RoundtableMay 10, 2010

Swing Shift?

GolfDigest.com gathers a roundtable of editors and writers to discuss the past, present, and future of Tiger Woods' swing

Rumors about a Woods-Haney split were circulating at the Players Championship.

Rumors about a Woods-Haney split were circulating at the Players Championship.

__Thanks for joining us today in the wake of Hank Haney's resignation as Tiger Woods' swing coach

. As we all know, Woods won six majors while working with Haney, beginning with the 2005 Masters, but this year has clearly been struggling since his return at Augusta. Let's start in by asking what have you all seen in Woods' golf swing in his nine-plus rounds this year?__

Pete McDaniel, contributing editor, Golf Digest, and longtime collaborator on instruction articles with Woods: I've watched nearly every swing since his return to competition and the thing that I've noticed is a quicker tempo than normal, especially on the downswing. His transition from the top is not as smooth as it has been in the past. Since his swing under Hank is predicated on how he releases the club through impact, I believe that quicker tempo is negatively impacting the release, making proper timing a huge factor.

Ron Sirak, executive editor, Golf World: There is absolutely no consistency to the swing. The head dip is more pronounced than ever and it seems to be exaggerated by an accompanying knee bend. Between Quail Hollow and the Players, I saw him hit 10 of the worst shots I have seen him hit in my 16 years following him.

McDaniel: I've seen him hit pop-ups before. I've also seen him shank the ball several times, in particular at Cog Hill and Quail Hollow during the first year he was with Hank. But Ron's right, his misses are multiplying at an alarming rate. Whether it's the injury or rust is a matter of conjecture. Don't think we'll learn it from Tiger.

Tim Rosaforte, senior writer, Golf World: Insecurity bred by inconsistency. Many of the same misses that were prevalent prior to the soap opera. Tiger had issues even when he was winning seven times globally, as he did last year.

Jaime Diaz, senior writer, Golf Digest: No question that Tiger has greater command of a greater number of shots than he did before working with Hank. Maybe the most important contribution Hank made to Tiger was giving him a really structured practice routine built around hitting nine different shots -- left-to-right shape, high, medium and low; right-to-left shape, high medium and low; straight shots, high, medium and low. Tiger now prides himself on hitting the "correct" shot no matter what the situation. It's made him a better at getting the ball around the golf course without big mistakes.

I think the big change in the shape of Tiger's swing under Hank is that it emphasizes the arms staying more in front of the body on the downswing. The result is a slightly steeper angle into the ball, which has helped Tiger become a much better iron player, probably the best in the game. On the other hand, Tiger has for the most part lost the wider, sweeping action that characterized his swing pre-Hank. In those days, Tiger was a longer and overall better driver of the ball relative to his peers. Ultimately, I think Tiger's frustration with not being a better driver after several years of very hard work started to erode his relationship with Hank.

__Peter Morrice, senior editor of instruction, Golf Digest: __It seems unfair to judge Hank's contributions based on this year. Since they started working together, no doubt Tiger's learned to control the ball better on iron shots, and has added many more shots to his bag. But his driving is certainly not at the same level. And if you look back through history, you'll find great drivers and great iron players, but rarely a player who is both. Maybe the work he's done recently has focused too much on becoming a great iron player and not enough on hitting the driver in play.

There were questions about Hank's work with Tiger before this year, but compounding matters seems to be an assortment of injuries over the past few years -- the knee, the Achilles, and now the neck. To what extent has that had a role in both his overhauling his swing, and in his problems of late?

Tiger Woods with Butch Harmon

Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Diaz: One of Tiger's motivations for switching to Hank was to get away from the hyper-extended left knee position he was reaching at impact with the driver, which he suspected might have worsened his already-injured left knee. As far as the other injuries, my opinion has always been that they are probably more due to Tiger's intense workout regime and the lengths required to transform himself from willowy to muscular. All of those injuries have had a negative effect on his golf swing in terms of inhibiting his practice and keeping him from making an ideal body motion. Hank was not responsible for any of those problems.

__McDaniel:__I know that Tiger doesn't make excuses for poor play including injuries, so I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt about the neck injury. I think he is injury prone and that the knee injuries and now the neck injury have meant compensations in the full swing. That he's been able to compete through the pain is amazing to me.

Rosaforte: To what extent did Butch Harmon's methodology contribute to it as well? I've heard that he blames Harmon for not taking the violent leg snap out of his left knee, the one that's been operated on four times. Let's face it, Tiger is breaking down. Whether it's the commando training methods, the violent nature of his swing, or a combination of both, but he missed most of the first half and all of the second half of 2008 with knee surgeries, didn't come back until late February last year and fought through that Achilles issue that was disclosed at this year's Masters. Now he has this neck issue. There is some truth to what Woods was saying, he couldn't properly swing the club. Bigger picture, how long will these injuries linger and what's the short-term and long-term effect on chasing down Jack's record? That's really all I care about.

Diaz: I don't think it's a given that Tiger is breaking down. There are plenty of golfers who have thrived in long and winning careers with worse injuries than he has suffered. Golf ain't football -- it's a long career with plenty of ways to adjust. I think going forward Tiger simply has to be more careful about the wear and tear on his body, and I think he will be smart about it, both in his workouts and in the way he swings. By far the more telling toll has been extracted psychologically from all that has happened in the last six months.

There's been a sentiment that Tiger should go back to Butch Harmon, or even that he should never have left Harmon in the first place. Peter Morrice, you've become very familiar with both of these teachers. How different are their approaches?

__Morrice:__Very different. After the '97 Masters, Butch worked to get Tiger shorter and tighter, and of course he went on an incredible run through 2001. Butch's philosophy is very much based on the student, and not on any method. That said, he has shortened the swings of many of his tour-player students, including Mickelson, Els and Adam Scott. Hank's teaching is founded on swing plane: You take the club back and swing it through on a plane consistent with the kind of shot you're trying to hit. I think this has appealed to Tiger because it's very black and white -- if you stay on the right plane, you hit the shot. But Tiger's success with both teachers, or any teacher going forward, is a function of his work ethic. Anyone who has ever worked with him says there is no equal when it comes to putting in the time.

McDaniel: Butch is much more in-your-face. Hank is more mild-mannered and I haven't seen him give it back to Tiger, which has probably been to the detriment of their relationship. Tiger respects those who stand up to him not those who co-sign everything he does. That said, I believe each of them deserve great credit for helping Tiger achieve the tremendous amount of success.

Tiger Woods with Butch Harmon

Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images

So what will Tiger do next? Or what he SHOULD do next? It's not like Hank and Butch are the only teachers out there. Plus, who's to say he has to work with anyone at all?

McDaniel: If it's true that he has learned all he can about the golf swing from Butch and Hank, then the only reason for a coach/teacher is the proverbial other set of eyes to detect things when they go wrong. I'm not sure Steve Williams qualifies as a swing expert. I think Tiger will wing it for a while. If the swing gets more consistent, he'll go it alone. If not, he'll hire another set of eyes. Who? Your guess is as good as mine.

Diaz: I think Tiger is evolving toward self sufficiency. If the last several years have taught him anything, it's that it's possible to put his natural talent at risk by getting too immersed in chasing correct technique. Tiger above all wants to "own" his swing. Well, the three examples he always uses to illustrate that ideal -- Hogan, Moe Norman and Trevino -- all had very individual actions that they all developed working alone. I know that's something he's thought about and will give more thought to going forward.

__Rosaforte:__As I wrote online today, Tiger needs to find and work on Tiger's swing, not Hank's or Butch's, or Sean Foley's, just to throw the hottest candidate in there. Tiger is 34 years old, knows his body and enough about swing mechanics to clear the brain and figure out something that works. Jack Nicklaus never had Jack Grout's swing. He had Jack Nicklaus' swing. It wasn't the prettiest move, but it was the most effective for his body type, his flexibility, and his ability to repeat under pressure. With that butter fade, Nicklaus was rarely out of play. Tiger plays the course bouncing from obstacle to obstacle like it were one of his video games. If he fears left like Haney said, then he should go to the right side of the tee box, aim right into his fear, and hit the cut into the left corner of the fairway. It's become Phil Mickelson's money shot, the ball that has him tracking down Tiger. And yes, a ball Butch Harmon has helped him hit with greater consistency and less dispersion of miss. If he could just get the ball in play, Tiger would be Tiger again. Maybe he should go back to that 43-inch steel shafted Cobra that was money when he wasn't playing for money.

Tim mentioned Sean Foley, who works with a handful of young players, and who, like Tiger, is based in Orlando (as if Tiger couldn't afford to cover his plane fare). Would Foley be a good fit for Tiger? Does it at all matter that, compared to Harmon and Haney, he is more of a contemporary of Tiger's?

Rosaforte: Foley would be cool in many ways. A couple of key components are accessibility and the comfort level Woods has with two of his sweetest-swinging students, Sean O'Hair and Hunter Mahan. They put on a clinic in front of Woods last Wednesday morning and have played with Woods on Cup teams. Listening to Chris Stroud on Saturday after shooting 66 in the third round of the Players, most of the swing is from the ball forward, rather than the other way around. I do know from talking to Sean that a lot of his theory is based from the ground up. He's a solid guy who could keep a secret but I doubt seriously if he'd be part of it the daily drama that is Woods' life. He's got a family and doesn't need the stress, not when he's got balance and such a great stable. One interesting twist is that Foley also works with Stephen Ames, so what goes around comes around. Ames was right when he talked about Tiger missing fairways before their match at La Costa. He now has 9 & 8 stamped on his forehead. The other name I was thinking about this morning was Brian Mogg, who is also from Orlando, and in another beautiful irony, is also swing coach of Y.E. Yang. He's more low key than Foley, but has worked with John Cook in the past, which is another reason I was thinking the Mogg synthesizer.

Morrice: Per Rosie's comment, Foley talks a lot about leverage off the ground, really launching yourself off the ground. And that's something that Tiger does so well, maybe even too much with that little downswing dip he gets criticized for. So I think there's some common ground there. But any great teacher could offer Tiger another chance to remake himself, and when more than now would he want to do that? A fresh start with his golf swing, and enough swing technique to distract him from recent events. I'd bet what's making Tiger more frustrated than anything is that injury is now preventing him from beating balls for four hours, something that has seemed to keep him at peace throughout his crazy professional life.

Diaz: Foley is a very assured young guy who has gained a lot of credibility by working with some very stylish swingers of the club -- Hunter Mahan, Sean O'Hair and Stephen Ames in particular. He has been around Tiger in lots of practice rounds with his players, and they get on well. Tiger has always liked to talk swing theory with other teachers, and his conversations with Foley have been animated. As far as his ideas, Foley has most notably lowered O'Hair's plane almost a foot, and O'Hair reports that his ballstriking has become far more consistent. I would compare Foley's approach as similar to Jimmy Ballard's, whose mantra was "connection" of the arms with the body throughout the swing. My guess is that nothing with Foley is imminent for at least a couple of reasons. As I mentioned, I think Tiger wants to at least try being more independent of a coach. Also, I think that Foley's extroverted personality would give him pause. He's probably a fun "hang," but Tiger didn't appreciate the extra attention that another extrovert -- Butch Harmon -- used to generate.

Foley, 35, is one of Golf Digest's Top-20 Teachers Under 40.

Top-20 Teachers Under 40.

Morrice: Foley is the hottest in a new breed of teachers, with Sean O'Hair, Hunter Mahan, Stephen Ames and Justin Rose his students. He's a very bright guy who understands the biomechanics of the golf swing. I also hear he can be forceful with his points, which, to Pete's comment, might work well for Tiger. It worked with Butch, who is a very strong personality. But this is all speculation. I do think Tiger will wind up with another teacher, because he likes the process of mastering new techniques. He has said he loves to learn and drink in these new ideas. I don't think he'll go it alone for too long, because the modern way, which he has made very popular, is to have a teacher in tow.

McDaniel: Tiger will figure it out, if he is the man of destiny we have believed he is. If not, then his critics will be satisfied and he'll be nothing more than the second-best player in the history of the game. Personally, I've learned not to bet against him.