Hunter Mahan on Tiger and Sean Foley

Hunter Mahan is T2 after the first round of The Barclays, the first tournament of The Playoffs.

In his media session after the round, he was talking about how he was putting a plan in place to get the most out of himself. He had lost his normal crisp ball striking in the middle of the year and he was working on turning that around. Given this round, a 5-under, 66 on a strong, classic course — Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, New Jersey — he’s about back to where he started.

Mahan is one of Sean Foley’s students as is Tiger Woods, and so when discussion of Mahan’s game improvement came up, the dots got connected and led to this series of questions and answers on Foley and Tiger. Given that Mahan is one of the few people in the world who understands Foley’s ideas at a very high level, his answers here are more informed than most: 

Q.  There’s a groundswell of [opinion] on Foley saying that he’s bad for Tiger’s game.  You being around Foley a lot and also having observed the two of them work together, what’s your reaction to people saying that?

“It’s comical and most likely are people that have no idea who Sean Foley is and what he’s doing and obviously no one knows Tiger so you’re not going to get anything there.”

“Most of the people haven’t made any sort of effort to get to know Sean and understand what he’s trying to do.  Because I know there’s numerous guys and analysts who have made efforts to call Foley and e‑mail him, what are you guys working on, to kind of understand what they are doing and what he’s trying to do.  And understanding that most people that talk about it, don’t have any understanding of what’s going on.”

“I hear them and I see their background and it’s like, well, you don’t even deserve it because you don’t even know anything.  It’s comical the power some people have without doing any sort of homework.  It frustrates me and kind of angers me a little bit.  But you know, that’s the world we live in and that’s just kind of the way things are.”

“And Foley is better for it because he can handle a guy like Tiger — a lot comes with that and I think he’s done a pretty good job of containing himself and not letting it bother him.  He just does his job every day and does it better than anyone.”

Q.  What are the things that he’s done for you, the most tangible things since you’ve been with him that he’s done?

“Well, a complete understanding of the golf swing and why things happen.  And I mean, his understanding of the swing and the game in general is just really impressive.  He’s kind of been the pioneer of biomechanics and science of golf and why things are the way they are.  Sean always wanted to know why he does that, why are you going to tell me to do this, if it doesn’t — unless it really makes sense and [causes you to] hit it right.”

“Golf has been so old school; it’s so old and people have theories and formulas and I think people like that.  They like to have their own ideas when the truth is out there and you just have to search for it and that’s what Sean’s done and he’s done it with different people and he’s not afraid to call somebody or ask somebody’s help, who like have nothing to do with golf because they have a lot of information and he’s kind of found the answers kind of within that.  His work ethic is really second to none and that’s kind of what I appreciate about him.”

Q.  Sean played in college and seems like he’s a good player but not at the level that you guys are. But he’s done all this research and he does what he does for you guys, it’s an interesting dynamic?

“Yeah, playing golf doesn’t excite him.  Hitting one pure iron shot and knowing why that happened excites him.  Hitting on the range and just hitting shots, hitting iron shots and seeing the flight and the sound; he just loves all that stuff.”

“Because when we get on the golf course, it’s all about getting a score out of it.  It’s not how pretty it is.  It’s about figuring out how to score that day and what do I have to do and how do I have to adjust things.  He’s more interested in how high the ball is going on a certain flight and he always wanted to know why, why things were the way they were.”

“But as a teacher he’s grown a lot since I met him.  His understanding of the game and of what it takes to be a great pro or what it takes to play well, it’s been unbelievable the past few years.  He’s really taken, I don’t want to say a psychological approach, but just an understanding of the mental side of the game of golf.”

Q.  How did you come to him?  Was Justin [Rose} with him before you?  Or you were before Justin?

“Sean O’Hair is a buddy of mine and started working with him and just telling me about him, so I kind of inquired and started working with each other at the 2007 PGA I think.”

Q.  I understand about ten percent of what Foley tells me.

“He uses big words. “

Q.  How much do you understand or does it take a long time to understand him?

“For sure, I know ‑‑ yeah, like I said, he uses the big words.  He’s a very intelligent human being.  He reads a ton about stuff.  But I do understand because language is a big part of teaching.”

“You’ve got to understand what someone’s saying and that sounds remedial but it’s very, very true.  He knows me very, very well and I know him very well so we have a great understanding of what each person is saying.  He knows how to talk to me.  He talks to me differently than he talks to Rosey or Tiger or anybody else.  That takes time to know your guy and when to know kind of when to get on him or back off and just let them figure it out because they are having a mental episode.”

“He’s very open and it’s easy to talk to him and say, I don’t like this; okay, let’s figure something else out.  He doesn’t take anything personally which is good.”

You’d have to say that this is a ringing endorsement and tacit approval of the work that Tiger and Foley are doing together.

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