Monday, March 7, 2011

Tiger Woods: What’s the next step?

My friend Alex Johnson is a golf expert.  Playing, watching, following and analyzing.  To better cover the entire sports world, I asked him to cover golf for STWWC for the majors, players and other stories in golf.  Here is his first entry, and although it is a little different than what I write, I think you will like it.

In the past year and a half or so, Tiger Woods has gone from having not only the Golf world wrapped around his finger, but the entire sporting world. He was the most adored athlete across the globe.  Americans loved him because he was the world beater, and he belonged to us. China loved him because he was a proven winner, and they respect that. Hell, he gave the Black and Asian communities common ground (Tiger’s mother is Taiwanese, his late father a Black American war veteran.) He was loved the world over.

 Then he crashed his BLACK Cadillac (an AMERICAN company) while wearing clothes made in an ASIAN country  into tree and fire hydrant. Symmetry.

You all know by now that he is divorced, loves feeding his kids mac and cheese more than going to the range, and is $150 million lighter in the wallet. I am all for the institution of Marriage and what it stands for, but Tiger’s biggest mistake wasn’t having sex with all those women. Tiger’s biggest mistake came when he said “I do.” Without those two words, Tiger Woods is simply golf’s Derek Jeter. Big sports star gets a ton of action and nobody cares because “Hey, he’s a single guy.”

The Masters saw Tiger return to professional golf. He played to a T4 finish and everyone thought “This guy hasn’t missed a beat.” Then Tiger shot his worst competitive total last year at Firestone, a venue he dominated. He made a run at a few other tournaments, and was leading after 54 holes at his own tournament the Chevron World Challenge. Tiger Woods after 54 holes doesn’t lose. Until Graeme Mcdowell caught him and handed him a nice second place finish worth $650,00. Don’t feel too bad for the guy.

Now it is 2011, Tiger is 15 months or so removed from his last competitive victory. He’s dropped Hank Haney as his swing coach, Swedish Supermodel Elin Nordegren as his wife, his sex addiction, his #1 spot in the Official World Golf Rankings, and seems to be completely lost as to where to go now.
Don’t worry Tiger, I’m here to help.

Sean Foley is now working with Tiger on his swing. I have seen a couple major changes in this new swing as compared to the Hank Haney swing and the Butch Harmon Swing.

The Harmon swing was just a full out, guns blazing slash at the ball. His hips began to clear before his hands got set at the top. His swing plane was much flatter, and the speed at which his body unwound was unreal. It was more of a power and talent swing then. It literally tore his knee apart. So after 8 Major titles and a couple knee surgeries, he made the decision to let go of Harmon, and begin working with Hank Haney.
The Haney swing saw Tiger’s plane go more upright, a more refined swing. It didn’t torque his knee as much, and saw the emergence of deadly precision with the scoring clubs from anywhere on the course. Through both swings, Tiger’s putting was phenomenal. You expected him to make every putt in a clutch situation, just like Rocco knew he’d make that curler on the 72 hole of the 2008 U.S. Open. Tiger doesn’t miss those putts, ever. End of discussion. 6 more Majors and another knee surgery – why not, let’s switch coaches again.

And this brings us to present times and coach. Sean Foley. Sean has worked with Hunter Mahan, Justin Rose, Sean O’Hair. They are all solid players. They all have about the same problem. Short game and consistency. Justin Rose won twice in a month last year, haven’t heard of him since. Hunter Mahan has a short game that makes most weekend golfers think they could hang with him from 50 yards in. Sean O’Hair just doesn’t make sense, weak as they come on the PGA Tour if you ask me. So what does this have to do with Tiger?

Since working with Mr. Foley, Tiger’s short game has looked average at best in spots, and downright awful in others. He stills shows flashes of brilliance, but not nearly as often as we are accustomed to. Tiger is missing greens from the middle of the fairway with a short iron in his hand. Never happened with his old swing(s). His putting is also average, now you wonder if he still has the magic stick when it comes to crunch time.
Tiger is just mentally shaken. He is torn between trying to make a golf shot and make a golf swing. Yes folks, they are different. You think about the mechanics of your swing during your swing, making a good golf shot becomes damn near impossible. And you aren’t Tiger Woods.

The sooner Tiger can get his mind off of where his hands are supposed to be at the top of his swing or when to fire his right hip and just trust what he has done on the range, the better of fhe will be. And he has to switch putters. The Titleist he has been using isn’t working for him anymore. He’s playing more like the weekend duffer than he has since he was 4 years old, might as well give some new equipment a try like the rest of us do.

I do think that Tiger will get comfortable enough with his swing to win a golf tournament this year. No Majors. But he will win a tournament by a couple shots, I’m guessing at the end of the year some time. Once he gets that taste of victory back, everybody else better get ready.
They’ll be playing for second place once again.

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