The cameras at Bay Hill on Sunday, March 25, 2012, were not on golf guru Sean Foley, but if they were, viewers would have likely seen a smile bigger than that of his top student, Tiger Woods, who just happened to win the event.
That's because Foley, much like Woods, had to feel like the monkey was finally off his back with an official PGA TOUR win by his most famous client. The instructor, whose most notable students include Sean O'Hair, Justin Rose, and Hunter Mahan in addition to Woods, has come under close scrutiny ever since he began the relationship with the former world no. 1 in August 2010.
Whether it was talk that Tiger's swing was fine the way it was or that Foley's ideas of how the golf swing worked were too unconventional, critics pulled no punches when it came to the newest addition to Team Tiger.
The reality of the situation is that Tiger's swing was unsatisfactory for a number of reasons. His old swing put a tremendous amount of stress on his left knee. You know the knee - it's the one that he's had four surgeries (that we know of) on and caused the majority of his injury-related time away from the sport.
After parting ways with Hank Haney and attempting to coach himself, he struggled mightily and reached a new low in his career - an 18-over par finish at the 2010 WGC Bridgestone Invitational. At that point, he knew he needed help and would choose Foley as his go-to guy.
The dynamic between player and coach fits nicely. Foley, known for his analytical and systematic approach to the swing has been a good fit for Woods, who is an analyst himself. Foley is the youngest coach Woods has had in his professional career (Foley is just a year older than Woods), so it stands to reason that they relate well on a personal level as well.
None of this is to suggest that Woods needed to fix anything during dominant years with Butch Harmon - particularly in the record-setting year 2000. Later, with Hank Haney, he would win six more majors. After his game and life literally came crashing down in November 2009, his game would never be the same.
In stepped Foley with a new approach. He worked on a swing motion that made Tiger more efficient, accurate off the tee, and lessened the incredible pressure on his left side. Tiger's lower body is now much less active on the downswing, which is a move that could lengthen his career from a health standpoint. Critics were quick to point out the struggles Woods faced since returning, but Sunday's win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational is sweet justice for the pair.
It is worth noting that Foley's other PGA TOUR clients are thriving as well. Both Rose and Mahan have won on TOUR this year. Factor in Tiger's win, and 2012 is shaping up to be the year of Sean Foley.
Next up is The 2012 Masters where total vindication for Foley could be complete. Woods' game is right where it needs to be in order to win at Augusta National, and now it seems that it is a matter of when, not if, Foley and Woods will have silenced all doubts about the work they've done by winning a major.
April 5, 2012, day one of The Masters, can't come fast enough.
Michael C. Jones is a Yahoo! Featured Contributor in Sports and PGA Professional, covering the PGA TOUR
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- Tiger Woods
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