Check out those brooding clouds and one heck of a silhouette.
The Big Miss by Hank Haney is a book that, as a genuine sports writing enthusiast, one feels a little ‘naughty’ reading. This is a golfing memoir that in many respects, breaks every sporting code going. It’s a coach telling all about his client, breaking the sacrosanct discretion between teacher and student. It takes a jackhammer to the idea that the dressing room is a space verging on sacred and that what occurs there, stays there. For a man such as Haney, placed so directly and delicately at the front and centre of the Tiger Woods phenomenon as the player’s now infamous saga unfolded around him, times must have been tough and challenging. The resultant book, The Big Miss, I’m not sure can be said to be a negative one, nor a character assassination upon Woods himself – but in many respects, that’s the problem with it. It’s a steady read with one or two major takeaways that make it worthwhile, but the overall experience? A tad vanilla, a smudge non-committal, and in parts, very much over-airbrushed and edited to excess.
Haney’s memoir begins with a fantastic opening sequence in which he realises Woods is about to fire him. Indeed, the fact (as mentioned above), that this is THE coach that mentored and coached the worlds finest ever talent in golf, is rather breathtaking, and it takes a little to get over that sense of star-struck reading once we embark upon the journey. Haney’s own journey to coaching is covered, and it’s interesting as a college student genuinely enjoys coaching more than playing (or rather, enjoys identifying his own weaknesses and working on them, than necessarily playing big matches and achieving big things.) The quiet way Haney is shuffled into position in the Tiger Woods deck of professionals surrounding this unique man is telling and indicative of Tiger’s own discreet, focused, and unemotional approach to life itself. Of course Haney is first and foremost, a golf coach, and as such, the writing at times is very ‘tell it like it is’ with little flamboyance or embellishment. It’s a strength in that it’s honest, but it lacks that sense of human emotion and drama that any sports book, and especially one about Woods, could easily possess to great success.
The importance of Haney’s work could have been greater if, as mentioned, he’d opted for a more reverent and commanding sense of presence with the writing. For coaches, this could have been a gold coated offering, and a map to navigate even the most complex of clients (not a rarity in the elite ranks of the talented). As it is, it’s a worthwhile read, but it doesn’t strike me as a must have book, or an important one in the rightly crowded golf book marketplace.
The striking absence of entertainment is the part of Haney’s book that shocked me the most. There are so many peaks and troughs in the Woods timeline, yet Haney fails to capture that. There are some isolated moments of joy and victories that are briefly mentioned, but they are relayed without dimension and even, dare I say it, excitement. There are insider dirty laundry interludes (Ian Poulter doesn’t come off that well), but overall, it’s a book that trundles along a very linear, uneventful, course. A pity, but perhaps also testimony to the Woods approach – control everything, process only with the head, and never ever lose your focus. In many respects, I do admire Haney, who has resisted any commercial temptations to lift the curtain and show us around the Wizard’s den, but of course, that doesn’t make this a good book, merely a moral one.
Haney’s book is a decent yarn about his life as the coach to Tiger Woods, but its legacy will be – in my opinion – short and sweet. I left not really knowing much more about the true art of coaching, or the true art of Tiger – both promises I felt were made on cracking that spine. However, as a pleasant and easy read that offers a tiny fraction of life with Tiger, it’s not to be denigrated. Haney coached Woods through a time in which the player’s personal life threw him into the controversy spotlight without mercy, and he handles that element with dignity and a respect for his former boss that – perhaps – formed the bedrock of their coaching relationship and allowed that bond of trust to grow. A noble and considerate position to take up, but in doing so, limiting the impact of The Big Miss considerably.
A positive 5/10