I know what you're thinking. Being Tiger Woods' swing coach is something akin to being Albert Einstein's physics tutor or Michael Phelps' swimming instructor...you just sit back, get comfortable and keep saying over and over, "Just do what you always do." You would think that being charged with improving the swing of the world's greatest golfer has got to be the easiest gig in the world, right? Not necessarily.
Hank Haney has been Woods' swing coach since March of 2004 and is considered by many to be a very important cog in the Tiger machine…a cog that is highly valued by the machine himself.
"He's helped me so much," Tiger Woods recently said in an exclusive interview with ESPN Video Games. "The last few years and the success we've had, we've worked really hard together to get my game more consistent and better. He's done a great job and we're going to continue to work at it."
For Haney, the key to being an effective swing coach is possessing a keen sense of observation, as I learned one afternoon last June.
It was the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines and I was invited to tag along with Haney as he put that keen sense of observation to use analyzing Tiger through his second-round play. Tiger was scheduled to tee off for the day at the tenth hole and that's where I met up with the coach.
In a nutshell, here's how Haney operates at a major tournament: He follows Tiger from hole to hole, watching. Just watching. No notes, no voice recorder or video camera. Just that keen sense of observation at work. And then after the round is completed, he meets with Tiger to review the day.
"Obviously, the best-case scenario would be that I won't have much to say," Haney told me as we set off after Tiger's opening drive. "That would mean that everything went pretty well."
"Afterwards, when we go over how a round went, I try to let Tiger figure things out for himself as much as possible," Haney added. "He's an incredibly smart player and he usually knows what wasn't working so well and what he needs to do to correct it."
The first thing you notice about how Haney operates is exactly how Haney operates. You might expect that since he is coaching perhaps the world's most famous athlete, he would be whisked from hole to hole on a golf cart surrounded by a cadre of security clearing the way and depositing him firmly in the front row for each of Tiger's drives. Well, you would be wrong.
Haney, a low-key, unassuming man by nature, simply walks the course, stealthily navigating the immense crowds that inevitably materialize whenever Tiger is around. He never seems to rush or hurry but always manages -- through years of practice and solid gut instinct -- to find the perfect vantage point to observe Tigers shot. And then, in a blink of an eye, he's off to find his next spot. I learned quickly that you stay close to the man or else you get swallowed up by the masses.
Now, after honing his coaching skills on Tiger, Haney is ready to take on a much bigger challenge: coaching you and me and all the other mortal hackers in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09.
In the latest iteration of Tiger's successful video game franchise, the producers at EA Sports have enlisted Haney to be your virtual coach; guiding you through your career and helping you improve your skills as you play each round. He'll be there to assess your skill levels, help you tune your clubs and give you feed back for every round, just like he does for Tiger.
"I think it's great for gamers to experience what I experience," said Woods. "I trust Hank completely with my golf swing and now gamers will be able to feel a sense of development as they improve their skills."
So, maybe being Tiger Woods' swing coach is a pretty easy gig ... especially when you compare it to trying to coach a hack like me.
For more on Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09, visit EASports.com.