But that has slowly started to change since striking up a working relationship with Woods in August.
“There’s recognition in airports and restaurants, and that never happened before,” Foley said in a recent interview. “People say ‘that’s got to be so annoying.’ But I created it, I said yes (when asked to work with Woods) and I could have said no. You have to embrace it and take it on.
“This is when your principles and character (are important). Who you tell people you are and what you believe about yourself, this is when it’s tested.”
In fact, Foley is hoping to take his profile to another level. The 36-year-old from Burlington, Ont., has signed on with sports agency The Wasserman Group — looking for agent Chris Armstrong to “drum up business” — and released his first instructional DVD, titled The Next Generation.
Foley had relied solely on the quality of his work to speak for itself.
“I’ve never really built my brand,” he said. “I still don’t have a website.”
The desire to start brand building comes at an interesting time for Foley — and not just because he’s now working with Woods. Some have recently criticized his teaching methods, accusing him of borrowing heavily from the “Stack and Tilt” swing developed by Andy Plummer and Mike Bennett.
Foley has been around the PGA Tour since getting hired by Calgary’s Stephen Ames four years ago. He also works with Sean O’Hair, Hunter Mahan and Justin Rose, among others, but only recently started hearing negative things about his style.
“It never happened until I started working with Tiger,” he said.
Foley is the first to acknowledge that he’s studied up on what others are teaching, both about golf and life. He’s well-versed on a variety of subjects — referencing everyone from Gandhi to Bob Marley to Deepak Chopra to Phil Jackson during a 30-minute interview — and aims to pass on whatever he can to his pupils.
He readily acknowledges that the foundation for his knowledge on the golf swing comes from others.
“My job is to help people so why would I not tap into every educational source?” said Foley. “I’m not going to pretend that I’m going to figure it all out on my own. Looking at (David) Leadbetter’s stuff and Butch (Harmon’s) stuff and Chuck Cook, Mac O’Grady, Mark Evershed and Stack and Tilt and all that. It’s my job to know that.
“If you’ve done this for 16 years and you’re smart and you’re passionate about helping people, you will all find the same points.”
Foley still manages to stand out. He’s supremely confident in his ability and has no qualms about doing things his own way.
It’s something Armstrong plans to use to his advantage as he seeks out ways to start growing Foley’s brand.
“We strongly believe that with Sean’s contemporary and innovative approach to golf instruction, his candid and dynamic personality, and commitment to using his success as a platform to affect change in the lives of those who are less fortunate, his brand has great appeal to both the corporate and non-profit sectors,” Armstrong wrote in an email. “I have no doubt that he will have opportunities both inside and outside of the sport of golf — endorsements, corporate outings, public speaking engagements, and literary works to suggest a few.”
The release of his DVD on Monday was the first step. Produced by brother Kevin Foley and Toronto-based Project 10 Productions, The Next Generation offers 90 minutes of insight and tips to improve the golf swing.
The advice isn’t much different than what he gives to his top clients on a regular basis.
“I was teaching a 15 handicap the other day and I was working on the same thing that I’m trying to get Sean O’Hair to do,” said Foley. “Now, when they both do it well, it looks completely different. But it helps them equally.”
The arc of Foley’s career has been pretty dramatic. Prior to starting his work with Ames in 2006, he served as director of player development for the ClubLink Academy out of Glen Abbey in Oakville, Ont. Now just four years later, he’s got one of the highest-profile jobs in the sport.
While Foley always envisioned himself in his current position, he acknowledges that some fortunate timing also played a role. Reflecting on that helps keep him grounded.
“There’s many people who have done the same thing and just didn’t get the opportunity,” he said. “That kind of takes the arrogance out of it, where you feel like you’re just amazing, because you realize that if Stephen Ames doesn’t come down (and hire him), who knows?
“I might be back at Glen Abbey right now.”