The flash of inspiration hit Sean Foley during a morning shower. It was the Sunday of last year’s US Open. Foley, the coach, sent a message to his pupil; the eventual .
“I leapt out of the shower, grabbed my phone and just started typing,” Foley says. “Rosey, today is a super important day, bud, because we are sons of great men and fathers of beautiful children.
“So go out on the course and represent your father with everything he taught you. Be the man that you want your children to look up to.’ He texted back, ‘Beautiful.’”
Rose made mention of Foley’s motivational sentiment during his victory press conference. He had ended a 43-year English wait for the major and completed a wonderful recovery from the troubles which afflicted him on entry to professional golf. Foley, with whom Rose has worked since 2009, had been an instrumental figure.
“Professionally, it was a super important day,” Foley says. “So don’t pretend you are at Lake Nona with your mates because you are not. Accept it for what it is, trying to pretend you are somewhere that you are not only takes a lot of energy out of you.
“My theory is that we should do everything we have control of to the highest level. That has to become habit, then you let chance help you out when it can. When opportunity approaches us, we will be prepared.
“When I started with Justin, he had gone from sixth to 80th in the world. He wasn’t in a good place with his ball striking. All I did was show him what he was already capable of. He just didn’t really understand the steps to get there.”
Foley was touching down at his Orlando home by the time Rose secured his two-shot victory. That much was typical.
“When they get done, it is time for them, their caddies and their families,” says the Canadian. “I work in a very simple environment; on the driving range and during practice rounds. I don’t have a whole lot to do with their amount of success or lack of success. You will never see me in a picture, ever. I’m there to do my job, I do that job to the best of my ability then I head home to see my family.
“I can’t run out on the 5th hole and say: ‘Get your head up, stand closer to the ball.’ Someone once said a golf coach is only as good as his record. In a team sport I agree with that because he is calling the play. I am not paid $7m a year. This is totally different.”
Coaching has been Foley’s calling since his teenage years. His success with Rose and Hunter Mahan is barely offset by relationships that have not worked, such as during a brief period tutoring Lee Westwood. “I love Lee,” Foley says. “I could go to the Bahamas for seven days with Lee and we would have a blast. When he won in Malaysia this year, I was probably the first person to text him. It is just business, it is not personal. I am support staff.
“My dad was a sales guy his whole life, he probably failed 10 times a day to sell two things. When I see things become nasty, I just think: ‘How immature.’
“I was always fascinated with hitting the perfect shot. I used to watch all the teachers giving lessons and was fascinated. I reckoned they had a life that I would like to have.”
Foley is best known in golfing circles as the coach of Woods. He replaced Hank Haney in that role and gained an instant appreciation of how scrutiny is cranked up when you are working with a 14-times major winner.
“That happened overnight,” Foley says. “I remember my wife saying: ‘Wow, this is interesting.’ I said: ‘Look, Tiger won 40% of his tournaments with Hank Haney. All Hank Haney got ripped about was how badly Tiger was playing.’ So if he won 40% and we are starting with him now, at an older age, with injuries, having been through everything that he went through, I am going to have a bullseye on my back.
“Within two days, hundreds of articles appeared about what an arrogant prick I was. How I had stolen all these swing principles.”
Foley is nothing of the sort. He is excellent, entertaining company and far more approachable than others in his position could be.
“I am already critical enough of what I am doing with him anyway,” Foley says. “You don’t take criticism personally because no matter if it was me, or Chuck Cook, or Tiger went back to Butch Harmon, people have got to do so many stories on the guy that stories about everyone from his agent to his trainer are still going to produce massive hits on a website.
“I love working with Tiger. I am so grateful for the experience that he has allowed me to have. I don’t see any downside. As a total golf pervert, to be able to sit 10ft behind is literally a dream come true. I have read very little. Why read an article about you and someone else when you are living it? People believe what they want to believe, aliens landing in Norway or whatever.”
Foley is as in the dark as the rest of us as to when following back surgery. By his own admission, he is “desperate” to start work with the 38-year-old again soon.
“If Tiger wins 19 majors, which I fully believe he is going to, it won’t be because of me. Joe LaCava [Woods’s caddie] is way more pivotal to that than I am because he is with him on the course, giving him yardages and helping with wind direction. I’m on the range, on easy street.
“If he has a question, he will ask me. You can argue he is the greatest learner of all time. He learned how to hit a spinning lob wedge shot out of a bunker because he wasn’t going to stop until he figured it out.
“The most fascinating thing to me about Tiger isn’t all the wins, it’s the eight missed [36 hole] cuts as a professional. That just defies logic. We are a society of comparisons. People ask why the same person can’t do what he was doing in 2000; that’s just not probable. That becomes a measuring stick when it just can’t be.
“Tiger has always been the best at strategy, at doing all that he can do and letting all the other things just fall by the wayside. I have never seen a more patient professional athlete than Tiger Woods.”
Rose displayed identical attributes a year ago. Foley’s influence on that should not be understated.