Originally written on The Victory Formation  |  Last updated 1/16/12

We’re going to continue our preview with some discussion on Tiger Woods and his driving.  I like these things to serve as some sort of preview and give an idea of where a golfer’s currently at in terms of their game, but more importantly, I like digging through the stats and swing videos trying to find a piece of information that can help us improve ourselves.

Tiger Woods

Lets take a look at Tiger’s accuracy rankings based on a variety of ranges…from 125-150 yards, first.  From 150-175 yard, ninth.  175-200 yards, first.  200-225 yards, first.  225-250 yards, first.  Well, obviously, the irons are the issue, especially since he’s 5th on Tour in par 3 performance.  So what is it?  Putter?  45th in strokes gained isn’t Tiger’s normal performance by about 44 spots, but it’s not horrible either.  But it definitely helps identify where the problems lie.

186th in total driving and 141st in scrambling.

Tiger is one of the worst drivers of the ball on Tour, hitting LESS THAN 50% OF HIS FAIRWAYS and only being 71st in distance.  Lets compare his stats to Phil’s…Phil hits about 7% more fairways and averages 11 yards closer to the hole off the tee, and despite being a much worse putter, saves par 8% more often.  Sure, Tiger gets it closer to the hole when they’re at the same distance, but never close enough to dramatically increase his birdie percentages.  So Tiger’s losing strokes (strokes, plural) to the field per round right off the bat.  Couple that with his inability to leave himself with more makeable putts with his wedges and it’s a recipe for a 50-rank drop in scoring average.

If you look at these stats you’ll notice how quickly the chances of making a putt with one stroke go down the farther away you get…even the best putters in the world on the best surfaces possible, it’s a 50/50 proposition from just inside 8 feet and the chances of making a single putt in the ranges we’re talking about above is negligible at best.  So even though Tiger is better than Phil with his irons and putter by probably a stroke per round (which is saying something), Phil’s got a half a stroke per round on Tiger overall because Tiger will probably waste three shots per round thanks to being in horrible spots off the tee and wasting shots around the greens.

Drive for show, putt for dough?  Well, you ain’t putting for much if you show up an hour late.

Well then, what’s the cause of Tiger’s ****** driving?

He’s never really adjusted well to using big drivers with graphite shafts and was one of the on Tour when using steel shafts and driver heads smaller than fairway woods…hitting it LONGER with older technology (he was hitting it about half a yard longer his rookie year in 1997 than he was in 2009) while also hitting 15% more fairways.  Despite Hank Haney helping Tiger to hone a phenomenal iron game, those same changes destroyed Tiger’s driver.  His grip was ****** up since Haney had him set the club in his left palm rather than in the fingers** which forced him to hit the ball from an extremely inside-to-out fashion (10* when the closest golfer was Kenny Perry and his reliable draw at 6* in-to-out).  This made the two most likely outcomes a push slice or a nasty snap hook, two types of drives we’re well familiar with Tiger hitting recently, and the only time we’d see him have a great driving week was when the timing was spot on.

So what can we learn from this?

The swing is a chain reaction, much like golf itself.  It doesn’t matter if every other aspect of your game is Tiger Woods-level elite if the thing that starts the car doesn’t fit.  A key for a different car won’t start your own much like Tiger’s grip wouldn’t start his driver swing, which in turn led to Tiger not being able to start his individual holes and tournaments off well.  Good luck getting to your destination when your swing’s GPS (the grip) is totally out of whack.

Watch the videos below…here he’s trying to drive straight despite the wheel being turned 10* to the right.  It doesn’t matter that the clubface is DEAD parallel with his wrist at the top (like Johnny Miller and Peter Kostis love to harp on) because the swing was doomed from the start since he simply couldn’t release the club.

Tiger harped on “release, release, release” in 2011, but all anyone wanted to talk about was swing plane and weight shift and other ******** that really doesn’t matter to 99% of golfers out there.  And some of the instructors’ tips to fixing his driving were straight up ridiculous and WAY overwrought with technical thoughts and crap that doesn’t have a ******* thing to do with the golf swing.  Watch the video above again and compare it to the one below…in the first one, watch how hard he tries to square the clubface by contorting his upper body.  It’s because, with the club in the palm of his hand running along the lifeline, you have to manipulate your hands to square it up rather than letting your body square the clubface with the grip set in your fingers.  In the recent video below, look at how much less he fires his torso and how he can just release the club naturally.

Sure, it helps that he’s finally healthy and can really drive his lower body, but in the first video he was healthy physically and generated a tremendous amount of clubhead speed.  Remember, the golf ball’s flight is dictated about 75% clubface angle and 25% swing path and since Tiger’s grip kept the clubface WIDE open, the only way he could hit it reasonably straight is by trying to hit the ball on an extreme inside-to-out path.  When he releases naturally without conscious thought, like in the second video, his path is fine.  In fact, if you compare the two’s positions at the top, they’re extremely similar, despite being 18 months apart and under the tutelage of two different teachers…not “more upright” or “less flat” or whatever buzzwords Brandel Chamblee throws around on Golf Central.

You cannot get around the laws of physics.  A good golf swing isn’t about technique or hinging or weight shift, it’s about building a chain reaction.  There was nothing wrong with Tiger’s chain under Haney, there was a problem with starting the reaction.  If you pause the first video around 0:32 and the second video around 0:10, you can see the problem.  In the first video, at impact Tiger’s clubface is wide open and you can actually see the ball starting off to the right even though his hips are doing everything in their power to keep it all together while the rest of his body lunges.  In the second video, the toe’s released without any flipping of the hands and everything is in sync and it’s effortless.

If you’re having trouble hitting the ball well, focus on your grip and notice where the clubface is pointing at impact (not just address).  You can even stick a tee on your clubface with some tape to show you better where you’re aimed.  If you can control where the clubface is and ensure your grip is sound enough to keep it from moving throughout your swing, you can adjust your address, backswing through impact and into your finish accordingly.  It doesn’t matter if every one of your other swing positions are as perfect as Rory McIlroy’s…if the grip isn’t right for the swing, there will be problems.

Haney’s grip deteriorated Tiger’s driving even if it worked out for his other clubs.  For all the time spent on planes and angles, the most basic fundamental of the golf swing impacted one of the greatest golfers of all time, taking him from almost unheard of heights to looking downright lost and confused a mere six years later.  If it can happen to the greatest, it can happen to you, so make it a point to practice your grip, your set up and address and then tweak your swing from there.

The good news is, it seems that he’s finally healthy and the swing changes are feeling natural.  If his Australian trip and the Chevron are any indication, his ballstriking is MUCH improved and almost back to where he was in 2002.  His short game will come around with more tournaments played as that’s more of a rust issue than a fundamental one, but if he starts hitting his  driver even to a PGA Tour sub-standard level (think like 295 yard average with about 55% greens hit), he’ll become a weekly contender again.  If he improves beyond that, something I’m increasingly confident in the more I read about his swing changes and Foley’s method, Jack’s record is back in play.

In 2012, Tiger wins the US Open and a half dozen regular events.  He’s back.

**Haney, and others, say that Hogan gripped the club in the palm of his left hand.  Uh…no.  They also say that Hogan’s grip encourages a slice, something equally stupid since Hogan’s grip encouraged Hogan’s body release.  Much like Jack’s grip encouraged Jack’s release, etc etc etc.  No two golfers are alike…there are fundamentals, but there is no “right way.”  Both Trevino and Hogan fought hooks in their formative years…Hogan adopted a weaker grip while Trevino opened his stance way up.  Both were elite ballstrikers who manipulated their swings, starting with how they gripped the club, in order to obey the laws of physics…so why don’t people say that Trevino’s grip encourages a hook?

So if you hear someone say “Hogan’s grip encourages a slice,” sarcastically ask them if they bothered to read the rest of the book.  The swing is a chain reaction…one thing leads to another.  Understand the ballflight laws, get a solid grip and tweak…oftentimes you can fix whatever faults you have with a quick reassessment of your grip and setup.

But back to this “Hogan gripped the club in the palm” nonsense…here are a few pics proving this wrong.  Not a single one of these pictures shows him gripping the club along the lifeline of his left hand.  Nevermind this “use an interlocking grip because Tiger and Jack do.”  That’s just dumb.  I guess Hogan and Gary Player and Greg Norman and Vijay Singh and Moe Norman and all the other great ballstrikers who use a Vardon or 10-finger grip are wrong. ********* A.



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