Note from the editor: This piece was first published in 2018.
Tiger Woods was placed 206th on the PGA Tour in fairway accuracy at the end of this year’s Wells Fargo Championship, after competing in seven PGA Tour tournaments (51 percent). Early-season performances like the Farmers Insurance Open, when he hit just 17 fairways in four rounds, helped him climb the rankings, but they aren’t indicative of what he should anticipate in the future, according to Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher David Leadbetter.
“That’s why these early-season photographs are so intriguing,” Leadbetter explains. “There’s a lot to appreciate here, but it was probably inevitable that Tiger would need a few tournaments to trust this swing and feel at ease with his new technique. Tiger has become more comfortable as he has played more events, hitting more fairways. Even the wild ones have considerable power. And there’s one element in particular that jumps out as the key to his future success, which is why I believe his driving stats will increase.”
Before revealing what that one item is, Leadbetter gives a brief history lesson. Before and after a near-fatal vehicle accident in 1949, Ben Hogan was a brilliant player. It’s not difficult to figure out which aspect of his profession he excelled in. Following the vehicle accident, Hogan won six of his nine major titles.
“Hogan had a rather lengthy swing before to the accident with quite forceful lower-body action and hip rotation,” Leadbetter explains. “His injuries caused him to reflexively slow down his leg motion and shorten his swing after the accident, making it more efficient, repeatable, and giving him complete control over his shotmaking.”
Woods, too, has had to change his swing to deal with a slew of ailments, the most recent of which was surgery to fuse vertebrae in his lower back. Leadbetter believes that if he can keep to the improvements outlined here, his driving will improve dramatically.
“The change from backswing to downswing is particularly noteworthy. It’s a lot quieter than it was before. The forceful move into the ball has been abolished. There is no dramatic bending of the knees followed by a stand-up appearance. He’s keeping his height better, which provides him more space to deliver the club with force. Woods’ swing seems to be in much better rhythm.”
Leadbetter clarifies that by rhythm, he does not mean Woods is swinging his driver slower than before the operation. His driver clubhead speed is among the best on the circuit (121 miles per hour on average). The flow in which he transitions from backswing to downswing is referred as as rhythm.
“HE’S MOVED BETTER THAN I HAVE SEEN IN A LONG TIME.” HIS SWING APPEARS TO BE MORE GRACEFUL.” —LEADBETTER, DAVID
The important move, according to Leadbetter, is allowing speed increase as the club approaches the ball and swinging the club the hardest during contact. Woods’ swing is more stable and balanced as a result of reducing excessive lower-body motion. Woods looks to take his time getting down, but suddenly smashes the club through the striking area. Take notice of how heavy he is as he completes the backswing in this shot of his driver swing. Leadbetter claims he then makes a short shift back to his left side and drops his arms, allowing him to unleash the full power of his arms and hands into the ball without becoming trapped.
“When Tiger’s arms were entangled behind his torso, he would moan about being stuck,” he explains. “Tiger has lots of space to accelerate his arms into the ball here. Notice how his right arm whacks the ball and crosses over to the left in the follow-through. He concludes in a calm stance, with his arms and club completely extended. The body is not under any strain.”
According to Leadbetter, Woods’ finish in the past was frequently “manufactured” or off-balance as a consequence of attempting to square the club with an out-of-sync swing.
Another aspect of Woods’ swing to emulate is the way he returns the club, according to Leadbetter. Woods holds the club in front of his body, and the clubhead remains near to the target line and outside the path of his hands.
“It’s a terrific one-piece motion,” he explains, “because the chest, arms, and club all go back together with lots of breadth.”
With the shoulders spinning on a slightly inclined axis, this motion pushes the body to coil rather than merely turn. When you make a flat turn, your natural instinct is to draw the club inside the target line and then re-route it into the ball on a steep, out-to-in path. He claims that slices and pulls are common outcomes.
“Over the years, his backswing has looked similar to this,” Leadbetter continues, “but I now perceive a slight and essential change.” “It looks to be better coordinated. At the apex, his torso turns and his arm swing practically simultaneously. His torso used to finish the turn, and then his arms would attempt to catch up on the downswing on their own.”
Whether or whether it’s a result of his back problems, Leadbetter thinks his calmer, more coordinated backswing seems more effective. And the fact that Woods’ clubshaft isn’t parallel to the ground at the peak of his backswing shows that you don’t need a lengthy, awkward backswing to create great force. Leadbetter returns to the idea of strong rhythm as a defining characteristic of outstanding driving. He advises not to hurry getting the club back down to the ball.
“I really enjoyed what I saw of Tiger’s swing on the practise tee at the Masters, and what he’s been able to achieve generally after having that back-fusion surgery,” Leadbetter adds, stopping for a second before laughing. “However, this is not to say that everyone should have their back fused.”