Undercover Lesson

Inside a Tiger Woods practice session: A minute-by-minute guide

February 16, 2024

In late 2019, shortly after Tiger Woods won his 82nd PGA Tour event at the Zozo Championship in Japan, tying Sam Snead for the most wins all time, Golf Digest got an all-access look at one of his range sessions.

Now, a few years on, after a major car crash and numerous surgeries, it’s amazing to look back at a healthy Tiger moving with lots of speed and fluidity.

In this practice session, Tiger hits and chats alongside his longtime friend and practice partner Rob McNamara. The two discuss numerous aspects of how Tiger plays—from the minute adjustments he makes to work the ball in every direction to why he often hits a “slap-slicer” off the tee.

You can watch the full behind-the-scenes video below, and scroll down for a minute-by-minute breakdown.

0:25 Tiger starts his range session with a few smooth 80-yard wedge shots. He has said that he likes to hit a few short shots to start without any specific target in mind, just so he can get the feel in his hands of ball and turf contact.

Meanwhile, Rob warms up with a few wedges and says “I have anti-chunk pressure,” to which Tiger responds, “You’ve just gotta rotate a little more.” Fascinating insight from the 15-time major champion on how to avoid a common shot that many golfers struggle with.

2:08 Tiger says, “I’ll go through my normal warmup here,” as he switches to 8-iron. The first two shots he hits with the club are nearly identical and both apex at exactly 106 feet. The PGA Tour average max height for an 8-iron is about 93 feet, so Tiger is hitting significantly higher than average.

2:55 “That’s a good sign: Cut and draw feel good,” Tiger says. He is rarely hitting the same two or three shots in a row. He is mixing up the trajectory, hitting it high and low, draws and fades.

He hits a really low shot that apexes at only 81 feet with an 8-iron. It’s amazing how low and abbreviated his finish is when he knocks it down. He has always said that when he tries to hit it low, he finishes low with his hands and arms. It’s a very similar move to what Tommy Fleetwood uses, which our Luke Kerr-Dineen breaks down in detail.

4:51 It’s clear what makes Rob such a great practice partner for Tiger. He is hyping his friend up on nearly every shot. Not that Tiger needs any outside validation, but Rob’s positivity certainly can’t hurt Tiger’s confidence.

“Nice and cleared on all of those. Not flippy,” Rob says. Tiger often talks about how important it is for him to be moving well so that he can rotate or clear his body through the hit. This allows his release to be much more consistent, instead of his hands and arms flipping at the ball, which Rob alludes to.

Tiger continues to vary his trajectory with the 8-iron, hitting it high and then low. “Those look perfect” Rob says. “It’s a good day today,” Tiger replies.

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5:57 Tiger says he is going through “my normal warmup” as he switches to a 4-iron. He has always preferred to warm up with only his even-numbered irons, “which is why your grooves always wear out on your evens” Rob says.

6:20 “Are you feeling anything different or the same from Japan?” Rob asks Tiger. He replies, “I’m not clearing as well as I did in Japan.” In August 2019, Tiger had surgery on his left knee to repair minor cartilage damage, just a few months before he went on to win in Japan.

Often when players talk about “clearing,” they’re referring to how well their hips are rotating through the ball. You want your hips to be open to the target at impact—anywhere from 30 to 45 degrees is common on tour. Perhaps Tiger’s knee wasn’t feeling fully mobile this day, or his fused back wasn’t allowing him to rotate his upper body as well as he would have liked.

6:50 Rob comments, “I think this lie is slightly downhill.” Tiger agrees and notes that, “I played that one up to get normal height” off the downhill lie. When you’re faced with a downhill lie, the ball will tend to come out lower, so in order to hit it your normal height, you’ll need to try and hit it high, like Tiger is doing here.

7:38 This is fascinating. Tiger tried to hit a draw with a 4-iron, but it only drew it a little and not nearly as much as he wanted. Then, he hit another one that drew much more. The adjustment? Tiger says he “tried to get a little more across the line there to get that draw going.”

Tiger is referring to the position of his club at the top of the backswing. He got the club more “across the line,” meaning that he made the club point more to the right at the top of the swing, from a down-the-line view. When you get the club across the line instead of laid off (when the club is pointing to the left at the top of the swing for a right-hander), the club naturally wants to shallow out and come from the inside.

What’s amazing is that to try and draw it more, Tiger made a change to his backswing. That’s a lesson for us: Often, it’s much easier to make a slight change to your backswing instead of trying to change your downswing. The downswing happens so fast that it’s nearly impossible to judge and time well. Focus on getting in a better spot at setup and going back.

7:56 Tiger continues to hit a few draws, and Rob says, “I always notice when you’re gonna hit a draw you always drop the foot and open the face.” Tiger drops his right foot back to slightly close his stance, and he opens the face because “[I] gotta start it to the right.” Rob says, “With a fade you do the opposite,” and Tiger agrees: “Slightly closed, start it left.”

That may be counterintuitive to some who think that a draw needs a closed face. In reality, to hit a push draw, your clubface needs to point slightly to the right of the target at impact, while the path needs to be heading slightly farther to the right.

“Well the draw you need to start it over there [to the right] so the face has gotta be open. Cuts need to start left so the face needs to be closed,” Tiger says.

9:35 A video went viral year in which Tiger told Scottie Scheffler that when he is hitting it well, he doesn’t take a divot. He later added that he does that by being “wide to wide” and “zeroed,” meaning that he is coming into the ball on a very shallow path.

Yes, Tiger is taking divots here, but they are very small. Especially with a 4-iron, he is picking the ball off the ground. And considering he is hitting off a downhill lie (which usually encourages more a divot), it’s amazing how little ground interaction Tiger has with his irons.

It’s also fascinating to see how much smaller Tiger was in the upper body back in 2019. After the 2021 car crash, he can’t generate speed from his lower body as much, so instead he has bulked up in the upper body and core. Tiger now has a more upper-body dominant swing, so he needs a strong upper half to generate speed.

11:55 Tiger talks about the differences between his “gamer” 3-wood and the new model that he was testing. He says that his gamer has a shallower face, which he prefers. The new one has “a little bit of a deeper face.” Pros are typically very particular about the look of a club, perhaps none more so than Tiger.

12:40 As Tiger continues to hit a few 3-woods, it’s interesting how high he is teeing the ball up. It looks like he’s teeing it up at least an inch off the ground, significantly higher than many of us are used to. This is likely because Tiger likes to sweep the ball off the ground with all his clubs. A higher tee length encourages a shallower downswing that doesn’t have an aggressively descending blow.

13:33 Tiger tells Rob, “My 3-wood goes about 270-280 yards.” Rob responds, “If you wanted though, you could set one up with a longer shaft, little stronger [loft], you could probably carry it 290 if you wanted.” Tiger agrees. Instead of trying to max out the distance with each club, Tiger is focused on keeping proper gaps between them. If his 3-wood went farther, then he would have a large gap between that and his 5-wood.

14:35 Tiger switches to his driver, and his first shot is not good. A block fade with 59 feet of curve. “That was awful. Terrible golf swing,” he says. He steps back to get properly aligned for his next shot.

“It’s crazy, I always have to line up driver from behind. I aimed too far left,” he says. Then he says he is moving the ball “one ball up” in his stance, meaning it is slightly farther forward. Then he hits a bombed fade with only 12 feet of curve and a 147 apex, which is extremely high, as the tour average is around 100 feet with a driver.

16:00 Tiger and Rob are talking about his strategy on the 4th hole during his win in Japan. The hole had water down the left and was one of the toughest tee shots and holes on the course. Tiger says, “I was starting it out over the water and slicing it. That’s why I was 40-50 yards behind Rory. I just didn’t wanna hit it in the water.”

“What were you having in from there?” Rob asks. Tiger says, “3-iron, 4-iron. I was so far behind the guys, but I [wanted to] just keep it out of the water, make par and move on.” Fascinating. For Tiger, it’s OK to give up a bunch of yardage off the tee to guarantee that he will avoid trouble. He knew it was a hole where par was a great score, so he wasn’t concerned with giving up a lot of yardage.

17:51 After practicing hitting a few of his “spinny” fades, Tiger decides to “turn one over” from right to left. To me, it’s amazing how different his upper body works in downswing for these two shots. When hits the spinny one, his upper body stays over the ball, and he is “covering” it. With the bombed draw, his upper stays behind the ball for longer so that he can swing up on it more.

“My little slap-slicer goes so short, but I can control it. I end up hitting down on it so much.”

18:50 Tiger finishes his range session with a high draw with the driver. Right before he takes the club away, he drops his right foot back, which closes his stance slightly and allows him to approach the ball from the inside.

“When I saw that right foot go back, I knew it was going to be big,” Rob says.