Skip to content

April 2024 - Reverse Pivot

Hank Haney ditches the desert for Chicago's North Shore
Photographs by Charles Cherney

This article appeared in the April 2024 edition of Chicago District Golfer.
To read more Chicago District Golfer stories, head to our
article archive.

Hank Haney's coaching career was highlighted by his stint alongside Tiger Woods, during which Woods notched 31 wins and six majors.

Welcome to April. Or as golfers call it, Masters Month. Every golf fan has a favorite Masters memory, whether it is Jack Nicklaus’ unforgettable back-nine charge in 1986, Fred Couples’ ball ignoring the laws of gravity by not rolling back into Rae’s Creek at the 12th hole in 1992 or Tiger Woods’ dramatic bank-shot chip-in at the 16th in 2005.

For famed golf instructor Hank Haney, the most memorable Masters was in 1998. That’s when his long-time student, Mark O’Meara, finally captured his first major championship – the first major won by any of Haney’s many tour-player clients.

Haney, who was born in Lake Forest and grew up in Deerfield, will never forget where he was when O’Meara sank the most important putt of his life on Augusta National Golf Club’s 18th hole that Sunday in ’98.

Was he nervously watching the finish from just behind the 18th green? Not quite. He was in a car on the way to the airport. He left the grounds after O’Meara played the 16th hole in order to catch a flight to Milwaukee so he could conduct a Wisconsin PGA Section teaching seminar the next morning. A commitment is a commitment, bud, even if your student is winning the Masters.

During that ride to the airport, a friend watching the CBS telecast was on the phone with Haney.

“He was describing all the action to me,” Haney recalled. “On the last putt, he started screaming, ‘He made it! He made it!’ That was so exciting. Yeah, I missed Mark’s winning putt but believe me, I’ve seen it plenty of times since then. Mark and I talked on the phone right after he won. And the next day, I did my seminar in Wisconsin.

“If you asked me what my best moment in Augusta was, it was Mark winning that Masters. Because if I didn’t meet Mark O’Meara (in the ‘80s) and he wasn’t my student, all the great things that happened to me in golf wouldn’t have happened for me and I’m fully aware of that. If you asked me what my best moment in golf was, it’s not even close. For sure, it was meeting Mark O’Meara.”

Haney won’t be attending this year’s Masters Tournament. He is retired from teaching tour players and the travel that goes with it. Instead, he’ll likely spend Masters week at home.

Haney, after relocating to Chicago's North Shore so his son could have better hockey opportunities, now teaches at The Golf Practice in Highland Park.

In Chicago. That is not a misprint. The man who coached O’Meara, had an incredible run as Tiger Woods’ coach in the 2000s (31 tour victories, 6 major championships) and starred in a celebrity-golf-lessons TV series trying to help the likes of Charles Barkley, Ray Romano and Rush Limbaugh, has returned to Illinois. Haney has written five notable golf instruction books, a landmark memoir of his years with Tiger Woods (“The Big Miss”) and knows as much about the golf swing as any man alive. More recently, Haney hosted a Sirius XM radio show (and was let go after some controversial comments) but he’s still calling it as he sees it with opinionated tweets on X (the artist formerly known as Twitter) @HankHaney.

Last year, Haney left Paradise Valley, Arizona to settle in his own idea of paradise – Chicagoland. He now lives in Glencoe. Haney, 68, came back because he has a 10-year-old son, Henry, who is a serious junior hockey player. While there was a decent hockey program in Arizona, it didn’t compare to what existed in Chicagoland.

“Our friends thought we were crazy to move to Chicago,” Haney said. “It made sense to us. I didn’t want to look back one day and think I didn’t give my son the best opportunity possible to be successful. He’s got great coaches here.” His son plays for the Chicago Reapers, the country’s No. 1-ranked team (Squirt Minor Division).

No one saw this adventure coming, especially Dad, since Henry had ice skated only once when he suddenly told his father three years ago that he wanted to play competitive hockey. “I was like, oh my god, he’s so far behind, the other kids have been skating since they were 3 years old,” Hank Hany said. “He has caught up, though. My wife is tall and the charts say he is going to be 6-5 eventually. He plays right defenseman. I didn’t realize the hardest thing to find in hockey is a big righthanded right defenseman. There’s a worldwide shortage of those. It’s like being a lefthanded pitcher in baseball.” Henry was selected to play in last summer’s Brick Tournament, the most prestigious North American tournament for players 10 and under. It’s the hockey equivalent of the Little League World Series and was held in Edmonton. Dad enjoys being a part-time hockey dad. The practice rink is not far from Henry’s school. “I pick him up at school at 12:30,” Hank said, “and he’s on the ice at 1:15.”

Meanwhile, Haney’s Chicago relocation means area golfers can get coached by one of the game’s best-known instructors. Haney teaches at The Golf Practice, Chris Oehlerking’s state-of-the-art indoor golf facility in Highland Park. The association with The Golf Practice happened by accident. Haney stopped at Craftwood Lumber for an item, noticed a building next door with a ‘Golf Practice’ sign and wondered what it was. “When I went inside, it was incredible,” Haney said. “A really nice high school girl started showing me around. She didn’t know who I was. There were a bunch of people teaching there. All of a sudden, Chris comes up and says, ‘Hank! What are you doing here?’ I said, You teach here, Chris? He said, ‘This is my place.’ I told him I moved here for my son’s hockey and I was looking for a place to teach a little. Chris said, ‘You could teach here.’ I had been thinking about building my own golf studio somewhere.”

3-2Chris Oehlerking (right) and Haney go back decades, having first met at Haney's golf academy in Dallas. They reunited at Oehlerking's The Golf Practice upon Haney's return to Chicago.

It was that easy to make a deal. Years ago, Haney invited a young Oehlerking to Haney’s golf academy near Dallas a few times a year to learn from him and his staff. They had been out of touch for a decade but when they bumped into each other at The Golf Practice, it was as if they’d never been away. “I was mentored by Hank during the time he worked with Tiger,” Oehlerking said. “That was incredible for me. Here’s the guy I learned from, a Hall of Fame teacher who coached Tiger in the most prolific span of his career, working with golfers trying to break 90 or 80. It’s so random that he is here now that it’s hard to rationalize. Every student I’ve mentioned his name to is shocked he’s here, but they all knew who he is. I pinch myself every day Hank is here teaching.”

The hockey team, his son’s private school and Oehlerking’s golf facility are just part of why Haney is thrilled to be back. Another reason is that Chicago is America’s best golf city by a mile.

“I’ve always joked that Chicago is a great place to be from,” Haney said. “Never in a million years did I think I’d come back here. Since I’ve been back, I have a new appreciation for what a great place it is. The North Shore of Chicago is without a doubt the nicest place in the U.S. You’ve just got to get through the winter, that’s all.

“I lived in Texas for 29 years, long enough to make the Texas Golf Hall of Fame. I lived in Arizona. They’re not even close to Chicago for golf. There are courses everywhere here and every one of them is gorgeous. Even the public courses are phenomenal. For golf, there is no better place than Chicago – the courses, the great clubs, and the number of passionate golfers.”

Haney, champion of a CDGA junior event in 1976, grew up playing at Highland Park’s Sunset Valley Golf Club. “My dad would drop me off there in the morning on the way to take the train to work,” Haney said. “I’d stay there all day until he came back to pick me up.”

Now it’s Haney who drops his son off to play for hours at a time, just at a rink instead of a golf course. The story seems familiar. “I feel like my life is coming full circle,” Haney said. “It’s crazy. I love it here.”

Welcome home. 

Gary Van Sickle will cover his 40th Masters Tournament in 2024. He’s written about golf since 1980 for The Milwaukee Journal, Golf World magazine, Sports Illustrated and and is based in Pittsburgh.