THIS column knows its place in the grand scheme of things, particularly when it comes to golf. If there are golf awards to be dished out on these pages, then there’s only man who ought to do it – and that’s the redoubtable John Huggan.
I could cite any number of examples of his wisdom and his connections in the game but my favourite story comes from a July day at the Scottish Open when I joined our golf writer at an impromptu Phil Mickelson press conference at the side of the 9th green at Loch Lomond.
Huggy, to be fair, was wearing a cap that a cat had surely been living in for a month. It practically meowed its way up the fairway beside me. Mickelson wasn’t slow in spotting this moggy’s basket on his inquisitor’s bonce and gently mocked him for it.
Huggy, right, wanted to know what Phil was doing at Loch Lomond the week before the Open when Tiger was away in Ireland playing links golf – a pretty pertinent question, it has to be said – but Phil wasn’t getting involved in anything so serious.
“Why, I’m here to see you, John!” came the reply. “And, by the way, what’s with the hat?”
An hour later, John The Hat was writing his copy in the press centre when he felt a presence behind him, a presence who removed his cap and replaced it with a shiny new one. Swinging around to see what was going on, Huggy encountered a smiling Mickelson, who looked at him in his new headgear, nodded his approval, said something like “Nice job, John” and then departed without another word.
If I didn’t know it before, I knew it then. Huggan has this sport surrounded. Not that the new cap would have done Phil a favour. Huggy probably filleted him later in the week for playing poorly
Now, a few weeks back, at no expense whatsoever, the annual Huggys took place. It was a glitzy affair inside the mind of the great man, the “despicable” Steve Williams being named Plonker of the Year for his consistent and outstanding displays of plonkerdom throughout 2011.
But now, we need to call an emergency Huggys meeting (EHM) on account of what is happening with the book that Hank Haney has written with the outstanding golf writer, Jaime Diaz.
The book covers the years Haney spent as coach to the former world No.1 who is currently world number blah.
The book is due out in America in March and the new prize category should be called Irony Bypass of the Year. The winner, of course, is Tiger Woods.
“Unprofessional and very disappointing” is how Tiger describes Haney’s book, titled The Big Miss.
He hasn’t read it – barely a handful of people have at this point you would imagine – but Tiger has already made his mind up.
“There have been other one-sided books about me, and I think people understand that this book is about money. I’m not going to waste my time reading it. I just think this book is very self-serving.”
Firstly, yes he will read it, have no doubt about that. Secondly, and this is the award-winning bit, for Tiger to scoff at what he perceives as somebody trying to make money is truly ironic.
This is the man who is heading off to play in Abu Dhabi this week because the tournament organisers are paying him a reputed $3 million appearance fee, about $2m more than he might get were he to win the simultaneous PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines. Since 2006 – unless he’s been injured or in hiding amid the sex scandal –Tiger has begun his year at Torrey, a place he loves because he has won there so often. But not this time. To borrow the language he used against Haney, it’s self-serving and it’s about the money.
Haney began working with Woods at the Bay Hill Invitational in 2004, the relationship coming to an end after the Masters of 2010. In their years together, Woods won 29 times, including six majors. In those six years, Woods also got married and had two children, lost his father, missed the cut in a major for the first time and then won a US Open with a broken leg.
“If he reads it, I don’t think it will be a book that bothers him. It’s hard to say,” Haney said last week. “I think anybody who reads it will think it’s interesting, very fair and honest, and that’s what I wanted to do. I was on that job for six years. There were 110 days a year I was with him. I stayed at his house for close to 30 days a year. You make a lot of observations.
“I was a witness to greatness. And I get asked the question all the time about Tiger. I wanted to talk about it and I wanted to share it with people. That’s the bottom line. I’m not sure I understand the unprofessionalism part. He hasn’t read the book. There’s a lot of positives in there. I think he’s the greatest golfer who ever lived.”
He’s also the greatest control freak who ever lived.
This book is not about to rake over old and scandalous ground. I doubt there will be many mentions of the cocktail waitresses and assorted other floozies in the Woods harem, for instance.
The detail on Woods the golfer should be fascinating, though. There is talk that, towards the end of his and Haney’s time together, Tiger’s legendary focus began to blur and he stopped putting in the amount of hours in practice that he had previously. He became infatuated with elite military training.
There will be testimonies to his greatness and comments on his decline but it’s hard to see this as a hatchet job. It’s likely to be more of an up-close study of one of the most extraordinary golfers we have ever known (or not known), authored by his coach of many years with the help of Diaz, a respected writer who has known Woods and his family since Tiger was a relative youngster.
As far as Tiger is concerned, if the book reveals what he had for breakfast, it’s too much information. He’s calling it a money grab. We’re not a month into 2012, but surely the Huggy for Irony Bypass of the Year has already been won.