June 3, 2008

Tiger Woods: A matter of balance

Start from the ground, and work your way up

Hold it: Test your balance by holding your finish with the driver for a few seconds. Your belt buckle should face the target, and your cap bill should be over your right shoulder.

Hold it: Test your balance by holding your finish with the driver for a few seconds. Your belt buckle should face the target, and your cap bill should be over your right shoulder.

One of the least discussed but most important elements of the full swing is balance. Not only is a balanced swing nice to look at, it's critical to good ball striking.

Good balance starts from the ground up. Your weight should be evenly distributed on the balls of your feet at address, your knees slightly flexed and upper body bent from the hips. That solid, athletic posture is the key to an "in-balance'' swing. At times I've had slightly too much weight on my heels, which put me out of balance and produced errant tee shots. The correction for me was to stand a little straighter. Better posture made it appear that I was standing a little closer to the ball.

Over-swinging is the opposite of balance. It can throw off your timing, compromise your posture, and make it almost certain that the ball won't end up where you planned. If your driving is erratic, chances are your balance is off, too. Try swinging at no more than 80 percent.

Tiger

KEEP IT SMOOTH

Your wedge swing should be simple and rhythmic

The best wedge players in the world make it look easy. That's because they don't complicate what is basically a longer version of the pitch shot.

A lot of the same principles apply, including a nice, rhythmic tempo that appears effortless and a spine angle that is maintained from setup to the through-swing. You also want a shallow divot produced by an on-plane swing. As a matter of fact, I try to make the same-size divot with every iron. I also try not to have an overly long backswing or finish, so I'm in better control.

Most high-handicappers are poor wedge players because their tempo is too fast or they either straighten up or dip at impact. The likely result is a chunk or thin shot. Accuracy, distance control and proper spin are all casualties.

Maintain your spine angle through impact and try to match your arm speed with your lower-body speed for a rhythmic swing. You'll make more consistent contact and improve your tempo.

ASK TIGER: KNEE NEWS

__Q: We've all obviously heard about the knee surgery. How long had it been bothering you?

--Haven Keynard / Carmel, N.Y.__

A: Quite a while. I played well at the start of this year, but I knew I was going to have to have something done. The question was whether to skip Augusta or play. I decided to play. The doctor fixed some cartilage damage, and two weeks later I was back in the gym with my trainer, Keith Kleven, and hitting it hard to get back in shape.

__Q: What's the long-term prognosis for the knee?

--Kai Chan / Seattle__

A: Obviously, when you have three surgeries on the same knee, you have to be smart--especially when you play professional golf for a living. I put a lot of pressure on my left knee in my swing, so I have to do everything I can to avoid hurting it again. The good news is that I'm in very good physical shape, and I've been through the rehab process before, so I know how to handle it, both physically and mentally. I'm going to be cautious. Coming back too quickly isn't worth risking another injury.

__Q: Will this change your life-style, in terms of working out or hobbies?

--Bob Lincoln / Oklahoma City__

A: Good question. I think that depends on the way I feel when all the rehab is done. I don't know if I'm going to be able to run as much as a part of my regular training schedule. If that's the case, then I'll have to work with Keith to figure out some different ways to get the same aerobic and lower-body work done. As far as hobbies go, as long as I can keep up with my wife and daughter, I think I'll be OK.

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Tiger Woods writes instruction articles only for Golf Digest.

Mark Soltau is a contributing editor to Golf Digest and the editor of TigerWoods.com.