An Analysis of Tiger Woods’ New Swing
Ever since Tiger Woods broke ties with golf instructor Butch Harmon and started taking lessons from Hank Haney – the coach who helped Mark O’Meara revamp his swing and win the 1998 Masters and the 1998 British Open – golfers and teachers like you have been curious about Tiger’s new technique.
Having previously written The Tiger Woods Way in 1997, a book that explained Tiger’s power-draw swing, I too was curious to discover the new secrets that first allowed Tiger to play good golf again, eventually great golf, and finally prove to the golf world (by winning the 2005 Masters and British Open, plus the American Express World Championship) that he and his new coach were right and all the critics were wrong. In this four part series, I present an instructional preview of what’s in my new book, Tiger’s New Swing: An Analysis of Tiger Woods’ New Swing Technique, and reveal secrets to Tiger’s new and innovative Turbo-Drive Power-Fade swing, starting in this issue with key points related to his pre-swing routine and setup. As a follow-up, in Part 2, the backswing will be covered, in Part 3 the downswing, and in Part 4 unique drills that have been taught to Tiger will be presented.
In reading this series, you will be able to learn things that you can pass on to your students so that they will be better able to improve their swing and hit a higher percentage of quality shots. In Tiger’s first stage of golf domination, that began with a win at the 1997 Masters by twelve strokes and then continued from 1999 through 2002, Tiger set up to drive the ball in a very unique way: shoulders open, feet slightly closed, ball well back of his left heel, and hips level. This address position promoted a draw shot that for a long time he had under control. However, quite a quick pre-swing routine and a mistimed release action of the hands, arms, and club lead to Tiger sometimes hitting off line drives and making a couple of double bogies per round, that made the difference between winning and losing. I’ll discuss Tiger’s downswing in more detail in Part 3, but let me just say here that sometimes when he released the club extra-powerfully in the impact zone his draw sometimes turned into a duck hook, and when fearing this shot or sensing it through feel, he put a governor on his release by slowing down his arm speed and a big block slice resulted.
Knowing that he needed to make a switch to a new swing, and being assured by Mark O’Meara (his buddy on tour and at home at the Isleworth Country Club in Orlando, Florida) that Hank Haney was a super coach, Tiger called Haney and soon after began what he calls “The Process” – he committed to practice hard in order to make changes to his swing (in Tiger’s case, making the switch from a draw-swing to a fade-swing.) Should your student want to make the same changes to hit a controlled power-fade, I suggest he or she follow Tiger’s example of first taking time to stand behind the ball to imagine the ball curving from left to right in the air, second making a couple of mini-swings to get a feel for the club plus establish a good rhythm, and third, setting up like Tiger.
Tiger’s new weak grip is weak (Vs point up at his right ear) rather than strong, his feet are open rather than closed, his right foot is perpendicular to the target line rather than fanned out, the back of his left hand is slightly ahead of the ball and no longer behind it, his shoulders are dead square to the initial line of flight rather than open to the target line, the ball is forward in his stance, and his left hip is tilted up higher than his right.
Tiger’s new address, described above, will enable your student to swing on an upright plane like Tiger, contact the ball on the upswing, and hit a highly controlled power-fade that, as you probably know, is a lot easier shot to learn than a draw. Of course, the elements of your student’s backswing and downswing must also be correct and grooved through practice drills.
I just shared with you what I believe are Tiger’s new address keys, based mainly on observing golf’s greatest player and talking to experts. Now, I’d like to review Tiger’s new backswing, learned under coach Hank Haney. But first, let me go back in time and go over Tiger’s former power-draw backswing positions, so that you and your students have a good, clear reference point to start from.
Tiger’s Old Backswing: Previously, while taking lessons from Butch Harmon, Tiger cut his backswing back to three-quarter length and did not make as full a turn. This more compact swing helped Tiger improve his distance control with irons. However, unless Tiger’s timing was perfect, this shorter action had a negative affect on his driving skills. Tiger’s swing was so short and rounded that he often was compelled to swing down faster. Even for Tiger, who practiced hard, the short swing eventually ended up doing him more harm than good off the tee. When you employ a very compact backswing, you lose turning power, find it much more difficult to time the downswing, and thus have trouble consistently returning the club squarely and solidly into the ball at impact. The result: a loss of power and accuracy.
What’s so ironic then about Tiger’s old winning swing is that what was so good about it was what was so bad about it. Tiger’s former action required great strength, extreme flexibility, and superb hand-eye coordination, all the qualities that Tiger possesses. All the same, Tiger’s old swing was like an antique grandfather clock with a complex mechanism inside it. To keep good time, every single part of Tiger’s body had to move in a perfectly synchronized manner. No other swing in golf depended as much on tempo, timing, and rhythm as Tiger’s. The main reason this was true was that Butch Harmon believed that a shallow swing action was better than an upright action. The only thing is, with this type of backswing the driver travels along a longer path, making it much harder for it to be delivered down squarely into the ball.
“The driver must meet the ball with a level plane,” Butch told me when we collaborated on the book, The Four Cornerstones of Winning Golf.
“For the club to be moving through impact on a shallow angle, the entire swing must be on a relatively shallow plane, a little more around the body than up and down.”
Tiger heeded Harmon’s advice and played super golf for a good many years, yet slowly but surely he slipped into bad habits, namely pulling the club well inside the target line early in the backswing (while exaggerating the coiling action of the hips) and clearing or spinning his hips too quickly on the downswing. So that during his slump period, Tiger started hitting more and more pull hooks and push slices. The bottom line: No matter how good a recovery player Tiger was, he still chose to make a switch to a new teacher to learn a new swing.
Tiger’s New Backswing Action: Tiger now makes a fuller upright backswing, marked by a stronger shoulder turn and a less active hip turn. By limiting hip turn during the backswing, Tiger builds resistance between his upper and lower body and, in turn, creates powerful torque.
Once the weight shift commences, Tiger starts rotating his right hip, although because he now starts from an open stance the right hip does not rotate quite so far around as before. Therefore, the club swings more up than around, another element of his swing that has changed him for the better since taking lessons from Haney.
As Tiger continues swinging the arms back and turning his left shoulder more fully under his chin, the club moves further upward. At this stage of the swing, when the club is moving closer to the top, Tiger no longer has to worry about his right elbow flying like it did during his slump, as long as the plane of his left shoulder matches the plane of the club – more upright in nature than flat.
Feeling as if the left shoulder is rocking downward (not dipping), rather than rotating in an exaggerated clockwise manner, hinging the right wrist early in the backswing, and swinging fully back to parallel, or with the club’s shaft laid off just slightly, will ensure that the right elbow stays fairly close to your student’s body and that he or she swings the club more up than around.