It all started with a text message. On Thursday night, one of my classmates who works at Golfsmith in North Scottsdale texted me, “You want to meet Hank Haney?”
All I texted back was “When?” But inside, I was thinking, “Gee, let me think. Do I want to meet legendary golf instructor Hank Haney? Uh… Yeah!”
Haney is in town for a few days re-shooting every instructional video he’s ever done while wearing TaylorMade everything. While I couldn’t find anything online about why his partnership with the Adidas-owned company has dissolved, I can tell you Haney is now very much sponsored by Callaway.
To promote their new XR 16 driver, a collaboration with the world’s leading aerodynamic engineers from Boeing, Callaway sent Haney out to Golfsmith for a surprise meet-and-greet and to shoot a fitting with a customer.
Now let me stop you right there. The customer wasn’t supposed to be me. My intentions were simply to go to the store, take a few pictures in hopes of being able to write an article for my web site, and get Hank to sign my copy of his controversial 2012 book, The Big Miss: My Years Coaching Tiger Woods.
But when Haney’s cargo van pulled up to the curb, and I started taking pictures, Jeff Neubarth of Callaway Media Productions asked me if I wanted Hank (I feel like we’re on a first name basis now) to fit me for a driver. At first, I politely declined. No seriously. I did. Customer traffic just happened to be at a momentary lull, and hey, that Jeff guy was pretty persuasive! Timing in life is everything, and on this day, my timing was perfect.
I have a background in television, so to me, being on camera again was no big deal. After visiting with Hank for a few minutes and telling him about my golf game and what I was doing at the Golf Academy, it was showtime. The scene was set: I was to stand in the aisle in front of all of Haney’s training aids and he would casually approach me like it was not big deal and ask me if I wanted a fitting. You don’t have to ask, Hank, you already had me at hello.
I got mic’d up while Callaway’s production crew set up the lights outside the hitting bay. Then I hit a few balls. Hank asked me to tell him about my game, and I told him, “I could use a little bit more distance off the tee… so I’m hitting a mid or a short-iron as opposed to a long-iron.”
We all want a little more distance off the tee don’t we? I mean, who doesn’t want to hit it further? My issue is clubhead speed. I typically only swing the club about 95 miles per hour, so immediately, Hank was trying to get me to swing it faster, out of my comfort zone.
“Distance is a real game changer,” Haney told me, “Now, you’re able to reach more Par 5s in two. That’s where all the better players want to be.”
Sure enough, as I started to get loose, the numbers on the Foresight launch monitor backed me up. I was hitting it exactly 95 mph! Then little by little, Hank tried to get me to crank it up – really get out of my comfort zone. Hank told me he tries to get everyone to swing at least four miles per hour faster by the end of a session.
Every mile per hour equates to 2.5 yards, meaning four miles per hour is an extra ten yards of distance. I told Hank I was afraid to relinquish the control and accuracy I got by swinging the club a little slower.
“Accuracy is overrated,” said Haney. “Two of the longest hitters, Mickelson and Woods, were also two of the best players, and they hit it all over the place. People who are hitting the fairway all the time aren’t swinging it hard enough to make the ball go anywhere but straight.” Good point, Hank.
As the fitting progressed, Hank was careful to remind me that in order to swing the club faster, I had to swing faster from the backswing all the way through impact. “You can’t start slow and then expect to swing fast,” Haney said. “You have to speed up beginning with your takeaway. Tour tempo is 3:1. The best players in the world all share the same tempo: 1-2-3-1.”
That’s all I needed to hear. In his unmistakably shy tone, Hank encouraged me one last time, “Gimme everything ya got!” So I did. We waited for my numbers to appear on the screen and… 103 mph! No more than 20 balls after we first started, I was already swinging faster and carrying the ball farther than I ever had before.
I thought I looked pretty good, and so did Hank. Then it dawned on me. That’s what coaching is, isn’t it? It’s communicating with your student and then encouraging him or her to go and do it.
That’s why Hank Haney is one of the best there is. I felt like he took a genuine interest in my game (as well as the customers who approached him).
It turns out you can teach someone how to swing the club harder. “You just did!” Haney said. “But I said faster, not harder. When people try to swing harder, they tense up. All the muscles in their hands, arms, and shoulders contract. Most people hit their longest drives when they least expect it because they’re relaxed.”
Wow! What a day! Today’s fitting with Hank Haney was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. About the only thing that can top it? Callaway is sending me that brand new driver.
As someone who’s considering a career in golf instruction, I couldn’t let the man who coached one of the greatest golfers of all time get away without asking for a little advice, master to apprentice. Here’s what Hank had to say:
* “I had to have a great student.” Haney on when he thought he made his greatest leap forward as an instructor, obviously referring to Tiger Woods, whom he coached to six major championships between 2004 and 2010.
* “Diagnose. Plan. Communicate. Everyone is different.” Haney on how he gives a lesson. This sounds a lot like GolfTEC’s philosophy of diagnose, develop a game plan for your student, and define your goal.
* “Watch the flight of the ball. The ball flight is your teacher. It tells all.” Haney on the importance of ball flight. You can learn a lot by watching the flight of the ball. For one, it’ll tell you where the clubface is pointing at impact. The clubface is responsible for the direction the ball starts.