"He was making good swings, but he was manipulating his lower spine to do it," Foley says. "I said, 'This could be so much easier than you're making it.'" Ames, who won the Tour stop at Disney World in 2007 and again last year, hasn't had lower-back issues since that first session at Orange County National. Foley moved Ames closer to the ball and taught him a simpler, rounder swing.
Foley had wanted that chance, the chance to work with an elite player, for a long time, and when he got it, he seized the day. One of his credos is from Henry David Thoreau: "I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately.... I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life." For Foley, all you have to do is replace woods with practice tee.
Ames says Foley has pointed him toward a bunch of writers and philosophers and turned him into a more serious reader. "Really, except for the age difference, he's like a role model for me," says Ames, who is 46.
Ames believes that Foley could be an ideal teacher for Woods because he will show him a swing that will not hurt him. "Tiger's swing is so violent, it's no wonder his body is breaking down," Ames says. In a Foley-shaped swing, Ames adds, "the body moves correctly, to where it doesn't hurt."
Of course, the biggest thing in any coach-player relationship lies in the murky waters of personality, in how two people mesh. Ames, compulsively candid, doesn't pretend to know how Woods and Foley would get along. "In Tiger you have one big ego to work with, and that's a tough fish to catch," Ames says. "But the real question is, Could Tiger handle Sean? Actually, you've got two pretty big egos there." Note the mirth in the golfer's voice.
Like a lot of well-known instructors, Foley is an all-world talker, and an interesting one. He's a white, eh-using Canuck who went to a historically black university, Tennessee State, in Nashville to play golf. He stayed five years and majored in philosophy. Along the way he became fascinated by Southern culture, African-American culture, hip-hop, the roots of racism and poverty, the life and times of Martin Luther King Jr. and the spiritual, intellectual and athletic development of children. Talking to him, you get the feeling he won't be baking himself on the practice tee at Orange County National forever.
In the meantime he's thoroughly devoted to making good players better. Enter Woods. Or maybe not. Foley isn't convinced Woods needs him or anyone else. He predicts Woods will win 23 or more majors even if he never sees another swing coach. "Eighty-five to 90 percent of Tiger's swing is completely Tiger Woods," Foley says. "The teacher's job is to let Tiger be himself over the ball and learn to answer his own questions. If Tiger learned more from the teacher than the teacher learned from Tiger, then the teacher probably wasn't asking the right questions. You're taking about the Jimi Hendrix of golf. You're talking about Bill Gates. You're talking about genius."
Foley can give you entertaining lists of favorite authors (Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky), movies (Forrest Gump, Platoon), musicians (Stevie Wonder, Guru of Gang Starr), poets (Maya Angelou, Lao Tzu) and golf courses (St. Andrews, the Magnolia course at the Walt Disney Golf Resort). But there are gaps in his education. He has, for instance, no favorite video games. Tiger could help him there. Like all real teachers, Foley knows the art of teaching is a two-way street.
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