On the latest Walker Webcast, we were joined by Sean Foley, legendary golf instructor to some of the world’s most elite athletes including Tiger Woods. He and Willy discussed his coaching philosophy, successes and failures coaching some of the biggest names in golf, theories on mindfulness and confidence that can be applied in everyday life, and much more.
The discussion begins with Sean’s childhood. His family moved around a great deal in his early years, and Sean describes what a big impact that’s made on him. This includes challenges like leaving friends and not feeling settled and benefits like experiencing so many places.
As one example of the latter, he explains, “It’s harder for the world to sell you the normal nonsense when you’ve traveled because you’ve seen with your own eyes what really goes on. I don’t think you move around a lot and become less open-minded.”
Sean advises tapping into one’s own inner voice, rather than listening too intently to the opinions of others. “Regardless of what happens externally, how we feel inwardly depends on us,” he says.
Another thing to acknowledge, according to Sean, is that security and insecurity are both very normal parts of being human. “We should recognize that it’s normal as these feelings come and go.” Frustration, he says, happens when what we think should be real in the moment isn’t our reality. Acceptance, which he deems to be the most important word he knows, is mandatory in life.
As he and Willy continue the discussion, Sean unpacks the idea that great leaders are always adapting—and that no one succeeds alone. “A longstanding philosophy of human nature is that it takes a village to raise each individual.”
This leads into the “egoless” mindset Sean says he’s fortunate to have. Such a frame of mind opens him up to seek advice on life, business, and more—advice he can apply to his role as a coach. Moreover, the act of doing and learning new things helps him realizes that he needs to bring the highest level of performance to the coaching experience.
Sean and Willy talk about how every day or moment can have its challenges. “Just because you have a bad day or hour doesn’t mean that you need to feel bad about it tomorrow,” Sean says. Concentrate instead on training properly, focusing on your skill sets, and familiarizing yourself with the data.
Say no to rigidity, Sean advises. “If you don’t challenge a belief system, you will only continue to see that exact belief system.” Same with perfectionism. Times in his coaching career where he feels he fell short have always been when he focused too much on perfection, he says. Direct this energy to learning instead. “You are only as good as your weaponry. The more opportunities we give ourselves to learn from different situations, the better.”
There’s one notable exception, however. “So much information we are given is through someone else’s perspective,” Sean explains his dislike of gossip. “Unless you are in a situation, you just can’t know what it was really like.”
Sean shares the many positive things that have shaped who he is. Nelson Mandela, he says, has been an influence from an early age. Music has also played an important role throughout his life, from the songs of his childhood to the Bob Marley lyrics tattooed on his forearm: “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.”
Willy and Sean wrap up the episode with a takeaway for the fairway and for life: There is no such thing as a perfect golf swing.
02:39 Sean’s childhood and early interest in golf
05:38 Embracing insecurity
09:23 The difference between condition and circumstance
20:58 Being a lifelong learner as a coach
27:55 Challenging beliefs for improvement
37:22 The “worst-ball” technique and Arnold Palmer’s philosophy
46:08 Tiger Woods and his advice on judging others
Willy Walker: Good afternoon and welcome to another Walker Webcast. It is my real pleasure to have Sean Foley with me today. Let me do a quick intro on Sean and then he and I will dive into our conversation. I would give everyone at the top of this, as you will hear, Sean does not think there is one golf swing. So, if you have tuned into this webcast to figure out exactly how to figure out and create the perfect golf swing, there is no such thing in Sean's world. So not that I want you to hang up and go somewhere else, but I think Sean and I are going to dive into some really interesting things, not only as it relates to how to become a better golfer, but quite honestly, how to become a better person, which is really the true genius and brilliance of Sean Foley and why he is such a respected and sought after coach.
Sean Foley is a Canadian golf instructor, who has coached Sean O'Hair, Hunter Mahan, Stephen Ames, Lee Westwood and Justin Rose as well as other PGA Tour professionals. He worked extensively with Tiger Woods between 2010 to 2014.
Foley has been the head coach for the Canadian Junior Golf Association since 2003 and teaches at Core Golf Junior Academy at Orange County National, Winter Garden, Florida.
Foley graduated with an Arts degree from Tennessee State University, where he played on the varsity golf team. Foley did not aim for a professional golf playing career but had set a goal in his mind on becoming an instructor to top players, after watching David Leadbetter work with Nick Faldo on the range at the RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey Golf Course in the early 1990s.
Sean, first of all, welcome. Second of all, your dad worked for DuPont, and as a result you moved around a lot as a kid and didn’t really get into golf until you all were living in Southern California when your dad was there. First of all, what was it like moving around a lot as a kid? And then what was it about being in Southern California that got you into golf at a young age?
Sean Foley: Thanks for having me, Willy. I think it’s funny when you hear your bio and you know you’re evolving and you’re like, “Oh, that’s the old guy.” That just when you said the bio was kind of tripping me out, at one point the bio was very present, but at this time, it’s interesting anyway. Just when you were saying that I was like, “man, I need a smaller bio.” (Laughs)
Yeah, I think moving around, I can’t really put my finger on it. I imagine, some of the time it hurt, obviously, we were in places for like two and a half years. So, you get close to other kids, and you move on. Probably harder on my brother than me. But I think it's a great opportunity to be able to go from Canada to Delaware to San Fran, L.A. to Toronto to Vancouver, back to Toronto University in Nashville, and start working in the golf industry in Florida. Back to Toronto. Look, I think it's harder for the world to sell you the normal nonsense when you're traveled because you go around, and you get to see with your own eyes what's going on in the world. And so, I think it was Mark Twain who said that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…” I don't think you move around a lot and become less open minded, so I think that was really helpful. But I think as a kid, I think that was probably a tough thing moving around a lot. Some trauma helps you; some trauma hurts you. I think it probably helped me. But yeah, you know what, I'm 48 and I almost forget some of those things now. But, you know, we were very fortunate to have great friends. We had great neighborhoods that we lived in. And so yeah, I think it was definitely an advantage for me.
Willy Walker: So, I've heard you say two things about both your childhood and other people's childhood that are a little contradictory. I'll let you sort them out for us. But as you talk about identifying, if you will, what it is in some of your players, whether they're professional golfers or whether they're amateurs who come to you for help. Going back and understanding everyone's individual experience and you talk about your own childhood, having some rough times and being insecure and then also realizing that you were listening to other people's voices rather than listening to your own voice. One of the things I've done some research on the way that you teach, is getting people to think about their own inner voice, and not thinking and listening too much to other people's voices. So, talk for a moment about your own childhood experience and those insecurities and what allowed you to tap into your own inner voice versus external forces.
Sean Foley: Well, I think when it comes down to these topics, I just think it's super important for us to realize, just in simple neuroscience terms, that the oldest part of our brain is a basal ganglion and it's connected to the limbic system. And scientists say that's from our reptilian brain. Obviously, other parts of our brain are for the primate brain and then we have the new brain. And so, I think insecurity, needing to be accepted, all that stuff. I think a lot of times we look too deeply into that, not realizing that we are preprogrammed for some of those things because tribal acceptance is a massive, important thing as far as how we are. So, I think it will help a lot of people if they just kind of understand the chronological order of the brain and recognize that a lot of the ways that we are, we are born with this program. I think being insecure is fine now because I think it's fleeting. I think security and insecurity is just kind of this flow. Some days I feel great. Some days I don't feel so great. I'm not sure if I should try to search for any real solution on why it is that way. I think I've more accepted that regardless of what's happening outside of me, how I feel inwardly can be different in the same external situation.
So, I do think the whole thing's an inside job for real. I'm just generating my experience of what's going on and it's based on, I think with me as a kid, I think it was easier to fit in. So, when you go from Delaware to California to San Fran to L.A. to Toronto, I think I always felt this real need to fit in. I don't think that that's not normal for some people. I think what I did a good enough job of is never losing my identity in that time. But I think it's very important. I don't think you could probably meet anyone in the world that you've ever run into who said that they haven't had issues with self-belief and insecurity. And I think where we've made the mistake is trying to write books for people and how they'll never feel like that again, rather than just accepting that it's very much part of being a human being and there's nothing wrong with it except that you think something's wrong with it. When you're sitting there and you have the flu and you feel terrible, you feel terrible because your body's doing an unbelievable job of fighting the thing off. So, you kind of have to go through it to get to it a little bit. And I find that in the self-help world, we just see not a lot of structured science and then 12-chapter books on happiness. Whereas I'm not sure if it's something I can read about, but it's something I feel often. And when I don't feel it, I don't know if I'm necessarily trying to feel it. So, I mean, you've done so much with endurance stuff. I mean, that's pretty much the “I'm going to quit for the whole time, but I'm going to keep going till I've done.”.
Willy Walker: I climbed up Mount Evans on my bike yesterday. And I will tell you that I went to when I was about 13,200 feet and I had a headache from the altitude and had another four miles to go and about 1000 vertical feet to get to the top. I was ready to just dial it in, but fortunately we made it to the top and it was fun. But Sean, you've talked a lot about situation and circumstance. And one of the things that I think you teach a lot of your players is to accept what you just said a moment ago, which is: it's just where I am at today, take it for what it is here. Now, talk for a moment about the differentiation between situation and circumstance.
Sean Foley: I think they could almost be synonyms, like, for example, I'd like to be aware of what's going on and because I'm out in the world and we're traveling a lot. I find it quite easy at home to be chillin’ and there's no problems or there's better problems. You get on the road, you increase all these people, and it can become more stressful. But ideally, the stress is not coming from outside of me. I remember sitting there one day and the lady at American Airlines said, “your flight is canceled.” And I thought, “Oh, man, what's my options?” And she said, “You can fly in the morning.” And so, I just took it on the chin like that is what it is. Then a week later, the same situation with technically less on the line from where I need to be. And I lose my mind on this lady named Donna. Poor Donna, I had to tell her afterwards, “I know you didn't break the wing or have nothing to do with the wing, Donna.”
So how can it be the exact same situation outside of me, and my reaction is so different? So, if the situation actually causes anything to me, then every time that happens, I should react the same way. So sometimes I have players playing great. And players are playing bad. And when players are playing badly, I have days where I'm just hit with wisdom and that this is exactly where we need to be. This is teaching us all we need to learn right now and then the other days, thinking of catastrophic what ifs. I'm just aware now that once I say what if, then I just go, “okay, there's nothing to find thinking about this, right?”
So, it's kind of like someone says, “How are you doing?” You answer, “Everything I have no control of today went really well.” And the next day, “How are you doing?” You answer, “Everything I had no control of didn't go very well today.” I think that with mental health there's a high level of acceptance that we live in this incredible world with billions of variables and it's amazing how much the tensegrity and how much it's all together. So, when you actually go to Orlando to the airport, get on a plane, fly to L.A. and everything goes perfect – I mean, that's almost probably a miracle. And so, it's like with gas prices, right? When gas prices are $1.20, “no one says, hey, we're saving money, “and they go to $3.40 and they say, “you know, we're getting scammed.” You gotta celebrate the good part, too. It's a bit of both. But maybe that's just a human thing. Maybe we recognize the bad because our whole goal is to survive. I mean, that part of the brain I was discussing is the survivor brain. And it will do a lot to undermine that thriver brain, and we see it all the time. We see it in society constantly. We see it in the amount of self-sabotage that's going on at every single level.
Willy Walker: Sean, I've heard you, for instance, say that like sitting in traffic. You have sort of two options. One, bang the steering wheel and get pissed off that you're sitting in traffic or take a deep breath and call your mom and be happy that you have that opportunity to just sit there and get on the phone with her.
Sean Foley: It’s all a choice, right?
Willy Walker: It's all choice. How do you translate that into your players? Because, if you will, many players when in traffic to bang their hand on the steering wheel. What do you do with your players to have them reset, recalibrate, to say, rather than bang in the steering wheel? Think about calling your mom.
Sean Foley: I just think at the deepest level, if you realize that the way that you feel at that moment is just connected to old mental constructs and old narratives that really they're still floating around in the universe of your mind, but they don't. I think as you get older, hopefully, you recognize and do less like that and then assess, okay, when you're pissed off or you're frustrated, assess: where's the me part of this? I'm frustrated, so why am I frustrated? Well, I'm frustrated because I'm in traffic. All right. Well, you weren't frustrated last week, why are you frustrated this week? I got up a little late. I didn't know there'd be this much traffic. If you look deeply enough at every single thing you go through, it kind of comes down to a me problem anyway. So, it's very rare that the guy in traffic on the way to the beach on Friday afternoon is losing his mind. That's just a simple matter of perspective. It's like do you have any control of what is happening. It is very logical. Emotions take place the way that they do because of the absence of logic. And so obviously when you see your child get married one day, that's going to be very emotional. That doesn't need logic. Right? That's one of the few things you should save your emotions for is things like that. Most everything that we get emotional about frustration, for example, of being in traffic, frustration comes from what you think should be real at that moment, is actually not real.
I think the most important word that I've ever learned is probably “acceptance”. And being able to accept things for the way that they are, I think is mandatory because most of the time you have to have that. By accepting, you move back into the present where you control the situation again by the choice that you have. But it's not really about sitting on the golf course and telling yourself positive mantras or anything like that. I'm sorry I've yet to prove that any of that scientifically has any effect. I think it's a matter of perspective. It's a cognitive understanding of what life is. And hopefully you're learning from it. And then just knowing that we're going to be on a spectrum where we're going to go from up to down. And so, what are our natural ways that we can combat (not combat this) but maybe lessen it? So, 20 minutes of cardio a day, 20 minutes of breathing, 20 minutes of early sunlight. There are so many ways that we can input into our system where it knows how to heal us and take care of us. And I think that, unfortunately, in the idea of consumption and how a lot of companies make money – breathing, sunlight and going for a walk are all free. And until someone can patent that, I just don't hear it much. Someone like yourself, you've always been active. Your family's active. I was very fortunate to have a dad who used to take me, and I hated it. I remember it, but he used to take me to the track when we were kids to run on the weekend. And I think it's just something that you fall into. And then as you get older and you start reading scientific research, you realize, “Man, that's one of the most important things my dad ever did for my health and wellness.” It wasn't to be my best friend and be a super dad. It actually makes me go out and work through the running, work long distance and wanting to quit all the time but I keep waking up and keep doing it. And just to see that man, I've been a pretty fortunate kid with mood and everything in my whole life and I think the idea that I'm outside a lot, that I'm active, that I'm breathing, that I'm reading, I just think these are all things that are helpful. Before we start looking at how I was picked on at eight years old and going to a therapist and talking about my trauma, that really isn't going to make a whole lot of difference because it's going to be locked in my brain forever. It's just I feel like it's a bit of a new approach to taking how holistically we have this beautiful system, just the amount of neurons you fired yesterday on that bike ride, the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide that moved around the system. And it's just incredible. And I think if we really sat there and took a look at just the incredible delicacy and how articulate our nature and our bodies and our systems are. I think that will help people when it comes down to mental health as well. If we give ourselves the right input, like what do little kids do? They have fun. Obviously, part of their brains aren’t wired yet, so their ability to think of tomorrow and what happens when the saber tooth tiger comes is not there. Being an adult is different from being a kid. I don't like when my players have a sports psychologist, and they're not putting well. The sports psychologist says, “just putt like when you were a kid.” And I'm like, “well, we have about a trillion more neurons, so that's not really going to happen.” And then, Willy, I don't remember kids who made every putt. I remember kids who used to put others like eight feet by. But that is a lot of what it is, it's like be a shooter, be a player, be a swinger. And it's like, what does that mean? I don't understand. What does that mean to yell at your player, be a swinger, be positive, and believe in yourself? I don't think that's it. I'm convinced. If it were only that, we'd all be outstanding.
Willy Walker: So, two things on that, and I want to loop back to another question, so last week I had Mark Few, the Gonzaga basketball coach on the Walker Webcast. One of the clips that we put out there was of Mark talking about allowing his players, he had a coach who he learned under who seemed to have the players looking at the coach as much as they were looking on the court. And Mark's comment was, he said, “If I ever become a head coach, I want to be able to allow the players to focus exclusively on playing and not on me, and that I'll never kind of be that imposing coach on the sidelines, yelling at the players all the time and having them kind of play here and play there.” And one of the things he got to was “I just hope that they can get in this flow state of just playing the game they love, but within a broad context and framework of how I want the game plan to go.” And I took that clip, Sean and I sent it to my friend Greg Carvel, who's UMass Minutemen won the NCAA hockey championship not this year, but last year and what was so interesting was Greg came back to me and he said, “I got to learn something there.” And I thought it was amazing. They both had the number one hockey team and the number one basketball team in the country last year, both Gonzaga as well as UMass at a point in the year. And Greg was still saying, “I've got something to learn from Mark on that,” which I thought was fantastic. And one of the things that I found about you is that you are incredible at giving credit for your capabilities to all the people you have learned from. As I've listened to you give speeches and I've read what you've written, you consistently go to others as if, yeah, Sean Foley has a unique mix of personality, knowledge and capabilities, but it is all infused and it is all impacted by all of these people that you have learned from. And I think it's Bruce Lee, who is one of your mentors, one of the people who you look to often who said that great teachers constantly adapt. Talk about that for a moment.
Sean Foley: That’s the whole thing about being like in this tribe is it takes a village to raise a child, right? And I think that's an old saying from way back in human existence. Probably partially because no one knew who the dad was. Right. So, it's like we did raise communities all as one. And I think that, I was fortunate my dad had a library. He had a lot of biographies, and so I got very interested in reading about people. By the time I was like 17 or 18, I'd probably read at least parts of 30 or 40 different biographies of people who had been evil and people who had been unbelievable. And I just noticed, like men, all these people who have had a big effect on the planet, they had a real process. So, they had a belief system for sure, and then they had a process that they were all fine with delayed gratification and they just kept moving and moving and moving and moving. And so once again, it's the simple saying. It's not how many times you get knocked down, it's how many times you get up. I think that is something that's probably going to be missed by the rest of society because it's definitely been lessened than it was. My kids are softer than I was. I was probably softer than my dad was.
So, when it comes down to the amount of people that I listen to and read. I'm reading a book right now by a guy named Dr. Raymond Pryor, who I met at the KPGA Women's Championship. I was with Lydia Ko last year and her friend Lindey had this guy on the bag caddie. And I just thought he was a caddy, of course, because he was caddying. Him and I were talking, and he made a couple comments, and I was like, “Wow, this guy's pretty dope. What he said kind of hit me.” So, I started talking to him and he was a clinical psychologist. He's got into sports. He worked with a lot of Olympic shooters, he doesn't name names, but he's worked with a lot of people. So, as soon as I listened to him, I was like, I got to know what he knows. And I've always been like that. People can say it's like, I don't know why it is, it's just part of society where people say that person is stealing another person's information. Look, everyone at M.I.T. and everyone at Stanford are technically stealing Newton's information. It's a silly way. It's knowledge. It needs to be passed on. When knowledge is passed on and goes through different experiences, it becomes wisdom. So, yeah, I've been very fortunate to be egoless enough, not saying I have no ego, but egoless enough to consult to and pay people quite a bit of money over the years where I've had five to eight of my own coaches, where I have Zoom calls with them and we talk about life, business and all these different aspects. I think it's really important, especially in my role as a coach, because sometimes when you just coach all the time – you stop remembering what it's like to be a student. Or what it's like to be a learner. So, I find when you do new things and learn new things, it helps me realize when I'm coaching that I'm probably too far ahead of that person right now. Like, I need to slow it down and I need to simplify. It's probably too much. For example, I learned Pilates a lot a year ago. I've been doing it and I kept telling the teacher, “I can't put the thing between my arms because I can't even know how to use my legs yet.” So, one step at a time.
If you read ten different essays on liberty, there's going to be people that you probably are going to naturally fit in more with based on your own experience, socialization, religion, whatever. We need to unlearn a lot of our childhood, I think, when it comes down to things like that. But then someone might have a totally different situation. So as a Canadian, I come down here and there's a lot of things going on in America that I've never really dealt with in Canada. So, for example, we don't have guns in Canada, which is just not because we fight a lot, but we don't really have guns. So, when people are like, “Oh, so you're against guns?” I'm like, “Well, I don't want a gun myself, but you have the right to have one. I don't think you should be afraid of everybody as much as you are. But everyone I know with a gun has never killed anyone. Do you know what I mean? Like ever. So, I try to look at it through that lens of one, it's not really my opinion, and two, I hear what you are saying on this side, but I also hear what they're saying on this side. And then I have to find the part that makes sense to me. I can't be a robot for anyone's views. I want to have my own viewpoint on anything. And I think that comes from having your own worldwide experience but reading a lot and reading completely different things. Reading a book that is about atheism and then a book directly about theism – I think that it's really important that if you can move out to those extremes, you can start to throw out what things aren't and really find the basis of it. I think the basis is all the same, right? We're all humans going through the same experience, whether you're Republican, Democrat, Muslim, Christian. At the end of the day, our problems are similar. Our fears are similar. I just don't think we could be that divided unless it’s been an attempted division because I just think that we're all very similar.
Willy Walker: So when you talk about our fears are similar. Zach Johnson, Tuesday practice round at St. Andrews goes out, plays with Dustin Johnson, comes in, turns to you, and says, “Man, I just played a round with DJ and that guy is on fire. There's no way I'm going to play well this weekend.” And Zach Johnson goes on to win. So, talk for a moment about mindfulness being in the moment and confidence versus a lack of confidence.
Sean Foley: Well, the good thing in life is that Tuesday is not Wednesday. Even Wednesday morning is not Wednesday afternoon, right? It's always good to remind yourself: “Oh, yeah. Okay. I've just had a bad hour. It doesn't mean that it's going to last.” It's going to last as long as I allow it. I guess it comes down to that.
Willy Walker: Did you say anything to Zach Johnson at that moment after playing that round with D.J. that kind of got him re-engaged?
Sean Foley: Well, no, he's just a friend of mine. I don't coach him. I was just done with work, and I was walking home, and it was pouring rain and the rain was like stinging. It was coming in sideways. And he was just sitting there getting soaked. So, I was too interested, and I asked him, and he went on and on. And then that Saturday I’m sitting in the airport in Glasgow having a beer and watching him win and it really proved my theory on mindfulness and confidence. It’s like I said on Tuesday, you can feel like the worst player in the world. You could feel like the worst CEO who ever lived. And on Wednesday, you could be walking around personally calling yourself The GOAT. That is life. And it bounces around like that, it doesn't really matter if you feel like you're terrible or you feel like you're the best – if you train properly and you work on your skill sets and when it comes to pro golf, you look at the probabilities.
We have Strokes Gained Data on the PGA Tour, right? Mark Broadie, Columbia University created Strokes Gained data. And what he did with that, why he did it was in an individual sport like golf, it's pretty easy to see why Federer beat Nadal or vice versa, because one had unforced errors. One had more aces. It's easy to see that. But in golf, guys are teeing off at different times in the day. You have different weather. You have different winds. Some guys tee up in the morning, it's perfect out and in the afternoon it's like a tornado. So how do you in an individual sport, how do you see where you are good or where you need to improve? So, with strokes gained like strokes gained off the tee is a metric. So that would be when you're hitting your driver. When the data came out, it showed that distance was much more pivotal to lower scoring than accuracy. But in the old belief system in golf, it was all about how straight you hit. So, the problem with systems and beliefs is that if you don't challenge a belief system, you will continue to see exactly your belief system. So, you might not see what is going on. So, you start seeing these guys that are hitting at 330, but they're hitting it all over the place and they're winning more tournaments. That really changed guys. I'm like, “Oh, man, I got to work on this.” Then their Strokes Gained Approach, so being able to get every iron shot hit for the year, then there's 30 yards in and then there's putting. But a lot of people don't really see themselves well. So, where guys think they're good, they're sometimes not good at all and where sometimes guys think they're bad, they're actually very good. And so, when people tell me that champions are self-assured, they're positive and they never lose focus, I don't know who they're talking about because I've met all of them in different sports and they train at a high level. They trained in different ways. They train for longer. A lot of times they just were very passionate about the mundane. So, I think when you look at the GOATS of anything – just the structure, harmony, and the passion and probably some chip on their shoulder (because we’re human beings and that’s part of survival) Adaptation comes from that. I think when you put it all together, they were creative in how they practiced. They practiced more than most anybody. They probably had as much physical gifts as anybody, and I think they paid the biggest sacrifice.
Willy Walker: When you talk about practice Sean, I've got a thousand friends who I played golf with over time who say, “I can't take it from the range to the course.”
Sean Foley: Exactly!
Willy Walker: Can't take it from the range to the course. Now my understanding is that your players practice 20% of the time and play 80% of the time.
Sean Foley: Well, that's the dream.
Willy Walker: That's the dream. But the point here is that you would rather have them playing and dealing with situational awareness/challenges than sitting on the range, hitting 500 drivers over and over and over again. Talk for a moment about why you think it's so important to deal with the situational awareness of being on the course versus just honing that stroke.
Sean Foley: Well, think about your ride yesterday that you took. You could go to a really nice gym that has an elevation chamber and you can ride a bike and you could set it to 13,000 feet and it would be hard, it'll be harder than sitting in the other part of the room. It's just way different! Every single time yesterday you're tire just got stuck in a little spot and you had to use a little more quad than you would. So, yes, it's still nice that you could train like that. But if you look at a lot of the world class distance athletes, they train at elevation and come down to sea level and they're insane and it makes sense, right? So once again, training in elevation would be way more painful than being down on that treadmill. So, when you say, “man, you know, I've been training for this marathon and I've just been running 26 miles a day every day on the treadmill and at the 15th mile today, I just couldn't keep going anymore” because it's all just the little, tiny things that happen along that run that change it. So, yes, you give yourself a chance to do the task if you do that, but we have to look at it slightly differently than that. So, every single tee shot that you hit on the golf course, the intention is probably slightly different. And so, when you get on the range: one, there is no consequence. You can work and play mental games, you can say to somebody, “just pretend this is the last hole the U.S. Open. You have to start it here and do it here, and you can do that.” And I remember when I used to do that, I'd say, oh my God, I sound so silly because the difference is going to be that the walk from the 17th green to the 18th hole is like a 300-foot hill. And then when we get to the top, we're going to look at 100,000 people. You can't train that unless you're in that. But you look to other operators like the Navy SEALs. I read a great story about their training for Islamabad when they went to take out Osama bin Laden and how they built to, within their own knowledge, a structure that was identical. And they had done like 600 revolutions of different things. And they actually did one where the helicopter went down. So, when that helicopter went down, it probably sucked. But been here, done that before. So why are we going and practicing what we're good at? Why is it way harder to get at the gym on a bench rack than the squat rack? Squat racks are always open. Willy, you can just go squat whatever you want. But there's no dumbbells for bench press, because squatting is more annoying and harder, but it's way better for you.
And so, when I look at how my players practice over, the biggest challenge to my coaching where I felt a bit insecure, was too much in the model of perfection and angles and doing everything great, which I'm glad I learned that 100%. But just understanding that you're only really as good as your weaponry. With my players that I have now, most of them are quite young. I look a lot at that data and then start to build practice around that. And so, most of the practice is on the golf course. For example, Monday when my player Sam Horsfield plays on the live tour and the European Tour. Sam is a natural, the kid is as good as you can be at golf. He hates to practice. He's a very, very good player. But I don't know how we're going to go from 70 at the 10th in the world if we don't do more of what we need to do. So, Justin Rose sat there in practice for four days in a row and we would hit thousands of balls and we would have data, we'd be measuring, and workouts would be perfect. His diet would be perfect. Sam Horsfield is 25 and his idea of healthy food is Chipotle. His idea of chilling at night is Call of Duty. Yeah, this is the donkey generation, there's no doubt about it. I'm so happy Sam's good at golf. But Sam's a beautiful kid, and he is such a special mover and such a special player. So, I have to, regardless of what I think works, that's what I think works. What could be more arrogant as a coach to think that your preference is right for everybody. I mean, that is just almost narcissism. So, we've come up with a great solution to where on Monday he has to play the worst ball. He tees off and he plays two balls and has to pick the worst one, 18 holes the next day…
Willy Walker: Go on that for a second, I love that concept and many people don't. Talk for two seconds on the worst ball because I think it talks so much about how you instruct and teach. For two seconds explain what the worst ball is.
Sean Foley: Yeah so Tiger [Woods] was infamous for the worst ball. I live right now in this house, I'm probably only a mile away from the back of the range where I work, and that's where Tiger’s old house is. And so, I'd heard stories for a long time that Tiger used to play worst ball all the time. So, two balls off the first tee, hit them both, whichever one was the worst one. Then he's got to play two balls from there, whichever one is the worst one. So, it's all the way through the green. So, you hit a ball to four feet, you hit the ball to eight feet. Now you gotta hit two from eight feet. While eight feet you're at 50%. I think it's such a great teacher because I think Arnold Palmer had it nailed. Of course, he's the king. And so, he was such an elegant player, and he was very athletic, but he never really let much get to him. And they said he had a great nature, but I don't think it was that I think it was his philosophy. So, his most famous quote is: “Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated.” You might as well call it life, why not? It's the same game, really, right? You're out by yourself. You have no control over all these variables outside of you. You may have someone carry your bag, but just carry your bag - they can't do it for you. You can't ditch it to the running back when you know you're about to throw an interception. It is really a life game. So, if I deceive you, I lie to you. So even when the game seems simple, it's a lie. It's a lie. The fact that he had fully accepted that it was endlessly complicated. Well, if you accept that something is endlessly complicated to the like, to the root of your vagus nerve, you said this is endlessly complicated. I mean, how pissed off are you going to get? You're not. So, I think that what worst ball does is it shows you how hard it is to back up a world class shot. And I think it should humble you to the sense that maybe you're not as good as you think you are. One of the things I don't like my guys to do is when we go out to play in a practice round, they hit a bad shot, they drop another ball and they do it again. They don't hit that one good, they hit another one. And I'm like, “man, you get one chance tomorrow.” Why are we not playing from the right trees when we may have to actually play from the right trees? So, I think where Tiger was the best, obviously, is he shot the best score every day. And I think I've had to test over the years how much vanity was part of what I was doing and having the best-looking swings and all of these types of things – then it's just become more about revenue than perfection, I think.
And so, Sam playing worst ball, I'll tell you what, you shoot around even par and the worst ball, and you can win on any tour in the world. And then the second day, we go out and play with five clubs. So, this is all about creativity, feel and touch. Wednesday, play the back tees, the middle tees, and the front tees, all for score: nine holes, you get 27 holes, and you get to play three different golf courses. So, when it comes to training, the more different environments I had, those SEALs did a lot of different sorties. They did the first one, this is your vanilla. This could happen, boom, all the way to the point of the helicopter goes down, where are you going to go? So, they're training all these different scenarios and in doing so, becoming more celestial in it because the more opportunities I have to see different environments, the processing in the brain is remember, we're amazing. Even if we think we're assholes, we're still incredible. We still have to recognize that. The more opportunities that I give myself to learn from different situations, knowing that after that 27 holes, Sam goes to go home and play and eat, well now he's got a Formula One simulator. Yeah, it's now. So that's good as we moved on from Call of Duty, so I think his thumbs are going to be okay. Now, there's a lot of thumb injuries with young players on tour, by the way. That's actually a true thing, Willy.
Willy Walker: I want to put one quick stat on the SEALs, because I've heard you give a stat in a previous talk that I thought was fascinating. Then I want to come back to Tiger for a second. The stat I heard you say was there were 600 to 700 Navy SEALs, and they shoot more rounds of ammunition in a year than the entire Marine Corps, which is 250,000 people. I heard you say that. And it just hit home with me as it relates to well, wow, think about that. That's what they want. You are talking about situational awareness. They want the SEALs to be this elite corps and so they want them practicing and hanging upside down outside of a helicopter shooting they're machine guns rather than just sitting at the range and going over and over and over again to try and hone it in. I love that you've mentioned that in a previous talk that I listened to that you done.
Sean Foley: That goes back to your friends saying I can't take it from the range to the course. So, if I brought my TrackMan on the range, TrackMan now has this software where every shot will give you strokes gained. So, it'll say, “okay, Willy, you gotta hit this seven iron between 150 and 154, just like you do on the course.” Okay, so what people realize when they do that, like a four-yard difference, that's 12 feet – that's not easy to do. And so, what happens on the range, because there's no measurement, you hit a ball every eight seconds you normally make a decent lie, like very few people put it in a shitty lie on the driving range right? Okay, Tiger, when he got around the green, when we used to practice back in the day, he would get on the green. He'd always take his club and he'd always tap the ball down. He'd always give it a worse lie, like always, every time. And I know guys, Willy, they literally put it on the tee. It's like we are never going to get that lie, ever. By practicing out of the worst lies, what you start to see is there are different creative ways to play this. There isn't. This is called take your medicine and chip it out to 15 feet and don't make six. So, by changing the environment constantly, the one game I like to do is on Thursdays they play the back tees with no woods. Because I have noticed in 20 years on the PGA Tour that we don't practice hitting enough long irons enough and when you look at the players, what really separates themselves at the highest level, they're all great long iron players. So, playing that game twice a week from the back tees with no woods, guys start to swing three irons and two irons faster and faster and then have a lot longer clubs coming in. So, I'd say probably the most hit club on the PGA Tour in practice is an eight iron, and it's probably the least used on the golf course because an eight-iron safe, it's got loft. It doesn't curve much. I feel comfortable with it. I don't look like a jackass out here. So, I think that the biggest change in my coaching is moving more away from instruction. I feel like reading about the brain instruction becomes tricky because once you get someone at a certain age, and those neurons and neural pathways, they're really pretty wired, it's tricky. So, could we have less blue light earlier at night? Could we sleep better? Could we get circadian rhythms better? Can we stop drinking Red Bull on the way to the golf course? I have two dealing with that right now. And that's astonishing to me that they're drinking Red Bull on the way to play golf. So hopefully in time they won't do that.
Willy Walker: I think there's so many parallels to the corporate world where many of us try to focus on the thing we do best and to create adaptability, diversity, and diversity of products, diversity of delivery systems. There's not a deal that doesn't have some hiccup that comes along the way and if you're just trying to practice the perfect loan in my world, good luck meeting your clients demands when they come in with something you've never seen before. There's just so many parallels between how you coach and what we do in the corporate world.
Just looping back for a second Sean, to you and Tiger, do you really think that A-Rod was a better baseball player without steroids than Derek Jeter?
Sean Foley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's a whole other discussion on the world at large, isn’t it? Yes, I do.
Willy Walker: So, you got to clue in our listeners on why I asked you that question in the story behind that? Because I think it's a fascinating anecdote.
Sean Foley: So, what Willy's talking about is years ago at the Masters, I was on the range with Tiger, and we are like the last ones on the range. And my dad and brother were in town for the Masters, I got them some tickets somehow. And anyways we're on the range and you can see when you're on the range at Augusta and you look up the hill, you can see ESPN, NBC, you can see the giant red light so, you know, the camera's zoomed in and it's on you and over time, just as you evolve and you adapt, I just started to know where every boom mike was. I knew where every camera was, I knew every journalist was. It was a fascinating, crazy time. I still sometimes can't even believe it happened yet and it's been over for like eight years. It's amazing. He's still my favorite player too. Me and Tiger were arguing, and I wouldn't say it probably looked very, very eminent or dismissive or anything. But we were just discussing and the commentator up in the booth, Brandel Chamblee, was saying, “you can tell the Tiger's done with all the mechanics and all the instruction. It's time to let them go play and just look at the body language of these two…” and so when I got home I walked in the door, still feeling pretty awesome that I was just with Tiger Woods on the range of the Augusta, which is still amazing to me. I walked home, probably feeling myself a little bit and saw my dad, my brother – I walked in, and they just turned around like I looked like a ghost. And then they explained to me, they wanted to know what happened and what was going on. Tiger and I were talking about Jeter and A-Rod, and I said without steroids, A-Rod was a better athlete than Jeter and that was our discussion. And they blew it up into an hour of television.
Willy Walker: I just thought it was so amazing that there are all these analysts sitting there from outside not knowing what you were talking about. And they're all sitting there thinking that you're arguing with him over his backswing and the velocity with which he's applying the club and it ends up being you guys having a fun argument about two professional baseball players who both came out about using steroids and which one was better. When I heard you tell that, Sean, I just sort of said so many of us, so much of the information we get in the world that we're in, we think we know what's going on. Someone else is interpreting what is going on. Unless you're actually there, unless you're Sean Foley talking to Tiger Woods about A-Rod being better than Derek Jeter, you just don't know and careful about making too many assumptions about what the Golf Channel analyst thinks you're talking about and making conclusions about, say, Sean Foley ought to just let Tiger go play when that had nothing to do with what the two of you were talking about.
Sean Foley: You know what that whole time kind of ruined me a little bit, too it's like listening to someone talk about why not to have the vaccine. Listen to someone talk about why to have a vaccine. Listen to what someone thinks about Ukraine. What this person is talking about gun rights. But this person is talking about gun rights. And I just got to the point where it was like I just don't really feel like anyone has a freaking clue of what they're talking about, because unless you are right there in the midst of it, this whole Ukraine thing at a deep level, someone understands why this is happening but we just listened to 16 people a night talk about it and talk about it and talk about it. And depending on what side you're on, it's going to be completely different. So, I've found it often, like how it really helped me in a way. I wouldn't say I've ever been someone to really talk about people, that's not that's not something that I've done. But I always try to let people know when I'm around them. If they're talking about someone who's not in the room, I'm always quick to remind them that and they don't like this in many cases it's like, “Yo, check in with yourself. Like, would you say what you're saying right now if that person was right here? So, if not, then you need to figure out why it is that you feel that you need to get attention speaking about someone else's life.” So, I'm kind of that guy, a bit annoying like that. But it's yeah, it's a weird thing to go through and the amount of people who have met me and have apologized and said, “man, I thought you were arrogant and you're just an unbelievable guy.” And I'm like, “Hey, just wait until you meet someone before you define who they are.” So, the issue I took with those guys, I mean, look, I took the job Willy. At the end of the day, if my theory is that everything is a me problem, then the genesis of the problem was me saying, Yeah, I'll do that job because at that time I was I would say I was pretty arrogant. I wasn't nearly as skilled as I am now, but I definitely was way more arrogant. I've lost a lot since then, so that kind of knocks that out of you. But I'm working with a guy who got divorced a year ago who was an absolute deity, who turned into a punchline overnight. He's already had six surgeries and gave me a couple months: he'll be better than ever. And yeah, and it didn't quite work out that way. And we had a great time and I think we did pretty well together for sure. But when it comes down to speculating or assuming. I mean, how good of a word is “assume,” right? Because when you take the word “assume” and you put a hyphen between the “S” and the “U”...
Willy Walker: And make an ass out of you and me.
Sean Foley: How good is that word?
Willy Walker: It's the best.
So, people have been seeing you put your arms up during this webcast, Sean, you have tattoos on your arms. One of the tattoos you have is a Bob Marley lyric from the Redemption song. Why is that on your arm?
Sean Foley: You know, my mom is from Guyana in the West Indies, and my dad's from Scotland so he was more into soul music, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and The Beatles. But my mom was more into reggae and would play Roberta Flack, Anita Baker, Stevie Wonder. I mean, it was such good music, you know? I was really fortunate that way because music's been a big part of my life, for sure. I love music. My parents had just boxes full of records, and I'd just sit there and put in one after the other. And I just fell in love with that Trenchtown Live album. I must have been ten years old. And I thought Bob was I'd seen him on TV a little bit. He had these dreads, jumped around the stage, and he just seemed like he had a different aura about him. And I think he obviously really did; he is one of the most influential musicians of the last 200 years. And in the Redemption Song he says: “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.” And Redemption Song was the last song that he wrote before he died of brain cancer. So, I would listen to the lyrics, and I would write some of the lyrics down. And then I would go and speak to my dad about it. My dad was big into that lyric and then he was big into “Man is born free but everywhere is in chains.” This quote by philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. So, I was kind of big into philosophy, too. I really liked it. And so, my dad said, ‘When you can figure out what Rousseau means by that, then you will.” I'm like, “No.” But he says, “It means this and this.” He's like, “No, that's what he thought it means.” He goes, “I think it means something slightly different.” And so, I remember being like 31 and calling my dad and telling him that to end off that Rousseau quote, “Man is born free but everywhere is in chains shackled to the confines of his own mind.” And that completely hit at the exact same moment with freeing myself from my own mental slavery and putting myself in bondage and in chains of thinking like others being taught that this is life which I really just look at is like the prison of our mind. Right? We've got this amazing brain. Most of the people have done unbelievable things, using a lot of creativity and free thought. And then we're just I mean, look at America this year, 30th in educational standards in the world. How is that not the biggest problem that we have with our country right now? 30th. I mean, that's very on purpose, right? That's not like by accident. You know, it just makes it really easy for things to spread like they do right now with all these thought viruses on all this stuff and this channel saying this and this other channel saying this and fake lies and fake news and lie, lie, deny. You know, it's a crazy time but I feel like people are pretty uneducated in the sense that people aren't that well-traveled outside the country. And then it becomes really easy to scare people and make people think that all this stuff's happening when it's really not happening. And I think both sides are obviously responsible for it. I'm not really sure if I've met a politician. I've met quite a few of them who care more about me than they care about them. I'm just not naive to this thing, you know, to this whole world. And I find that a lot of that information is painful, and it hurts to know it. But in a way, I think when you are trying to at least seek the truth of things, you get to see life more for what it is.
Willy Walker: To end on a positive note, there is one other tattoo on you, which is a quote from Nelson Mandela. Tell our listeners what that one is and what that says.
Sean Foley: Mandela was a huge influence on me growing up, my mom and dad. I mean, that was almost like forced, I think. I'm glad they forced me to know everything about him because he was just once in a generation. And I would advise anybody to look at those people who are once in a generation and find out everything you can about them. I think they're pretty ordinary people who just really chose to live extraordinary lives. I don't think they were born any different than anybody else, but basically says, “If hatred can be learned, then love can be taught.” I think it's very important. It helps me with people in the world because, you know, we obviously disagree with a lot of people and people disagree with you. And I've got plenty of friends that people are stunned that we're friends because they're like, “you guys are so different and think completely different things.” And I'm like, “Well, the dynamics are we both love our wife, we both love our kids, and we both enjoy drinking Coronas on a nice day outside.”
Willy Walker: So, Sean, it's been a real pleasure. As I said at the top, there is no perfect golf swing. I think one of the reasons you're such an incredible coach is because you realize that it's that a) there's so many metaphors between the life we all live, and the way people play golf. The game of golf, as you said so articulately on the Arnold Palmer quote and that so much of you being a successful coach isn't necessarily the take back off the tee, which, by the way, anyone who is listening to this. If you want to hear Sean talk technical, you can go listen to Sean talk technical till he's blue in the face. There's everything from grip strength, to take back speed, to clubhead speed, everything else. I've listened to it. It's fascinating if you really want to dial in on your stroke, he's the man.
But the bigger thing is, with these elite athletes who have so much both to gain and to lose by showing up in a certain mindset and a way of dealing with the adversity of golf. Sean has worked with the very best in the world to be able to work through those issues, which have so many metaphors to the lives that all of us live every single day. And so, Sean, thank you for spending an hour with me. It's fascinating stuff. It's obvious you are an extremely well read and well learned person. And good luck with all of your athletes and their performance and as well with your family, which I know you spent a ton of time focusing on your kids and being a great dad.
Sean, a real pleasure. Thanks, everyone, for joining us this week. We'll be back next week with another Walker Webcast. Appreciate it. Take care, Sean.
Sean Foley: All right. Thank you.