AKRON, Ohio -- When Hank Haney resigned as Tiger Woods' swing coach on May 10 after what Haney later called a "dysfunctional" relationship of six years, the world's No. 1 golfer decided to go it alone.
Instead of selecting someone to follow in the footsteps of Haney and Butch Harmon, Woods elected to fill the void in a much more impersonal manner -- with a video camera. For three months, he has ignored speculation on the issue and maintained that is the only other set of eyes he needs.
Woods is entered in the Akron's Firestone Country Club this week for the $8.5 million World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational still searching for his first victory of 2010. But he should be enthused to tackle the 7,360-yard par-70 South Course, where he has won seven times in the previous 10 years and never finished worse than tied for fifth dating to the days of the NEC World Series of Golf.
Woods also switched putters at the British Open for the first time since 1999, a change that lasted only three rounds, and has reportedly gone to a harder Nike ball with less spin. At Firestone, he won't be the only competitor without a swing coach.
Ryan Moore, the 2009 Wyndham Championship winner, and Bubba Watson, the PGA Tour leader in driving distance from 2006-08 whose breakthrough victory came in June at the Travelers Championship, never have sought help with their swings. Rookie sensation Rickie Fowler has earned more than $2 million this year without consulting a coach or a video camera. Young Irish star Rory McIlroy has been lauded for his natural swing, rhythm and imagination, developed with very little tinkering from Michael Bannon, his coach since he was a child. Jim Furyk never has had anyone other than his father, Mike, looking over his shoulder. Last month at the AT&T National, Vijay Singh said he was in between instructors.
Change of swing
Justin Rose, who won the Memorial and AT&T, sounded almost envious of players such as McIlroy and Fowler. Rose, 19th in the world rankings, is a former pupil of David Leadbetter and has changed his swing quite a few times. He has seemed to blossom under the year-long tutelage of Sean Foley.
"So many of us young guys out on tour, we play golf swing, we don't play golf," Rose said at Aronimink Golf Club before the AT&T. "That really doesn't serve you well. I think sometimes ignorance is bliss.
"Rickie Fowler hits the ball really well and has maybe a slightly quirky swing. He probably doesn't want to have a coach or to have any way of looking at it. As long as his feel remains good and he stays fearless and he doesn't tinker around with it too much and keeps trusting it, you don't need a swing coach."
Fowler, a 20-year-old Californian, said he always has been a feel player and sees no reason to seek help. A two-time All-American at Oklahoma State who made the cut at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines as an amateur, he played his way onto the PGA Tour in 2009's qualifying school.
"I had the same guy from when I was 7 through high school: Barry McDonald," Fowler said at the AT&T. "I worked with him once a week, just go hit balls. Never used a video camera. Once I (got to) college, I basically did everything on my own; I'd go see him once a year. The last time I saw him, I hit balls with him for 15 minutes over Thanksgiving."
Moore, a four-time college All-American who has earned more than $7 million on the PGA Tour, learned the game from his father as soon as he could walk. While he admitted he has "kind of hired" his best friend from UNLV's golf team to keep him on track and bounce ideas off of, Moore boasts proudly, "I've never had a swing coach, ever."
"My golf swing is my golf swing and honestly I never really saw a lot of benefit to go tinker with it," Moore said at the AT&T. "I've done OK. Some people . . . that's what they're comfortable with, that's what they know. Me, I'm the opposite. I just went and played golf. I never worked on that much stuff. I played golf and learned how to get the ball in the hole.
"I think there's more young guys who get out here who are that way than the other way."
Even with his father growing up in Washington state, Moore said they never got into anything technical.
"I've never worked on a technique or a position, 'Get the club to this spot,"' Moore said. "I'm a feel person 100 percent."
A good example
Australian Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open champion, is a great admirer of Watson. Bubba, that is.
"There is a great lesson in studying Bubba," Ogilvy told Golf Digest for an August 2009 story. "He looks like he enjoys hitting golf shots, and everything is secondary to that. Most of the tour is in this bad place where players think that if they aren't always thinking about their swing, it will get messed up. Bubba is the opposite -- all he thinks about is the shot."
Some on the tour have taken breaks from coaches, only to hire another. Singh is in one of those periods.
"It's nice to have one if you're not playing well. If you're playing well, you don't really need one," Singh said at Aronimink. "If you're in trouble on the golf course, your swing coach is not going to help you. In that aspect, it's better not to have one."
Australia's Robert Allenby, who has risen to 14th in the world rankings this year, said he took a year or two off to regroup after parting with his swing coach of 18 years.
"It was kinda good. Then I needed someone to maybe yell at me further," Allenby said at AT&T. "It's important to have another set of eyes looking at what's going on. There's not many players out here without them and if there is, they won't be for long."
But Allenby believes there can be a point where a pro is receiving too much instruction.
"It's a matter of just balancing it all out," Allenby said. "It might be that you just see someone at home and you go out on tour without anyone."
That's the strategy Furyk has always followed.
"I tend to want to work with my father at home; I want to bring my game to an event," Furyk said. "I don't want to try to come find it at the course.
"There's times when I think the importance of a teacher is severely overblown and there's time when I think it's severely underblown."
Kentuckian J.B. Holmes, a member of the 2008 Ryder Cup team, said he never had a coach until he came on the tour. Now he leaves the video analysis to the expert and tries not to tinker too much, concentrating on maintaining what's working.
Ricky Barnes, who has risen to 59th in the world, played in the 2003 Masters Tournament as the '02 Amateur champion. He didn't hire a coach until two years ago, when his top 25 finish on the Nationwide Tour vaulted him into the PGA ranks.
"You just don't know any better," Barnes said of his days going it alone. "In the end it is really good to have someone looking after you because you can't pick out everything yourself."
Troy Matteson, a two-time winner of the Frys.com Open, has two swing coaches and can't imagine being without.
"It's always a good idea for a guy like me to have one. I need the supervision," Matteson said at the AT&T. "Golf professionals develop a lot of bad habits very quickly. I've always said players don't make good teachers. I don't think there would ever be a time where I could sit back and teach myself."
Before the British Open, Woods said he might not take this approach forever.
"(I'm) never, ever going to rule out ever using a coach," Woods said.
But if Woods decides this is the best way for him, Fowler is in his corner.
"I think it's a smart choice on his part," Fowler said. "He knows what he's doing. He's gotten to where he is for a reason. Being on his own, he knows how to figure it out."