Hank Haney says Michael Phelps isn’t that much of a project
Hank Haney is probably best known for being Tiger Woods’ swing coach; now he spends his time working with well-known celebrities and sports stars on his TV show “The Haney Project”.
It started with NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, then comedian Ray Romano, followed by radio and TV talk show host Rush Limbaugh. He also has worked with chef Mario Batali, boxer Sugar Ray Leonard and model Angie Everhart.
And, now Haney has turned his attention to Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps. Phelps, 27, will turn his attention away from the water, where he won 22 medals in his Olympic swimming career, including 18 gold medals, to the greens when he plays in the 24th annual American Century Championship at Edgewood Golf Club in Stateline.
The tournament runs from July 16-21.
“Well I think he will do pretty good,” Haney said during a conference call Tuesday afternoon. “He’s a proven golfer. Basically when we started our show he was pretty much a beginner, and then he jumped right out and played in the pro-am for the Ryder Cup and said he could barely get the ball on the first tee.
“So hopefully that experience and then the experience of playing in the Phoenix Open (partnered with Bubba Watson) will hopefully help him in Tahoe. I think he’s going to enjoy it. I think he’ll hit some good shots. I think he’ll hit some bad shots. I think he’s going to do pretty good. He’s a passionate golfer. It’s just great to have him in the game of golf.”
One reason why Haney says Phelps should do well is because of his competitive instincts.
“Michael is incredibly competitive,” Haney said. “He’s the greatest Olympian ever. I’ve seen him in competition, even just having a friendly bet with some friends, and he can really turn it up.
“So I expect that he will give his best, but having said that, a year ago, he was pretty much a beginner golfer. He played six times in the Olympics and shot between 98 and 117. Now the last time we played, he shot 85. But that wasn’t at the American Century Championship, and it wasn’t in front of all the people with television cameras on. So I don’t expect that he’s going to win the tournament, but he’s going to hit a lot of good shots and show improvement, and I think everybody is going to enjoy having him play in the tournament for sure.”
Haney was asked what was the quickest aspect of the game to come around and what was the slowest.
“Believe it or not, the golf swing comes along pretty fast,” Haney said. “When Michael started, he felt like putting was the best part of his games, and then the last round we played, he shot 85 with three three-putts.
“The putting is tough, the short game is tough, but especially the putting because it’s almost like you have to hit a certain amount of putts in your lifetime before you develop the touch and feel that it takes to get the speed right on the greens and no beginner golfer is close to that number. That’s why with everybody we teach, we stress that you have to hit a lot of putts. You’ve got to putt, putt, putt. Because a big key in golf is avoiding three putts. Amateur golfers will tend to waste their most strokes is three-putting greens.”
Haney said a key in working with an athlete like Stephon Curry of the Golden State Warriors or Barkley is that they have had coaching before and are used to instruction.
“It’s obviously an advantage to coach anybody that’s used to having coaching,” Haney said. “This year on my show with Michael, it was great because he’s been coached by Bob Bowman, who is one of the greatest swimming coaches ever. And, Michael is so used to taking instruction and being coached that it’s an advantage. Obviously great athletes are easier to coach, there’s no doubt about that.
“Charles might be the exception. He’s a little tough, but you know when all is said and done, he’s one of my favorite people in the world and I love helping him.”
Haney couldn’t resist a little jab at Barkley when he was informed that the Hall of Famer was a 500-1 shot to win the tournament.
“I think the bookmakers are safe no matter what the odds are with Charles,” Haney said. “It’s not going to happen.”
Haney said that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is the best athlete that he’s seen play golf.
“He to me is just a great player,” Haney said. “He probably doesn’t putt to the level of a player on the PGA Tour, but I think the rest of his game is pretty darn good, and he’s shown that in some big amateur tournaments. He’s obviously shown that before at the American Century Championship. He’s a real player. He can play the game of golf for sure.”
Haney was then asked if he’d ever thought about going forward with the concept in his show of taking a single-digit handicapper (athlete) and trying to make them a scratch golfer.
“Yeah, we are always thinking about ways to take the show and that’s definitely a possibility,” Haney said. “I mean, I like the idea. You know, I get so many people that ask me about doing a show on the Average Joe. That’s something we’ve considered. Everybody wants to be the Average Joe, but I’m not sure anybody wants to watch an Average Joe.
“I like the idea of seeing if we can go from a 5 to a scratch golfer. That’s definitely not easy to do. The better you get the harder it is to improve, and that’s one of the things about golf. I guess it’s the same pretty much in any sport; from a beginner to where they can play a bit, it seems really hard. Once you get there you realize it’s even harder to go the other way.”
NOTES: There are several first-year players in the field: Comedians Larry the Cable Guy and Bill Engvall, NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip, TV show host Gary Williams of the Morning Drive, former baseball stars Roger Clemens, Tim Wakefield, Chipper Jones, Ivan Rodriguez and Derek Lowe; current NBA stars David Lee and J.R. Smith; retired NFL stars Andre Reed and Brian Urlacher; and current NFL kicker Ryan Succop … Billy Joe Tolliver is the favorite at 3-1 followed by Rick Rhoden at 4-1, John Smoltz at 4-1 and defending champ Dan Quinn at 5-1.