Thursday, April 7, 2011
Tiger and His Swing Changes
Perhaps the most popular story on the golf internet community is Tiger Woods, his swing and his work with Sean Foley. The big question is whether or not Tiger is doing the right thing by overhauling his swing once again.
Recently on a SiriusXM interview, Jack Nicklaus actually stood up for Tiger with this regard saying to the effect that he constantly changed his swing and that you almost have to because over time, your body changes and the swing has to follow suit.
My impression of Nicklaus’ thoughts about teachers is that they should be seen and not heard. He has often talked about how he doesn’t understand the coaches following players from tour stop to tour stop and getting on the range all of the time and how his former instructor, Jack Grout, only came to one tournament a year (Masters) and never left his seat in the grandstand. Maybe Nicklaus didn’t like the publicity somebody like Hank Haney has received and that’s what prompted the remarks on SiriusXM.
From a statistical standpoint it’s difficult for me to get a very detailed feel for Tiger’s play because many of the high end statistics like proximity to the cup were not available before 2001. Tiger was in his last two years with Butch Harmon and that was not the peak golf performance years. However, there are some statistics that are still telling and help paint a picture of Tiger’s game over the years.
One in particular is driving accuracy. Here’s a look at his driving accuracy ranking over the years.
Tiger and Butch split up sometime in 2002, so I’ll take out that season for both Haney and Harmon since I don’t know when Tiger started working with Haney. But the average yearly rank under Harmon was 95.4. For Haney, the average rank was 148.2.
But, it wasn’t all bad under Haney, otherwise Tiger would not have won all of those tournaments.
Tiger was typically the best Danger Zone (175-225 yard approach shots) on Tour. There were a couple of years where not only was he the best, but he was far, far better than the #2 ranked player in the Danger Zone that season. In 2009, when the MIT guys calculated the ‘Putts Gained’ statistic, he finished 2nd. While they do not have a Putts Gained statistic for the previous years at this time, my guess is that he would’ve been one of the best in the Haney era because he sure was making a lot of putts back then.
Thus, we were seeing statistical scenarios playing out for Tiger like this one described in a Slate.com article (http://www.slate.com/id/2263079/pagenum/2)
Tiger made his name on the PGA Tour with long drives, but at Bay Hill his driving cost him 2.4 strokes to Bryant and Co. throughout the four days of play. (Indeed, just like last week at Firestone, Tiger's driving was disastrous in the early rounds.) He also lost 2.8 strokes on approach shots from 100-150 yards out. His layup shots were also slightly subpar, dropping him another eight-tenths of a stroke. That puts him six strokes down.
But now we reach one of the strongest parts of Tiger's game: He excelled at approach shots from 150-250 yards out, allowing him to pick up an amazing eight strokes on his closest competitors.
Where Tiger pulls away once and for all is midrange putting. He was deadly from seven to 21 feet, gaining 3.5 strokes. Even more remarkable is that he achieved this advantage despite three-putting from inside seven feet on the 10th green on Sunday.
In Broadie's final analysis, then, it was Tiger's long approach shots and midrange putting that "won" the tournament.
Thus, the lack of driving accuracy becomes a bigger issue. It’s very important to be really good from the Danger Zone on the PGA Tour. But, if you’re missing fairways and finding deep rough and trees, Tiger cannot use that Danger Zone skill to his fullest capability. He’ll still have ‘easy’ Danger Zone shots because most of the PGA Tour’s par-3’s are in that 175-225 yard range. But if he gets on a long par-4, he’s going to need an accurate drive in order to get that ‘easy’ Danger Zone shot from the fairway.
IMO, no better example of this was the final round of the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine. He was paired with Y.E. Yang, probably a top 50 ranked ballstriker on Tour. Since Tiger was in fear of using his driver, he hit a lot of irons and 3-woods off the tee while Yang used driver most of the time. Woods found the fairway, but left himself with a lot of approaches in or near the Danger Zone. But Yang was finding the fairway as well and because Tiger was using shorter clubs off the tee, Yang was hitting his tee shots about 30-60 yards past Tiger.
Tiger had the game back then to pull this type of conservative play, but he wasn’t going to go low doing this. And it evened things up for Yang who doesn’t have nearly the short game or putting to compete with Woods (although Yang did chip in for Eagle, but that was based off an aggressive driver shot).
By the 2010 Players Championship at Sawgrass, there were reports of Tiger popping up tee shots and he was still working with Haney.
Tiger’s goal is to win the most majors of any golfer ever. I think in order to do that, the golfer has to be a dominant golfer. Sounds obvious, but sometimes people don’t think of it that way. I just don’t see a golfer winning 19 professional majors being ‘just better than everybody else.’ I think in order to win 19, you need to be by far and away the best and be able to win tournaments by multiple strokes. When you look at the truly dominant players of the past, they all seemed to dominate a lot of parts of the game. For instance, I showed Nicklaus’ total driving and GIR stats when he was 40-45 years old and he was still the dominant player on Tour and he ‘only’ won 2 majors during that time (1980 US Open & PGA Championship). That’s how tough it is to win a major.
Thus, if Tiger’s driving is very average, I feel there’s a strong possibility that those last few majors will be difficult to come by. And Tiger’s driving was only getting worse. So while the Danger Zone play and putting had improved, come hell or high water the accuracy with the driver had to improve without losing too much distance.
I’ve seen, what I believe are major improvements to the backswing.
I don’t believe that the backswing means everything to every golfer, otherwise we would’ve never heard of Jim Furyk or Lee Trevino. However, for many golfers if their backswing is geometrically mis-aligned, then the downswing will require them to make a compensation to get re-aligned and on plane.
As Sean Foley mentioned in this video, when measured with Trackman, Wood’s clubhead path was +10* inside-to-out. According to Trackman a year ago, the further inside-to-out path on Tour at that time was Kenny Perry (+6*) and Colin Montgomerie had the most outside-to-in path (-6*)
Not only was that path too far inside-to-out, but the grip didn’t help matters much either as Haney has stated that he taught Tiger to grip the club in the palm of the left hand. The issue with Tiger is that with that much of an inside-to-out path, it usually causes the golfer to use a lot of #3 Power Accumulator (the rotation of the left hand and forearm in the swing). And if you have ever tried to practiced using a lot of #3 power accumulator with the club gripped in the palm of the left hand, it’s very difficult to square up the clubface at impact. This is one of the things John Erickson (www.advancedballstriking.com) has his students do in order to determine what type of grip on the club works best for them. They quickly learn that for the most part, gripping it in the palm of the left hand is not an option.
And from what we know about D-Plane, with the ball’s initial direction being primarily from where the clubface is at impact, that miss to the right that Tiger was hitting meant that his clubface was open at impact.
Haney has self admittedly discussed his own personal ‘driver yips’ and in his time working with Tiger, Tiger’s driving got worse so I’m not sure why golfers cannot see the link between the two.
My belief is that regardless of the Tiger cheating and divorce story, his ballstriking was bound to fall apart. That may have sped things up a bit, but I believe that his swing was heading down that road anyway. And I think Haney, who stated that he was concerned about the perception of his ‘brand’ in a Fox interview after he dumped Tiger, probably foresaw this and decided that the best business decision for him was to quit teaching Tiger and that way he could explain that Tiger’s downfall didn’t happen until after he quit
I don’t see Tiger winning the Masters this week, but I see him playing better than he has and I think we’ll see 1 day of the tournament where he actually hits his driver as well as he has in years. It’s tough to trust making changes like this. I believe this is even moreso when you get older because when you’re young, sometimes you’re just ‘too dumb’ to realize that these changes won’t take time. Fighting your instincts is the toughest part because they want you to revert to the bad mechanics, but I can say that this is the most excited I have been about watching Tiger play in the last 10 years.