Tiger: A Work In Progress

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Although Tiger Woods has had several high-profile coaches, he has been very much his own man when it comes to nurturing his technique.

Whereas in many player/coach relationships the responsibility for developing the blueprint for success lands on the coach’s shoulders, it is clear the reverse is true when dealing with Tiger.

During his time working with Butch Harmon, for example, a very young Tiger presented his coach with the challenge of tightening up his swing and making him less dependent on hand-eye coordination. By the time he appointed Hank Haney in 2004, Woods had developed a strong interest in the swing of Ben Hogan and gave Haney the task of shallowing out his swing plane. And when Woods switched to Sean Foley in 2010 following Haney’s resignation, he had become enamoured with the idea of possessing a geometrically perfect swing. 

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Tiger Woods

Highlights: Back-to-back Masters wins in 2001/02; record-breaking wins at US Open and Open in 2000.

When Tiger first started working with Butch Harmon in 1994, he was strong, fit and agile – absolute utopia for a golf coach. In those early days, Tiger combined a rapid hip rotation through impact with a whiplash-like release of the hands and clubhead. Although he was talented enough to flush the ball most of the time, he had a tendency to get the club stuck behind him in the downswing – a trait that has affected him throughout his career. Woods also would get the club across the line at the top of the backswing with the face a little shut (grooves pointing too much towards the sky) – a similar trait to another of Harmon’s pupils at the time, Greg Norman. This was caused by slightly poor synchronisation of the arm swing and body rotation.

After winning the Masters by 12 shots in 1997, Woods decided he wanted a wider takeaway, a more compact backswing and a steeper left arm plane. Over a two-year period, Butch helped Tiger keep the club out in front of his body in the backswing, which led to a relatively upright plane and high hands. Tiger’s clubface angle and his swing path were fairly neutral and so there was not much shape to his shots. Coupled with his incredible clubhead speed, this enabled Tiger to hit towering iron shots in similar fashion to his boyhood idol Jack Nicklaus.

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Tiger Woods

Highlights: Consecutive Open victories in 2005/2006

Many people say Tiger was swinging at his very best in 2000, when he won the US Open at Pebble Beach by 15 shots and The Open at St Andrews by eight shots in the space of a month. But I disagree. I believe Tiger was at his best during the transition period between working with Harmon and Haney.

After winning the US Open in 2002, Woods again felt the need to tweak his swing. Harmon disagreed that a rebuild was necessary. The conflict eventually resulted in the pair parting ways at the end of the season. After a year trying to figure things out for himself, Woods started working with Haney in early 2004.

Whereas Butch had implemented a fairly rigid one-piece takeaway, Haney introduced more rotation in the left forearm so that Tiger’s arms were more synchronised with the turning motion of his body. Haney lowered and lowered Tiger’s arm swing plane until it hit the perfect spot in 2005. At its optimum, Woods’ swing contained the clubface control given to him by Harmon with the enhanced swing plane given to him by Haney.

It is interesting to note that at this point in time, Tiger had become very interested in Ben Hogan’s swing. As a result, his brief to Haney was most likely to help him develop a more ‘Hogan-esque’ action – a flatter left arm plane, a more laid off position at the top of the backswing and an abbreviated finish position.

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Tiger Woods

Highlights: Regained World No.1 ranking in 2013; won six PGA Tour events in 2013.

After Hank Haney resigned as Tiger’s coach in 2010, Tiger was introduced to Sean Foley through fellow tour pro Sean O’Hair. At this time, the new ‘stack and tilt’ concept of golf coaching was in vogue and Tiger fell hook, line and sinker for the idea of possessing a geometrically perfect swing. With his coaching philosophies rooted in geometry and biomechanics, and heavily influenced by Homer Kelley’s book The Golfing Machine, Foley made some major changes to Woods’ swing.

In addition to amending his grip and posture, the key change Foley implemented was to give Tiger a more centred backswing with very little body pivot. This was problematical for Tiger for two reasons. The first is that Tiger has broad shoulders and slim hips. So trying to remain centred ‘over’ the ball during the backswing with minimal weight transfer caused some serious timing issues. Second, Tiger has always had a strong transition move between backswing and downswing.

With a more ‘centred’ backswing, the moment he implements his powerful downswing move, his body gets too far ahead of the ball, his shoulders get too steep and his downswing gets stuck – the main cause of the errant driving we regularly see from him.