Leonard Finkel: Hank, you’re one of the top golf instructors in the world. Why do you think you’re so successful.
Hank Haney: I think the reason I’ve been successful at golf instruction is because I’m just a hard tryer. I’ve always tried really hard. I’ve tried to learn. I’ve tried to understand everything I could about coaching the golf swing. I’ve been very good at making a plan. If you’re going to get better at anything, you have to have a plan. A step-by-step roadmap that takes you from where you are to where you want to be, or where you possibly could be. I’ve always been plan oriented; have a step-by-step plan and stick to that plan. Those would be my two keys to success.
I started off with Mark O’Meara and he was my first student. He’s a perfect example of executing a plan. This was his second year on Tour. He was 124th on the money list and as I stood there, he asked if I was going to say anything. This was at Pinehurst Hotel and Country Club and finally I said let’s go inside. We’ll sit down and we’ll talk about what your plan should be. He said Hank, I don’t have time for that. He said he was going to lose his Tour card so could I just give him some advice. I said no, let’s talk about what your plan should be and see if you want to commit to it. We went inside and talked. It made sense to him. He started to follow my plan and two years later he finished second on the money list. It’s a perfect example of making sure you have a plan and then working it.
Finkel: You worked with what a lot of people consider the most talented golfer of all time, Tiger Woods. What was that like and what did that experience mean to you?
Haney: First, as a coach of anything, if you have an opportunity to work with a player like Tiger Woods, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime. It meant so much to me. It really validated my whole career. To be honest with you, just to get that opportunity to coach him was a highlight, as was being able to watch him have great success while I was helping him. He won 45 percent of his tournaments. He was top 10, 85 percent of the time. So, to see that kind of success was just further validation of what I had done my whole career. It was an incredible opportunity, a great learning experience because with Tiger there was an opportunity to look up close and personal at someone that was arguably the greatest player ever. I mean, it’s Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. It was a great experience for me as a coach and obviously something I’ll never forget.
Finkel: How would you assess his comeback now?
Haney: I feel like Tiger is playing very, very well. I think his comeback has gone incredibly well considering where he was. And it’s not just the injuries but the inactivity for so long. He’s been on and off injured, scandals and so forth since 2008. He had the big layoff with his ACL and his broken leg after the U.S. Open. He’s out there playing without pain, at least relatively speaking, and he can swing again. And I think he is going to win more golf tournaments. I think he is going to win another Major. For a 42-year-old professional athlete who’s had four knee operations and five or six back operations, he’s doing pretty darn good.
Finkel: Let’s go from maybe the best player of all time to someone with possibly the worst swing ever. What was it like working with Charles Barkley?
Haney: It was great. It was phenomenal working with Charles. He’s one of my favorite people in the whole world. He’s a great person, a role model for how every celebrity and sports personality should act and treat people. He says hello to everybody. He takes pictures with everybody. He looks every little kid straight in the eye, tells them to do good in school. I’ll tell you, he loves golf. He’s not very good at it. That’s an understatement, but he loves the game and the game loves him. He plays the American Century Celebrity Championship in Tahoe every year. It’s his big tournament, and he is by far the number one celebrity there. Not so good at golf, but you know, that’s why we called it the Haney Project on the Golf Channel when we had my show. And Charles was my first guy because he’s my lifelong project, and it’s probably going to take at least one lifetime to get him right.
Finkel: You’ve had many students on Tour. What was your favorite win for one of your students?
Haney: Mark O’Meara. Mark was my first student on Tour. I would say everything that’s great that happened to me in golf, and really in my life, happened because I met Mark O’Meara. When I met Mark at Pinehurst in 1982 at the Hall of Fame Classic, he was 124th on the money list on the PGA Tour. Two years later he was second on the money list. All of a sudden Hank Haney must know something and I’m teaching touring pros. But Mark is my guy that got me started. I’ve taught over 200 touring pros during my career but my highlight moment for sure was Mark O’Meara winning the 1998 Masters. And he followed it up that summer by winning the Open Championship. He won two Majors in the same year and was “Player of the Year” that year.
Finkel: And he beat Tiger heads up in that Open.
Haney: He beat Tiger at Royal Birkdale. And of course, when Mark got inducted to the World Golf Hall of Fame a couple of years ago, that was another highlight. Mark always said, “I’m not a great player, I’m a really good player.” I texted Mark when he got into the Hall of Fame. I said Mark, they don’t have any good players in the Hall of Fame. They have great players in the Hall of Fame. That’s the one that stands out the most for sure, when he won the Masters by sinking that putt on the last hole.
Finkel: Do you believe custom club fitting is important?
Haney: It’s always been important but today, the advantages of custom fitting are even more prevalent than ever. You really have an opportunity to optimize your equipment for you. Distance is so important and everybody can achieve more distance with better equipment. We see it with the touring pros. And the opportunity is there with Club Champion Golf. You can get a professional fitting, I mean, a real professional fitting. The advancements we’ve had in equipment and in club fitting are just so incredible, that for somebody not to take advantage of it is a wasted opportunity.
Finkel: What about custom fitting on Tour?
Haney: You custom fit both clubs and balls. When I was with Tiger, he was reluctant to try the newest things. Even when they would bring the TrackMan out and show him the difference. The only thing he would experiment with would be the golf club, but he only would do it around the greens. And we would look to see if the ball would spin more or spin less. That’s where he would start off. Even if they told him how much farther the ball went, he didn’t care. He wanted it to react around the greens. For every player who plays, they have to have a hot button. Maybe it’s greater distance, maybe it’s a better trajectory, maybe it’s more accuracy or maybe it’s more spin or less spin. But you have to hit that spot for that player, and nowhere does it happen more than with touring pros.
Finkel: What kind of players do you think benefit from custom club fitting?
Haney: Everybody! Everybody benefits from custom club fitting. Whether it’s getting clubs that fit you so that you can have a good set up and a chance to swing a golf club to the best of your ability, or it’s optimizing the equipment you have, a fitting can only help your game. Maybe you have a club that fits you, but are you using the optimal clubs for your distance, accuracy or consistency? There isn’t anyone who can’t benefit from club fitting. It’s one thing that is really hard to understand in golf. People just don’t pay enough attention to their equipment. I guess they just think it’s all the same. But it’s not. If you get the right club for you, it can make a tremendous difference in your golf game.
Finkel: Do you see custom club fitting working hand-in-hand with golf instruction?
Haney: You have to start with a student that has clubs that fit him, at least from a static measurement perspective. If your clubs don’t fit you with length and lie, then you have no starting point because you can’t get a student to set up to the ball correctly. To me, instruction starts with fixing the person’s big miss and the first thing I want to do is make sure I’m not fighting that player’s equipment. If somebody’s slicing it or hooking or pulling or pushing it, I want to make sure there’s not something in their equipment contributing to that. Then secondly, is there something with equipment that could help to correct those ball flight mistakes? If you don’t get the equipment right first, then you’re going to have to over-correct in order to get a ball flight change and you don’t want to do that. So definitely, to me the starting point is the club fitting.
Finkel: How can you help golfers as they’re getting older? Is there a way instruction can help get back some of that lost distance?
Haney: A lot of times with older players, their lost distance has to do with a lack of flexibility. As we get older, we tend to lose flexibility. And if you lose flexibility, you lose length to your swing which reduces clubhead speed. We try to get people motivated to do some stretching, do some yoga to get the length back in their swing. But we also do things instruction-wise that can help make it easier for them to turn. It may be adjusting their foot position or getting them to turn their hips a little bit more or focusing on their hand and arm swing. We might try to get their wrist to hinge more and get the club to swing back. But that’s the one place where players that lose distance could get at least some or even most of it back – if they can regain the length of their swing. Obviously, as we get older, we tend to get slower but there’s not much you can do about that. But you certainly can do something about the length of your swing. That you can recapture.
Finkel: Do you see any trends in instruction today and if so, how do you feel about them?
Haney: Probably the biggest trends are towards technology. TrackMan, the various launch monitors, force plates, all the bio-mechanical stuff. We can hook everything up to your body and see exactly what’s going on. There’s definitely a trend in instruction and has been for quite a few years where more information is what’s driving the bus. I think to a certain extent it’s good because it helps people with their diagnosis and helps them figure out exactly what the problem is. One of the tough things though, when you have a lot of information, is how can I apply it and what do I do first? What do I do next? You can only think about so many things when you’re swinging a golf club. You can only think about so many things when you’re giving advice and it has to be a step-by-step process. Sometimes when you get more information, it makes things more complicated. But sometimes when you get more information, it makes things simpler. My goal with instruction is always to make it easier to understand, simpler. So, I try to take technology and turn that into a real positive by simplifying things; just getting down to one or two things somebody needs to think about to fix their ball flight. Because all that really matters at the end of the day is ball flight.
Finkel: You’ve been involved in the industry for a long time. What are you working on these days besides one-on-one teaching? Any projects we should be aware of?
Haney: My main company is called The VooDoo Lab, and my product is a pain relief cream called VooDoo Pain Relief Cream. Actually, I have two products, VooDoo Pain Relief Cream and VooDoo Sports Cream. It’s a company I started at 63 years old. I’ve had a couple knee operations and two shoulder operations. As you get older, something’s always hurting, and I was always enamored by pain relief creams and the fact that they don’t do much. So, I found an incredible chemist, with a great lab in Oklahoma, and she helped me formulate a product. I call it VooDoo Pain Relief Cream because it’s like a magic formula and that’s been a big passion of mine. It’s something I’ve been working on for the last year and we just launched it about six months ago. We’re off to a great start and getting a lot of great feedback from people, people that it’s helping tremendously. It’s a bit of an extension from golf instruction, because as a golf instructor you feel so good helping people. But when you can help somebody feel better, that feeling is multiplied. It’s been one of the most fun projects I have ever done. That’s a big part of where my time is spent, when I’m not talking golf on SiriusXM PGA Tour radio, which I do every morning. When I’m not talking golf, I’m working on this project.
Finkel: Do you have other golf-related projects?
Haney: I do a lot of different things in golf. I have golf schools in Texas and three different academies in Dallas. I’ve got a public golf course in East Texas. I do a whole video series for Hank Haney University. People get my videos and I do a lot of clinics for club fitting. I did clinics last year for over 15,000 people. I’m active on Twitter where I have 150,000 followers. I’ve got a couple hundred thousand people a week that listen to my radio show. I don’t teach individual lessons anymore, but I probably teach more golf now than I ever have in terms of the reach that I have. Golf’s been so great to me. I feel so incredibly blessed by the events that have happened to me in golf and it’s fun to feel like you’re giving back a little bit.
Finkel: What are your passions outside of golf?
Haney: I’m a passionate sports fan. I like watching all sports. I’ve spent a lot of time the past couple of years playing Pickleball. I’m a Pickleball fanatic. I’m obsessed with Pickleball. In the summer, I played Pickleball three or four hours a day in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Then I play in Scottsdale the rest of the year. I play Pickleball all the time. I love Pickleball and I’m trying to get better. I have played in tournaments and I’ve got a big one coming up. I won a few of them, and I’m getting better, improving. I study it like golf. I watch videos, I watch all the tournaments online. I took lessons this summer from Tyson McGuffin, the U.S. Open Pickleball champion.
Finkel: That’s impressive, Hank. Good luck with your Pickleball career. And thanks for your time.
Haney: Thank you.
By Leonard Finkel