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May 13, 2010

The truly interesting question about Tiger Woods

Tiger-Woods.jpgIs not how and when he is going to settle up with Elin. Or even when he is going to play again.

No, the most interesting question about Tiger is this -- What has happened to his golf swing?

As noted earlier here, I haven't been comfortable with the public flogging that Woods has taken and continues to take as a result of his personal indiscretions. Seemingly without any true friends and receiving more than his fair share of bad advice, I find it quite easy to have compassion for Woods.

But putting the less interesting personal issues aside. The swing -- what has happened?

Because Woods is the best golfer of our time, his swing has been heavily scrutinized over the years. Butch Harmon successfully refined the young Woods' upright stance and steep swing plane during Woods' early years on the PGA Tour. But Woods eventually grew tired of the outspoken Harmon and ended up with Hank Haney at the recommendation of Woods' pal, Mark O'Meara.

Haney teaches a one-plane swing, so Woods' swing became flatter and more around his body under Haney. Although Woods never has been the ball-striker of a Ben Hogan, after some initial questions (see also here), the Woods-Haney partnership took off when Woods won the Masters in 2005. Woods went on to win an incredible 51% of his PGA Tour starts from July 2006 through last year (32 wins total).

Woods captured six majors over that span, including the 2008 U.S. Open over Rocco Mediate that he somehow won playing on a broken leg and torn ACL. Even though I expressed concern about Woods' misguided training regimen at the time, it appeared that it was only a matter of time before Woods would break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships.

Haney then helped Woods return from reconstructive knee surgery in 2009 to win seven times, but none of them were major championships. Nevertheless, this season looked to be a good one for Woods as Pebble Beach and St. Andrews were in the rotation for major championships.

But then Woods personal life blew up and everything changed. Woods put his golf game on ice and missed the first three months of the season. Woods somehow tied for fourth at the Masters in his first start of the season, but he was clearly not sharp in doing so.

The last couple of weeks have been pretty ugly, what with the missed cut at Quail Hollow and a withdrawal at the Players Championship because of a sore neck. In the meantime, Woods had lost so much confidence in his swing that he was at the bottom of the both tournaments in terms of driving distance and accuracy.

To add insult to injury, Woods main competitor -- Masters champion Phil Mickelson -- is poised to overtake Woods as No. 1 in the World Rankings soon.

And now Haney is gone. So, what's going on?

Well, there certainly is no poverty of opinions. As a student of the golf swing, my sense is that Woods has lost confidence in his swing of the longer clubs, such as his driver, 3-metal and hybrids. He seems much more comfortable swinging his "control" clubs (mid and short irons). But for whatever reason, Woods' arms have become disconnected from his upper body during his swings with the longer clubs, which has resulted in a large number of mishits. As the mishits mounted and Woods' confidence waned, he also lost distance off the tee, which only aggravated Woods' frustration.

Jeff Ritter -- who is one of America's top young golf instructors -- does a very good job below of analyzing Woods' swing with the driver while comparing it to the swing of one of the best ball-strikers of all-time, Sam Snead.

Woods will probably rebound to the top levels of the game once he sorts out his personal life and straightens out his swing. But Woods' body is increasingly breaking down under the strain of high-level golf and a needlessly brutal training regimen, so regaining his physical health may be an even bigger problem than regaining some sense of emotional stability in his quest to top Nicklaus' record.

Posted by Tom at May 13, 2010 12:00 AM |


I think ELDRIGE is on the juice...His behavior and bulk suggest alabolically stupid decisions have been made to get the extra edge. Seems to me he should have been in another kind of REHAB...

Posted by: Danreidy Author Profile Page at May 13, 2010 7:36 AM

To figure out what happened, first understand what goes into being a really good golfer. One, having a swing that does to the ball what you want. Two, training your body to repeat said swing on a consistent basis. Three, having confidence that your body will make said swing on a consistent basis.

The more 'complicated' the swing (as illustrated in the video), the harder it is to train the body to be so precise so as to be able to repeat that swing over and over and over again.

Thus, it doesn't take much of a change in the body to lose the consistency. With Tiger, it could be aging that causes his body to be just that much less flexible... or his neurons to fire just a millisecond later than necessary... or an achy neck to cause him to be slightly off in his stance.

And when something happens that breaks the string of hitting good shot after good shot, the damage is magnified by the loss of confidence. Tiger used to assume he would hit the ball where he wanted, now he's not so sure and that - yes, choking - is showing up in his score.

Posted by: steve sturm Author Profile Page at May 13, 2010 9:14 AM

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