From the Magazine
July 15, 2020

How Tiger Woods' stinger has evolved over his career

Photographs by Steven Szurlej (2000) and J.D. Cuban (2020).

There’s one shot I hit that gets crowds more amped than any other: my stinger.

I developed this low-flying tee shot in the late ’90s to make sure I could compete in any condition. The stinger would give me an advantage on windy Open Championship days, when you really can’t control anything that flies too high.

It wasn’t an easy shot to master. I had to get stronger, particularly in my forearms, to be able to cut off the swing just after impact to hit this shot. After a ton of range work, I felt comfortable bringing it out in competition. And it’s been a trusty constant—with slight variations—throughout my career and all my swing changes.

Here’s something you might not know: I didn’t come up with the name “stinger.” This very magazine gets the credit.

Back in 2000, Golf Digest asked me to demonstrate the shot for an article. The photographer (Stephen Szurlej) was crouched about 10 yards in front of me and asked me to hit the stinger over his head. I don’t think he realized how low this ball comes off the face. He was on the ground, but I hit one that couldn’t have missed his head by more than a few inches.

The whizzing sound quickly prompted him to take the rest of the photos operating the shutter by remote. The first shot, with the ball still in the frame, ran in the magazine alongside the headline, “Tiger’s Super Stinger.” To my knowledge, that’s the first time anyone referred to it as a stinger—but the name stuck. Some of the photos from that shoot are included in this article, so you can compare them with how I play this shot two decades later. It’s impossible to overstate how crucial it is to have a go-to ball off the tee—a shot you can trust to find the fairway when you really need to. I’ve always felt I have more control over a shot when I’m hitting down on it. That’s why, when I need to get one in play with the driver, I usually turn to a slappy cut. It might not go as far as a regular driver, but I can control it. I’ll switch to the stinger if it’s really firm and there’s nothing to carry, It’s just easier to keep something lower on line. You give up some distance, but the shot is so reliable. At the 2006 Open Championship, where I hit one driver all week, I used the stinger countless times and won by two shots.

Back in the late ’90s, I used a 2-iron almost exclusively to play this shot. Then the design of 3-woods improved, and I could flight it down with that club. Because I don’t hit a 2-iron or 3-wood as far as I used to, I now sometimes hit the stinger with a driver to pick up some extra yards.

My technique for this shot has changed slightly throughout the years, but many of the basic principles are the same, as you can see from the recent photos of me in the black shirt and the ones from that article in 2000. It’s good to know that after all this time, it’s still a reliable friend.

—WITH DANIEL RAPAPORT

BACKSWING

I stand a little closer to the ball than normal. That allows me to cover it better, meaning a through-swing where my chest stays more on top of the ball. Remember, you don’t sweep this tee shot, you hit down on it a little. I play the ball farther back in my stance than usual, too, but not as much as I used to. Just enough to take some loft off the trajectory.

My main thought for the backswing is to keep my weight centered. Unlike a normal drive where you feel weight increasing in your back foot, the stinger feels like I’m staying more on my front side. That’s key for the attack angle.

DOWNSWING

This might sound contradictory: You have to hit down on the ball . . . but not too much. If you’re really steep, you’ll put too much backspin on the ball, and it can balloon if there’s any kind of breeze in your face.

Another thing to remember is, from the top of the swing, you have to start getting your left side out of the way quickly, because you’re closer to the ball than normal. I’ve always snapped my left knee straight on the downswing, which you’ll see when you turn the page. That snap helps clear the space for the club to move freely through.

IMPACT

Everything feels stacked on the same vertical plane as the club approaches the ground. My lower body is clearing out, but my chest is still on top of the ball. That’s what “covering it” looks like. Also, notice how my hands are nearly over the top of the ball in this same photo, but the clubhead lags way behind. It stays that way until the last millisecond, then it catches up and compresses the ball from a delofted position.

Although my pants were a little baggy back in 2000, I can assure you that my left leg was snapped as straight at impact as it appears here.

FINISH

The club stays quite low to the ground after impact. That’s evidence I wasn’t too steep into the impact zone.

Another key to the stinger is cutting off the follow-through as quickly as possible. I feel like I’m stopping my hands immediately after impact, even though these photos show momentum has taken my arms and the club well past that point. It takes good forearm strength to control the club like this, but it’s necessary. The lower I want the ball to fly, the faster I’ll stop the swing. To recap: Stand closer, cover the ball, and cut off the finish. That's how you sting it.

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