Commentary by Jeff Commings
PHOENIX, Arizona, February 26. IF you love golf, you're already excited about Michael Phelps and Hank Haney joining forces to help Phelps improve his golf game, and the fact that it will be filmed for this season's “The Haney Project.”
If you don't like golf, this show might not hold much interest. I am one of those people. The thought of calming my mind and precisely hitting a small round ball with a stick gives me a headache.
Nevertheless, I approached Monday's season premiere of “The Haney Project” with an open mind. I knew it would be nothing like what we've seen so far for the upcoming Ryan Lochte reality show, and I was right. We don't see Phelps holding court at the best clubs in Las Vegas or hanging out with beauty pageant contestants. This is all about golf, and for a while, that was OK.
I had been curious to see what Phelps was up to since collecting six gold medals in London, and it appears Haney has been putting him through the ringer, based on what I saw in Monday's episode. Phelps' swing, Haney tells us, is rough with very little to praise. He came to this conclusion when he first met Phelps in 2010 in Singapore, and the two continued to put a serious focus on golfing in 2011.
So now I know exactly what was keeping Phelps out of the pool in those two years, as reports kept saying Bob Bowman wasn't able to get Phelps in the water on a consistent basis in the leadup to the Olympics. Phelps was already thinking about his retirement plans, which were still more than a year away.
The first 30 minutes of the episode were pretty much fluff, getting viewers up to speed on what it's like to coach Phelps. We also got the obligatory interviews from mom Debbie and sisters Whitney and Hilary, as well as Bowman. It was great to hear Bowman tell Haney of Phelps' knack of knowing his goals and reaching them, I didn't get the sense that Phelps' goal of getting his golf game under 91 meant all that much to him. I expected a loftier goal than cutting a few strokes off his game. Maybe a chance to qualify for the PGA Tour in two years, or something that seems so “out there” that everyone will doubt that Phelps can do it … until he does it. (Remember that we thought eight golds in Beijing was “out there.”)
A large chunk of the final half hour of Monday's episode focused on fixing Phelps' swing. The voiceover announcer said Phelps “comes down too steep and hits the ball fat.” Ummm … what? As I mentioned earlier, since this show is on the Golf Channel, pretty much everyone who watches will know what that means. I haven't held a golf club in 15 years, and haven't watched more than five minutes of a golf game on television at one time, so my golf lingo is severely lacking. I'm sure if there was a similar show about swimming, most will not know about “swimming downhill” on breaststroke, so I just feigned ignorance and kept watching.
On one particular day, Phelps took 400 swings, which we are told is equivalent to playing five rounds of golf. Ouch. Phelps might have been tired, but I'm sure even he knew 400 golf swings on a beautiful fall day — and probably getting paid to do it — was better than repeat sets of 200 butterfly with your head in the water.
I'm sure any avid golfer watching picked up some useful tips from Monday's show. A novice such as myself needed a little more explanation on what was being taught. But again, this was on the Golf Channel.
I also would have liked more background on Hank Haney. The show briefly listed some of the golfers he's helped, including Tiger Woods, but for this newbie to “The Haney Project,” I needed to know more about why he's so much in demand.
I'm not sure I'll continue watching this season. My interest in golf might keep me away, but Monday's episode did help me take a few more steps toward realizing that we're not going to see Phelps in the race pool again. I wasn't used to seeing Phelps smile as much as he did in this one-hour episode, and that shows that no matter how little or how much he improves, he's happy where he is right now.