Tiger Finally Wins Again
For the first time since Tiger Woods has played professional golf, he’s been talking about his swing changes in some detail.
Woods, who was always more secretive than Bruce Wayne, aka Batman, makes surprising sense when explaining the reasons he has struggled with his comeback.
His reasoning shows why 2012 might be a great season for him.
Putting together what he has said during the fall campaign, here is what we have learned.
Woods emerges from fitness van in May and leaves golf until Bridgestone
“Middle of the summer when I'm on crutches and on a couch and can't do anything, that's tough,” Woods admitted. “Unfortunately, I've been in that position a few times in my career. It's hard. It's hard for me, because I was‑‑ it's my second stint of missing major championships. I missed in '08 the back half of the majors; this year was a similar thing. Unfortunately I missed the middle section. So it was tough. It was really tough. Probably more difficult than people can imagine. Even '08 was a lot harder than people might think. Because even though I won with my leg the way it was, I don't like missing major championships. I really don't.”
Joe LaCava and Tiger Woods at Chevron World Challenge
“In order for me to play the way I know I can play, I had to get fully fit. I had to get healthy and to where I was strong and explosive again so I could practice,” Woods said about the long process.
Working on the range to find his new swing
Woods began revealing his methods during his trip to Australia where he started with this nugget: “range thoughts and range feels don't equate to golf course feels. You have got to figure that out. Trying to get the club in the right position on the range, that feel and that thought does not always work out on the golf course.”
Lacava and Woods study the course in Australia
I once watched Jose Maria Olazabal hit two or three bags of practice balls with seemingly the identical result while waiting for a chance to ask him some questions. Before asking the first one, I said, “Now I know why your short game is so good.” He smiled and replied, “Eeze no secret. Eeze practice.”
Finally, this fall, Woods was able practice which allowed him to improve.
“My practice sessions started building and building and building,” he added. “I got better each week, and that's because I was healthy and able to get the reps in.”
Woods revealed that until very recently, he was not able to do that.
"What people don't realize is that I wasn't able to—this year I wasn't able to play at home. You know, people don't realize at home how much golf I play when I'm getting ready for an event, how many holes I play." he said. " I play a lot, and I wasn't able to do any of that, because I was under a strict ball count for the day. So that—once that was released and I was able to go is when I started making some serious strides, you know, working with Sean, because then I could get the reps in.
“I've always felt in my career more comfortable when I was able to practice a lot, and I'm not one of those guys who can play a bunch of weeks in a row,” he added. “I'd much rather just practice a lot, come out, play and be fully invested in that one event and then go back and kind of tinker around what did I do right, what did I do wrong, let's learn from it and go again, build up, go play, come back down, build up, come back down, build up. That's the way I've done it. I've been I think somewhat successful over my career doing it that way and I don't see any reason to change that.”
He said between Frys.com and the Australian Open he played anywhere from 18 to 54 holes a day to get the feel of playing reestablished and to get the feel of different shots without concentrating on mechanics.
“That's something I was able to do in the past, had not been able to do it for a long time, and those rounds are starting to pay dividends now,” he added.
It’s easy to presume that a player the caliber of Tiger Woods is beyond feeling the pressure of taking a new swing from practice range to the golf course. Woods, though, said he definitely feels it.
“Last week ( Australian Open ) was a good test for it. It felt great on the weekend when I needed it,” he said. “Pressure, and a tournament situation, a lot of times that's out the window and trying to develop my new feels in this model, it's been good.”
“Now people say, why would you change your short game, because you had a decent short game prior to that, why would you change that.
Well, it's a different release,” Woods said. “When I was with Butch I released it a different way and when I was with Hank I released it a different way.”
Most experienced instructors say a chip shot is a miniature version of the full swing.
“A short game shot, it's a very similar motion. I had to get into this model of how Sean wanted me to swing, and my mini-swings are going to be chip shots,” Woods added. “Flop shots are different, but as far as normal chip shots, chip-and-runs, those are all the same releases. So I had to learn that new pattern and once I learned the new pattern, that's what you saw last week.”
Steve Stricker gave Tiger Woods some important putting tips in Australia, just before the singles matches of the Presidents Cup.
“Whatever he says about putting, I'm going to listen,” Woods said about his friend. Initially, it was about releasing the blade of the putter.
There were more details.
“He basically was talking about ball position and releasing the toe (of the putter), “ Woods explained. “Thought I would just try it, and it felt good, and all of a sudden I got into my natural kind of body position, and I wasn't dragging the blade anymore. I wasn't over-releasing the blade. Just right on the line, toe was moving and it felt great.”
Then at the Chevron, we learned more
“In Australia I was missing putts, and my shoulders were slightly open, so I'm trying to do anything I can to basically get my shoulders square,” Woods said last week.
“I like to putt with my right hand, just hit it with my right hand, release that toe as much as I possibly can,” he continued. “I like‑‑ as I say, I like to feel it moving and have some hit in my stroke.”
At Chevron, Woods said he reverted to the stroke he used to use on poa annua.
“I putt on poa differently than I would any other place, and just how I release it and roll it,” Woods concluded.
Tiger Woods said he now understands the reason he hits bad shots with his new swing and knows what to do to fix it.0
“Couple times out there I hit a couple loose shots, and that's because of where my backswing wasn't where I need to have it‑ and I know it,” he explained after the Chevron. “Under the gun I kind of got back into an old pattern, so obviously I need more reps and create a new pattern. When the pressure was on the most the last two holes, I hit three of the best shots I hit all week. That's very exciting for me.”
Woods also said he is hitting the ball farther today than h did two years after his PGA Tour debut because of the technology improvements.
“My clubhead speed may be faster back then but the ball didn't go as far,” he insisted. “I have way more shots than I did in '98 and a much better understanding of how to map out a golf course and how to play myself around a golf course.”
Guess what? Even Tiger Woods gets nervous when he’s leading. But he sees it differently than just being nervous.
“I've been here so many times that, you know, I just feel very comfortable being here in this position. Was I nervous? Absolutely. Always nervous in that position. But it's a comfortable feeling, and I enjoy being in that position,” Woods added. “For some reason, it is kind of a comfort to be in there with a chance to win.”
Fred Couples used to say he was always nervous on the first tee, but added that it was a “good nervous.”
Woods was losing distance to the young guys, especially on the tee ball.
“My mechanics were such that I couldn't put any speed into it. I kept slowing down to get the club in the right position,” he explained. “Now I can go again. I can be aggressive. It was frustrating because all the strength training that I was doing, how in the hell am I hitting it shorter? I should be hitting it further.”
Tell us about it. He’s not the only golfer to ever be in that situation. He sais the key was getting the club in the right position, plus the advantage of his weight training.
“All of a sudden the ball is flying, and that's‑‑ it's good and bad,” he said. “I'm longer than I was a couple years ago.”
He said it is hard to compare with the irons because different players have their irons bent to different lofts.
“My lofts and lengths are clubs are different than most of the guys now. The new standard is different,” he added. “But driver off the tee, I'm not quite as long as Dustin, but I'm in the ballpark. But I feel like I'm probably with my irons, I'd say probably a half a club shorter than he is. But if it was apples to apples with the lofts and the length of clubs, it might be pretty close.”
He said he can’t carry the ball in the air as far as Dustin Johnson, but he is close to it.
The longest today, Woods thinks, is Gary Woodland.
“Wen I was younger and I had another gear,” Woods said. “ That’s’ kind of what Gary has, which is kind of fun to watch, because he'll just hit it, hit it, hit it, hit it and then he'll step on one and it's like whoa. He's got another gear that the other guys just don't have. I've talked to Dustin about it; I've talked to Bubba about it. They just don't have that extra little gear that he's got, and that's pretty fun to watch.”
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.