Golf IQ

'Not the prettiest': Tiger Woods' new secret weapon, explained

February 17, 2023

Whatever their chosen sport, the best ever aren't the ones who dominate once. They don't just win, they keep winning. They're in a constant state of reinvention. They keep adapting to stay ahead of those around them, and they keep winning because of it.

Tiger is the best example we have.

The best amateur of all time slipped on a green jacket in 1997, then made some substantial changes to his technique leading to the best golf of his career. When his body began breaking down, he retooled his swing and started again — and won his next slate of majors because of it.

Editor's note: You can check out a really interesting Golf Digest Schools series from Tiger Woods' coach at the time, Hank Haney, about the changes they made right here.

Tiger is currently in the midst of the biggest reinvention of his career. A series of back and leg injuries means the 47-year-old has more limited mobility than ever and yet he's still playing. And considering the circumstances, playing rather well.

It's all thanks to a new secret weapon that Tiger is using off almost every tee.

Tiger's secret weapon: A Big Spinny Cut

At his best, Tiger was probably the best athlete the game has ever seen, with a golf IQ through the roof, and an artist's touch. He could do everything and anything with a golf ball.

Tiger's injuries have changed the physical component. His lower body injuries mean he can't turn his hips as much, and his lower back injuries limit his mobility there, too.

“Loading hurts, pressing off it hurts, and walking hurts, and twisting hurts," Tiger said at the 2022 Masters.

He may not have the body he once did, but he does have the brain and hands. And that's what he's relying on for his latest reinvention, as he told Golf Digest last year:

"I just trusted my hands. I got my back fused, so I asked myself: What can I do? I'll let my hands be the guide," he said of his swing starting in 2018. "It wasn't the prettiest, it wasn't the most consistent, but it's all I could do.

Whereas Tiger Woods' old swing would involve lots of lower body — occasionally to his detriment — Tiger's new move has become more upper body-centric. With more difficulty loading into his trail leg on the backswing than he used to, he bulked up his upper body and relies on those muscles to create power, as he explained on Friday at the Genesis Open:

"Before I would use the ground and push off and could be explosive. I don't have that ability anymore, so a lot of it's just purely core strength but also being very careful because my back is fused. Yes, I can hit the ball harder, but it's just, I've got to be very careful in how I go about that. There's things technically that we have found that work, but if I try and step on it and use the ground, it just doesn't happen anymore. But if I step on it and use my core too much, then my back's not very good."

While he will still hit draws on occasion, his stock shot along the way has become a big, high cut off the tee. That's his new secret weapon that he hopes will propel him to more success.

When things go wrong — aka his legs begin to fail him — this can turn into a low pull, or the occasional untrollable cut. But opting for a fade for most of his tee shots simply gives Tiger more margin for error.

It allows Tiger some leeway for his downswing to get slightly steeper (the product of a more aggressive upper body action), and the extra spin fades generate means the ball will die in the air faster when he doesn't quite "square" it with his hands. He's switched golf ball to complement this new strategy.

Realistically, it's not a strategy Tiger can use to become the best driver on tour, but that's ok. It gives enough power to get the ball out there, enough accuracy to keep it in play. In a nutshell, it's something he can work with. And when we're talking about Tiger Woods, that's all he needs.