine the merits of Haney’s methods? In truth, Woods’ accuracy with his driver is far less than these stats show because they are loaded with fairways hit using shorter clubs. While the PGA Tour does not keep records for driver-only accuracy, I’d bet that Woods’ average with the big stick rests south of 40%. PS: I just checked Shot Tracker – three of Woods’ first eight tee shots on Friday were off-the-planet wide rights!

Huggan then repeats the winning percentages and top three stats Haney cited for Woods using time frames of his choosing to show his improvement under Haney. I do agree that top threes are a great metric – heck, they are good enough for the Olympics. But Woods, Haney’s employer, measures his results by Ws, with a heavy emphasis on the majors. And in that regard, his record under Haney is not quite as good as before. As a pro, prior to Haney, Woods won 8 of 28, or 29%. Included was that historic stretch of  from 1999-2002 during which he won 7 of 11. Under Haney, Woods is 6 for 23, or 26%. This includes his current 0 for 5 slump during which he’s only been serious contender once on Sunday.

Finally, Huggan’s analysis of the Nicklaus-Jack Grout pairing is also greatly flawed:

In the more than three years between Jack Nicklaus’ 1967 U.S. Open win and his victory in the Open at St. Andrews in 1970, no one was calling for the head of Jack Grout, the man who oversaw the overly-upright method — flying right elbow and all — that took his pupil to 18 major wins.

Maybe no one got on Grout because Nicklaus won nine times during that stretch and finished in the top 3 in four of 12 majors while keeping his ball on planet earth. And as for winning 18 times with his “overly-upright method — flying right elbow and all,” well, it was good enough to enable him to be the best ball striker of his era (anecdotal evidence and GIR stats prove this). Besides, he won 15 majors with that “overly upright” swing, and three more with a flatter swing, starting in 1980.

Most warnings of possible bias come at the beginning, but not with Huggan, who tricks us into reading over 600 words of his pro Haney propaganda before issuing this disclaimer: “Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I have co-authored three books with Haney and have known him for more than two decades.” He then goes on to say that he is interested in “basic fairness,” though his illogical arguments are anything but fair.

Tags: Tiger vs. Jack

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 BD // May 7, 2010 at 9:52 am

    Excellent takedown. This guy sounds like a complete clown.

    The idea that Tiger is seven times the golfer Johnny Miller is based solely on major championships wins is inane beyond words. That’s like saying Shawn Micheel is INFINITELY better than Sergio Garcia because Shawn won the PGA once while Sergio has never won a major.

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