Blog 198, 4/30/12 - Better Late Than Never Review of 'The Big Miss'

Most people who are going to buy a copy of 'The Big Miss' have probably done so already. But there may be a handful out there still pondering. I know, this review comes awfully late. I've just had a lot on. Sorry.

About 20 years ago, I used to take the train up to London or down Brighton once, sometimes twice, a week with my best mate to attend a concert. Actually, 'concert' is far too grand a term for what were small-time events featuring largely unheard-of bands in back-street clubs. Although only in his mid-late teens, my mate wrote gig reviews for the New Musical Express (NME), Britain's slightly less glossy equivalent of Rolling Stone.
It was cool having a mate who contributed to the NME. We didn't get VIP box seats, backstage passes, or anything like that, partly because the venues we went to didn't have bar stools let alone box seats, and partly because he operated incognito which is to say had he contacted the venue or band prior to the gig and told them he was coming, the response would have been "Yeah? And?" or something similar.
Anyway, every time my copy of NME arrived, I'd go straight to the gig review section and find the write-up for the gig we had attended. And every time I read the review, I'd say to myself "Huh?"
Sometimes I wondered if we had actually been to the same event.
My mate, who ended up going to Cambridge University, was something of an intellectual and had a spectacular vocabulary on him. No doubt he was brilliant, but not once having read a review of his could I be sure if he had actually enjoyed the gig, or if he thought the band was any good.
Which brings me to Hank Haney's 'The Big Miss'.
I read a dozen or more reviews before purchasing the book myself (no free review copies here you understand), but couldn't work out if the reviewers were recommending it or not. I don't want to start reviewing reviews but it seems to me the point of a product review is either to recommend the product or urge readers not to spend a cent of their hard-earned cash on it.
The most telling factor in deciding the worth of a book surely is how quickly you want to read it. I'm an absurdly slow reader as a rule, but finished 'The Big Miss' in less than a week keeping it close at hand at all times. There are passages that won't interest many and which lend little to the book like those in which Haney describes his schooling and how he broke into teaching golf, but most of the time I read with an intense interest. Haney has a lot to say, and the fact the book was ghost-written by Golf World editor Jaime Diaz helps it immensely as the text is perfectly organized.
Having met Haney about a year after he began coaching Woods, and seen how excited about the job he still was, it is a great shame their relationship ended the way it did and left Haney caustic and full of insecurities. I don't care much for the bitterness that sullies so many pages, but there's no denying it is a fascinating read nonetheless.
So yes, I'd recommend 'The Big Miss' unreservedly to anyone with even the smallest interest in Tiger Woods and his atypical life, but perhaps less enthusiastically to those interested only in the technical aspects of how Haney reworked Woods's swing (although there is plenty of interesting insight into why Woods had such trouble with the driver in particular) because, well, there aren't any pictures.

thebigmissAlthough Hank Haney, who coached Tiger Woods from February 2004 to May 2010, said several times on TV when promoting 'The Big Miss', that he always intended it to be a 'golf book', it doesn't take long before the actual reason for writing it becomes clear. Haney felt demoralized and short-changed from the relationship, and he sought revenge as a result. He wanted to tell the world what sort of a man Tiger Woods is and how poorly he felt he had been treated. He had a bone to pick with Woods. But he ends up picking an entire skeleton's worth.
It's perfectly possible Haney's publisher got more out of him than he was originally willing to give, but there are times when it all makes the reader feel quite uncomfortable. Every other page seems to have a paragraph or two that make you wonder why on Earth Haney felt it necessary to go there. So often he recounts conversations he had with Woods that Woods had every right to believe were for Haney's ears only. You read them and raise your eyebrows before frowning. Or you wince. It is a shocking and, given how level-headed and even-tempered he always seemed on ESPN or the Golf Channel, very surprising betrayal of trust.
On page 197, for instance, Haney tells us about an exchange the two had following the televized apology Woods gave for his extra-marital shenanigans. Haney says Woods called afterwards and told him he was now determined to play only for himself, adding 'not my dad, mom, Mark Steinberg (agent), Steve Williams (caddie), Nike, my foundation, you, or the fans. Only for myself.' On the next line, the 'author' admits it was 'the most intimate and revealing thing he'd ever said to me'.
We all have an inner gossip. Some are barely audible while some can't wait to blurt stuff that's far better left unsaid. Haney's willingness to divulge this, and many other, confidences puts him in the blurter camp and, it can be argued - quite easily in fact - the rather unfortunate group of people (comprised of young ladies predominantly) that were so happy to tell the world about their dealings with Woods in return for substantial financial gain.
Earlier, Haney attempts to describe Woods's character saying every facet of the 'Package', good and bad, made him the player he is. He reels off a list of personality traits - 'selfishness, obsessiveness, stubbornness, coldness, ruthlessness' - that surprises no one because we all know that without them Woods is unlikely to have become half the player he did. We forgive him those, respect him for them even.
But Haney isn't finished. Next comes 'pettiness' which isn't very surprising either because everyone knows Tiger could be a little precious at times. There is one final desription that changes everything, however, and you can almost see Haney screwing up his face as he tells Diaz to put it in - 'cheapness'. Though no psychologist, it seems to me that how much Woods chose to pay Haney or tip waitstaff has very little to do with how he managed to build such a brilliant record between the mid 1990s and the middle of 2008 - winning three consecutive US Amateur championships, and 14 majors as a professional including his last major triumph, the 2008 US Open when he hobbled round Torrey Pines in tremendous pain as his left knee slowly disintegrated. Being cheap is a reputation no man wants. It's something to be embarrassed about, not revered or respected for.
And yet despite all the character flaws Haney is happy to mention, he is also at pains to point out he was Tiger's friend. We know Woods is no angel, and needs to get his act together with regard club-kicking, bad language, signing autographs, and answering the media's questions with just a little more detail. But one can sympathize with him in this instance, and it's no surprise he has little regard for Haney or his book.
He's probably not the only one. Corey Carroll, Woods's frequent practice partner at Isleworth, the gated-community in Orlando where both lived, is quoted several more times than he probably felt comfortable with, if he felt comfortable with being quoted at all. Steve Williams and Keith Kleven, Woods's trainer, are also given a little more exposure than either probably wanted.
Haney's final misstep is the inappropriate comparison between the record Woods accumulated under his tutelage and that of Butch Harmon who preceded Haney as Woods's coach but somehow managed to resist the temptation to write a tell-all book despite no doubt having some pretty intriguing material of his own.
Haney states it was Woods that hit all the shots, and that he was just a guide making a few suggestions. But in making the comparison between himself and Harmon and what Woods achieved under both, is he not taking much of the credit for the six majors and 32 other wins Woods collected during their six years together?
It's an undignified and unseemly finish to a book that, though riveting in places, is, to use Haney's own word, rather cheap.

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