ATLANTA — Sean Foley watched the end of the BMW Championship on Sunday, and had to fight back tears when he heard winner Justin Rose mention the swing coach’s newborn son in a television interview.
Rose offered up no details at Cog Hill on Sunday when he said “there is someone at home watching and those last two shots were for Kieran.”
Kieran Foley was born Aug. 26 in Orlando and Foley and his wife, Kate, lived the past four months knowing that the outlook for their son’s long-term health was bleak.
“There was a 50-50 chance my son would die at birth,” Foley said Tuesday by phone, on his way home from working with another of his clients, Tiger Woods. “For lack of a better term, it’s a medical miracle. The doctor told us he has trumped the best-case scenario for this disorder by 100 times.”
Kieran was born with congenital diaphragmatic hernia, a condition in which an abnormal opening in the diaphragm can lead to parts of the stomach or other abdominal organs moving into the chest cavity. In Kieran’s case, his heart was located on the right side of his chest.
Foley works with several tour players, including Woods, Rose, Hunter Mahan and Stephen Ames. All were aware of the family issues, and were “beyond” understanding, Foley said, when he had to limit his work with them.
Still, for several months, he and his wife faced the unknown.
“The thing I was most worried about other than my wife and my baby, but in a self-centered way, was I was just interested to see if I walked the walk,” Foley said. “I have always been pretty optimistic and positive. When you get tested like that, you’re not quite sure. You never quite know what to believe until you are faced with the situation.
“A lot of people asked me how do you even get through this, and in the reality of the situation, if I’m as positive as can be, that’s not going to change what may or may not happen. And if I’m negative, it’s not going to change what may or may not happen. When you’re going through that kind of adversity, it’s the only place you can find refuge. You think you have perspective, and then you go through something like this.”
The surgery to deal with the issues occurred four days after Kieran’s birth, on Aug. 30. On that same day, Rocco Mediate was critical of Foley’s work with Woods, saying “I’m disgusted with what’s going on with him.”
Mediate had no way of knowing what Foley was dealing with, of course, nor did those who sought to reach Foley for comment.
If I’m as positive as can be, that’s not going to change what may or may not happen. And if I’m negative, it’s not going to change what may or may not happen … You think you have perspective, and then you go through something like this.
” — Swing coach Sean Foley
“I’m like, my son is about to go into surgery and he could die, I think I could deal with that later,” Foley said.
The surgery took place at the Winnie Palmer Hospital in Orlando and Foley said it was scheduled for 90 minutes. In less than a half hour, the Foleys were told that it had been a success. (The opening in the diaphragm was not as big as initially feared.) Kieran was allowed to go home early last week.
That meant that Foley could get back to work, so he headed to Chicago for the BMW Championship and met Rose on the range. It was the first time they had worked together in a month.
“It was just nice to get a couple of things clarified in my golf swing, got a couple of simple feels,” Rose said. “I like to play with a swing thought, but the more simple it is the better that is to play with. We had a nice lesson and we sort of worked my golf swing into position with one simple swing thought, and that was nice for the week.”
Rose opened the tournament with a 63 and led after every round, posting his third PGA Tour victory in 15 months and giving credit to his teacher.
“It’s not for me to say, but I know there were definitely a few complications back home and he was spending time [with his family] and doing the right thing,” said Rose, whose victory saw him jump to third in the FedEx Cup standings, earning him a spot in this week’s Tour Championship, where he is in position to earn a $10 million bonus. “He had his priorities in order, and I think it’s best to say that everything has gone fantastically well for them to this point.”
Foley downplayed his work with Rose, saying they’ve had better sessions when he’s missed the cut.
“If he believes in himself 10 percent more, he’s going to be up there a lot,” Foley said. “He’s good at everything.”
Then Foley reflected on the last few months, the criticism of his work with Woods, the uncertainty of his son’s situation, the fact that Kieran was supposed to be hospitalized for months — which would have meant no tip for Rose at the BMW.
“I was doing stuff to keep my mind busy,” Foley said. “When you’ve been in that situation, it’s amazing how fast your brain wants to start assuming. We were told by the doctor that he had never seen a luckier child in 33 years of dealing with children with that condition. Twenty years ago, it was like a death sentence.
“Now he’s waking up and keeping us up at night like any other baby.”
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
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