Book Review: The Big Miss By Hank Haney

Tiger Woods should be grateful Hank Haney wrote The Big Miss.

Not that the book will ever elicit any emotion from Woods other than a Mt. St. Helens fury of bulging-eye bitterness upon mention of the book’s tantalizing title. Nor is it hard to see why such a private, obsessive-compulsive control freak finds the new book to be the ultimate betrayal, even as he has shown little loyalty to those who’ve worked for him at meager wages considering the pressures involved. Yet after flying through this 247-page, mostly breezy and fascinating look into the life of a champion, I suspect most readers will ultimately have a newfound respect for Woods. I know I do.

That’s not to say you’ll look at him in a more positive light. The various leaked anecdotes certainly stand out and deserve the attention they got, but in the overall flow of the narrative, the now infamous Popsicle story or the Zach Johnson hotel adult movie revelation merely read like fun little jabs livening up Haney’s largely reverential assessment of Tiger.  Working with ghostwriter Jaime Diaz (big disclosure: new editor at Golf World where I'm a Contributing Writer), the Texas-based instructor never holds back in pointing out Tiger’s frugality, Woods’ downright rudeness or the socially-inept gamesmanship muddying Tiger’s most basic daily interactions.

However, it’s hard not to marvel at Woods' purposefulness, eccentricity and drive, which any sports fan suspects is at the core of the all-time greats. Not for a minute do you suspect Haney is making anything up for dramatic effect. Tiger is a workaholic who loves the game, loves trying to improve and likes winning majors. And for the first time in the history of golf literature, we get a behind-the-scenes look at how an all-time great works. Many times the details are not pretty, but most of the journey Haney takes us on reveals a relentless passion to thrive in an era when so many professionals appear content to occasionally contend and collect healthy checks.  If I were asked to recommend a book for an aspiring young golfer, The Big Miss would be the first title I’d select if for no other reason than most of today’s Tiger-wannabes will be motivated to work much harder than they currently do. They’ll also learn how not to treat the people closest to them.

Much of initial Big Miss backlash stems from the publisher’s decision to allow a slow drip of mostly salacious revelations to frame the discussion. Due to a lack of book reviews putting the salacious stuff into context, the perception of the book is one of a teacher-client confidentiality breach, with vindictive humiliation as the primary motive. (As if anything in the book is even remotely as humiliating as what came out in late 2009?)

This marketing approach, while likely to sell a boatload of books, may prove costly to Haney’s reputation based on the vitriolic social media reaction. Yet I sensed Haney’s primary goal was to document an amazing time in sports history and his small-but-influential role in some of the best golf ever played.

The Big Miss is not perfect. Some of the geeky golf instruction talk runs so far off the deep end that a reader will actually long for images to help illustrate what is being talked about. Also, Haney’s tone is genuine and consistently modest throughout. So when he chooses to use the final chapter (“Adding It Up”) to let us know Tiger had more wins during his watch than he did under Butch Harmon, it’s jarring and a peculiar drift from the rest of The Big Miss. Especially since, to that point, Harmon is treated with enormous respect. So much so that Haney even suggests much of his swing coaching for Tiger was little more than a continuation of Harmon’s teaching, with different views only on top-of-the-backswing position and communication styles.

In the minor quibble department, there were a few moments when Diaz’s voice takes over, but they are brief and inevitable in a situation like this where the ghost is such a knowledgeable student of the subject at hand. Most readers won’t notice as they revel in Diaz’s cogent, succinct style, ignited by a Grishamesque opening chapter.

Haney will take plenty of hits for profiting from exposing the inner workings of his time with Woods. And Diaz will never hear whatever frat house nickname Tiger might bestow on someone once respected enough to have spoken at Earl Woods' memorial service. However, in time The Big Miss will be considered a landmark tome in the already crowded bookshelf of classic golf books. Had Jack Grout or O.B. Keeler written a similar warts-and-all book about their days beside the legends whose lives they helped shape, or had Ben Hogan relied on a book-writing swing instructor for “coaching,” we’d be richer for insights that no “authorized” book comes close to delivering.  More importantly, without The Big Miss, aspiring golfers would not have had a powerful motivational tool to make themselves better players and even better human beings.  

The Big Miss

by Hank Haney (with Jaime Diaz)

Published March 27, 2012 by Crown Archetype

Edited by Rick Horgan

Available in hardcover, ebook and audiobook format read by Haney.

Haney talking about the book with ESPN Monday, with a scheduled appearance on CNN's Piers Morgan Tuesday: