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Haney and Huggan at odds with the truth

May 17th, 2010 · 4 Comments

John Huggan is at it again, siding with Hank Haney while spouting off a litany of questionable opinions,  all for the purpose of defending his good friend and co-author of a couple of instructional books.

And, as with a previous defense of Haney, he waited until we are well into his piece (582 of its 1,370 words) before advising us that he is biased:

At this point, in the interests of full disclosure, it should be noted that this correspondent has aided Haney in the writing of three instruction books and countless magazine articles. We are friends. So this is hardly an unbiased view.

Why couldn’t he warn us before reeling us in?  No matter. In the interests of full disclosure, I am going to warn you that I am not biased against Huggan, but more amused by him of late. I am, however, biased against Haney because he is exceptionally defensive and thin skinned. As such, he should have never taken the job with Woods in the first place. But he did, and it has resulted in great financial gain as he has built his brand while riding on Woods’ back, so he really has nothing to complain about. Okay, let’s analyze Huggan and Haney’s latest trash talking.

Winning Percentage
According to Haney, Woods’ performance on the PGA Tour “should be the only gauge that matters even though major titles are the way his former employer measures his success:

In the time he was with Butch, he won 27 per cent of his events. With me, he won 35 per cent. And with Butch he achieved 63 per cent top tens – with me 71 per cent. So he was better with me.

Well, his record should be better because he was working with an older and wiser golfer than Harmon was – one was destined to be more consistent and win more often because, when Haney took over, he was at his physical and mental prime. For some perspective on the evolution of a champion, let’s look at Jack Nicklaus’ career.

Nicklaus had the same instructor, Jack Grout, throughout the entire period, so any improvements in his winning percentage would be due more to his growth as a player, than to his receiving superior instruction from a new sourse. From 1962-67 Nicklaus won 17.5% of his starts on the PGA Tour. After taking a mental timeout in 1968-69, Nicklaus rededicated himself to the game and proceeded to win 26.1% of his starts from 1970-74, a period than coincides with Woods’ stretch from 2005-09 under Haney.

Notice that Nicklaus’ winning percentage went up 49% even though he used the same instructor! The reasons: (1) he had matured and played smarter golf, (2) he played less often, allowing him to put more into each start. These are the same two primary reasons why Woods’ winning percentage went up – not because of Haney’s self acknowledged genius. Plus. In fact, it can be argued that he might have done better with a different coach.

Ball Striking
Huggan makes the perfectly valid point that way too much emphasis is placed on Woods’ performances at the two Opens in 2000. But then he incorrectly validates his claim with, quite frankly, one of the dumbest statements in the history of golf journalism:

But what was lost in that particular shuffle is a simple golfing truism: players who win tournaments by large margins do not do so because of their ball striking.

Haney also missed the mark with the most ridiculous comments ever by a high profile golf instructor:

Tiger won by so many in 2000 not because he hit the ball great – which he did – but because he made every putt he looked at. You don’t win by 15 by hitting the ball great; you win by that many making lots of putts.

So, they would have us believe that Woods won the 2000 U.S. Open by 15 shots, but not because of his ball striking? Is that because that would give undue credit to Harmon, and at Haney’s expense?

If great ball striking did not lead to the huge margin, then what was Woods’ winning formula? His short game and putter? Wrong. At that Open, Woods hit 51 of Pebble’s tiny greens in regulation while his 10 closest pursuers averaged only 37.1! Let’s see:  51-37.1 = 13.9 GIR advantage. And he won by 15. But not because of his ball striking?

The real truth is that a player wins by huge margins by hitting the ball awesome and by a hot putter. At Pebble, Woods was #1 in GIR and 6t in putting. More proof: Nicklaus won the 1980 PGA by seven shots by ranking 4t in GIR and 3t in putting.

As far as winning majors, be it by big or small margins, ball striking, as measured by GIR, does matter. The figures below show Woods’ GIR ranking for his 8 majors won under Harmon, and his 6 titles with Haney. As the numbers show, his GIR relative to the field was better when he won under Harmon than Haney, even though Haney got to work with the older and wiser (golf wise) Woods.

Harmon: 1t, 8t, 1, 1t, 1, 1, 1, 1
Haney: 2, 53t, 2t, 1t, 4t, 14t

The Putter
Again, one way to make his tenure look better is for Haney to downgrade Woods’ putting because that makes his ball striking seem better than it really was relative to Woods’ time under Harmon:

Plus, my time with Tiger coincided with the poorest putting of his career. (Caddie] Steve Williams (who keeps his own stats on Woods’ play] will confirm that. He has not putted as well as he did before. 2000 was nothing more than the greatest putting year in history. He can’t repeat that; it was a one-time deal.

So, Woods’ big year in 2000 was “nothing more” than a hot streak with a putter? Dead wrong. In 2000 Woods’ GIR was a career best of 75.2%, roughly equal to a baseball hitter batting about .375. That year he was also second in distance and 54th in accuracy off the tee, a formidable combination (his best accuracy number with Haney was 86th even though he now uses more fairway woods and irons off the tee).

Beyond the statistics, we also have tons of anecdotal evidence that attests to the relative ineffectiveness of his Haney swing with the longer clubs. Wide rights, pulls way to the left, one handed follow throughs, helicopter follow throughs, club slams, and so many head dipping swings with Woods way out of balance at the end are indicators of swing flaws that were seldom in evidence during the Harmon years.

Oh, and about Woods’ six win season last year, a year that coincided with Tigers “poorest putting.” The big reason he won that much is that he led the tour in scrambling at 68.1%, was fourth in putting from 3-5 feet, and was ninth in putting from 5-10 feet.

While it can be hoped that Huggan gets a reality check and returns to earth, for the time being his writing is making as much sense as Haney’s work with Woods’ driver. And as for Haney, he should keep his mouth shut or risk injuring the brand he worked so hard to build.

Tags: Inside the Stats · The Game


4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 BD // May 18, 2010 at 9:08 am

    I don’t really understand why Butch v. Hank is all that important a subject of debate. By any reasonable standard, both of these guys were amazingly successful. It appears a strong argument can be made that Butch was marginally more successful than Hank, but that hardly makes Hank a failure. Moreover, Tiger himself is far and away the MOST deserving of the credit for his own success, as among the three of them (Tiger, Butch, and Hank).

    It also seems to me there is some truth in the idea that Tiger was both a better ball-striker AND a better putter back in Harmon’s day.

    It seems obvious that there’s no entirely satisfactory way to compare Butch’s success in working with Tiger to Hank’s success in working with him. They had Tiger at different times in his career and we don’t know how much Tiger’s own notions and biases as to what he should be doing swing-wise either aided or impaired the efforts of his coaches. For all I know, Hank could have been, in the abstract, the greatest teacher ever, yet Tiger never realized the full potential of that superior teaching acumen due to physical or psychological factors we don’t fully understand.

    Normally, we as sports fans focus on the achievements of the athletes themselves, which are objectively measurable, and not on the performances of their individual coaches, which do not really lend themselves well to objective measurement.

  • 2 Phil // May 18, 2010 at 10:27 am

    Some excellent observations. Back in Nicklaus’ day the focus was entirely on the player. Now golf is a team sport and is so closely watched that the credit is going to be shared, rightly or wrongly. My objections: Huggan continues to mislead or misinform his readers, and Haney is grabbing too much credit when Tiger hit the shots, and may have actually done better with a different coach. At any rate, the players and their entourages gives us more to think about, which is not all bad.

  • 3 BD // May 19, 2010 at 9:52 am

    I agree that it would be pretty ludicrous for Haney to grab much credit for Tiger’s success over the last few years because, as your post highlights, Tiger was already arguably the best who ever played before ever starting to work with Haney. At most, Haney should be credited with keeping the wheels from falling off (which itself is no small achievement and I don’t mean to diminish it).

    On a related note, I’m not sure how relevant Nicklaus’ association with Jack Grout is to Tiger’s situation with Butch and Hank. To hear Nicklaus talk about it, he not only stuck with the same coach throughout, he rarely if ever worked with him once the playing season started. I suspect Jack’s more attenuated relationship with Grout was fairly typical of players of his era. For one thing, there wasn’t as much money available to the average tour member, or at stake in tour events, to permit players to employ personal swing coaches as fulltime members of their traveling retinues. These days, golf really is more like a team sport, as you say, and it seems farfetched to imagine Tiger being able to fend off the competition he faces at every tournament with only the same level of access to his teacher that Jack had to Jack Grout.

    In fact, this general observation applies to a lot more than just swing coaches. Tiger, it seems to me, has almost certainly surpassed Jack’s overall, objective skill level at golf, but a lot of that is due to the different eras in which they played. Some of Tiger’s superior ability is due to having grown up in an era where he was destined to have better support in terms of conditioning, coaching, technology, etc. If Tiger had been born in 1940 like Jack, who knows if he would have succeeded to the same extent that Jack did. By the same token, if Jack had been born in 1975, we don’t know how much competition he would have presented to Tiger.

  • 4 Phil Capelle // May 20, 2010 at 9:24 am

    You have touched on a subject that is almost totally ignored by today’s media – the matter of context – the difference in eras and its impact on their careers. And yet context is as important as mentioning, when comparing early vaulters to today’s stars, that the pole is no longer made of bamboo!

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