Build Your Swing Like Tiger

Friday March 13th, 2009
Tiger Woods
Getty Images

If a late-night infomercial promises to make you swing like Tiger Woods, fuhggedaboudit! It's like one of those e-mails that says you can lose 50 pounds, make a million dollars and marry a Brazilian supermodel. Simply put, you can't swing like Tiger Woods because no one can — not even the other guys on Tour. His physical gifts are beyond almost all of us. What you can copy from Tiger are his solid fundamentals.

Like almost everything else in his career, Tiger's swing changes have become the stuff of legend. But these changes are never fads or overnight fixes. Instead, his swing changes are grounded in the fundamentals of the game. When Tiger makes an adjustment, it's to fix a tendency he has that strays from those basics. This consistency has made Tiger the most dominant player of his generation, and it can help make you the most dominant player in your foursome. As for that Brazilian supermodel, you're on your own.

1. How to set up for power
The 2008 version of Tiger's swing is probably his most powerful and fundamentally sound one yet, which is bad news for the rest of the Tour. He starts it all from a solid foundation of correct posture and balance.

Before...
Since his junior golf days, Tiger's tendency has been to stand too far away from the ball, which forces him to bend over too much to reach the ball, as seen in this photo from 1995.

Now...
Tiger has moved closer to the ball. This makes his spine angle a bit more upright at address. It's a small change that dramatically improves his balance. Also, notice how he bends from his hips, not his shoulder blades. Make sure you make this same hip bend to keep your shoulders from becoming hunched over at address.

How this can help you
Here's how to find the correct distance from the ball at address. First, check your balance. You want to stand so that if someone pushed you in the middle of your back or the front of your chest, you wouldn't fall over. Then let your arms hang down naturally and grip the club. This is your ideal distance from the ball with that club. Once you get the right distance for all your clubs, try this trick: Lay a club down across your toes and use the club in your hand as a ruler. Place the butt end of your "ruler" club against the club on the ground, and use a Sharpie to mark the shaft on each side of the ball. Do this with all your clubs, and you'll know exactly how far away to stand for each one.

 

2. Control shots with your grip
Before ...
Tiger, like Jack Nicklaus before him, has always used the interlocking grip (the pinkie finger of the right hand wedged between the index and middle fingers of the left hand). What he's changed is the strength of his grip. (A "strong" grip is one where the V's formed by your thumb and forefinger point right of center; in a "weak" grip, those V's point left of center.) As you can see in this 1996 photo [inset], his grip was stronger — both hands turned more toward the right from his point of view. With a strong grip, Tiger had a tendency to close the face at the top and he had to compensate for that in his downswing.

Now...
Tiger's matched his hands better and made his grip neutral, as you can see in the main image, so that his clubface will be square at the top, which makes it easier for him to make a compensation-free power move on the way back down.

How this grip can help you
The ideal grip puts the clubface in a square or neutral position at the top. For Tiger, that means a neutral grip, but you might need a different grip for your swing. Next time you're at the range, have a friend stand behind you. When you get to the top of your backswing, stop and ask your friend to check your clubface position. If it's closed at the top [pointing straight up], then weaken your grip (move those V's between your thumbs and forefingers left). If your friend sees an open clubface at the top [the toe points straight down], then strengthen your grip. Keep adjusting until your clubface is square at the top (right) — that's the right grip for you.

The Grip of the Future
The interlocking grip used to be recommended for players with small hands, but now I predict it will be the grip of the future for the strongest players on Tour. For players who generate high swing speeds, the interlocking grip helps keep their right hand on the club. As players get stronger and swing faster, expect to see more of them use the interlocking grip.

 

3. Copy his backswing power move
Tiger creates a tremendous amount of width in his swing — something you should copy if you want more yards. How does he do it? He starts his backswing turn with a combination of arm and body movement that keeps the club in front of his chest for a long time. Notice in the "Now" photos [near left] how far he turns while bringing the club from address to hip height. Already, his back is facing the target, while his arms are still fully extended and the clubhead is in front of his chest. His lower body keeps quiet, and his head stays level even as it turns slightly. You probably don't have Tiger's flexibility, but that doesn't mean you can't make a similar move.

How this can help you
Tiger creates great width in his swing with his turn because of his amazing flexibility. (One of his nicknames on Tour is "Gumby.") But just because you can't stretch like him, it doesn't mean you can't turn like him. You just need to release your left heel, hip and knee more. Keeping your left heel down is not a fundamental of the golf swing, but making the proper turn is. Many players fear lifting their left heel in the backswing because they think they'll sway back and lose control. But that won't happen if you lift your heel correctly. The key is to roll your left foot in while you lift your heel. This allows you to properly release your left knee, which frees up your hips and shoulders to turn fully on the way to the top.

Watch a video of Peter Kostis demonstrating this drill:

4. How to Slice-Proof Your Swing
One of the most important keys to the swing is setting your body and club correctly at the top, because that's what allows you to deliver the clubhead to the ball on plane. This position shows how Tiger's swing has evolved over the years.

Shorter
Around 1997, Tiger's swing was long and across the line at the top. To combat this, he shortened his swing in 2000 (far left). This swing made him more accurate — we all know about Tiger's 2000 season — but a shorter swing meant fewer yards. He clearly wasn't done.

Longer
In 2004, he started working with Hank Haney. Here, you can see some of their changes. Tiger lengthens his swing without crossing the line. In fact, for a brief period he overdid the changes and was actually a little laid off, meaning the clubshaft pointed left of target (near left).

Just right
About as perfect a top position as you'll ever see. Notice how the shaft stays on the same line as his left arm (right). From here, Tiger can deliver the club as fast as he wants without fear of coming off plane.

How this can help you
As you can see above, even Tiger struggles with finding the correct swing plane. To get yours on the right track, you'll need some help from a friend at the driving range. First, place the shaft of any club over your left shoulder and lift your left arm so that the underside of your lead forearm rests on the shaft. This is your correct swing plane. If your left arm is higher than this (like Tiger in the 2000 photo), then your swing is too steep. If your left arm is lower than the checkpoint like Tiger in the 2005 photo, then your swing may be too flat. Ask your friend to check your swing plane at the top and at your three quarter follow-through to make sure it matches your checkpoint.

Watch a video of Peter Kostis demonstrating this drill:

5. Repeat your good swings
Think of your spine angle as the axis on which your entire swing rotates. For your swing to stay on plane shot after shot, you need to maintain this angle, and that's something that Tiger does exceptionally well. Look at the following on the left. Tiger doesn't slide or fall into his swing, and he doesn't try to come out of it. If your setup, grip and backswing are fundamentally sound, your spine angle should naturally be in the proper place.

• In the sequence in at the top, taken in 2003, you can see that Tiger's spine angle moves a little, tilting downward in the downswing and moving back up at impact.

• In 2005 (the middle sequence), Tiger became much more stable and consistent with his spine angle. There's hardly any change in his downswing anymore.

• Dead solid perfect — his spine angle is identical at every point in his swing.

How this can help you
You're going to need some PVC pipe for this one, so go down to your local hardware store and get about a five foot- long length of pipe (more or less if you're especially tall or short) and set a screw in the bottom so the pipe will stick into the grass. It's worth the minor hassle, because your spine angle is so important to get right and so difficult to check. Get into your address position on the range and rest the pipe on the brim of your cap so it lays parallel to your shaft at address. Then start hitting balls while keeping the pipe along the brim of your cap. This drill works by keeping your head level and your shoulder plane consistent, which in turn keeps your spine angle consistent.

Be a Tiger on the Range

Fixing problems
How does Tiger check his swing mechanics? Sometimes he'll get on the range and hit short shots (maybe 60-70 yards) with a long iron. "Look at it this way: If you swing a golf club at let's say hypothetically 120 miles per hour and you slow it down to 50 miles per hour, how much easier is it to feel where each and every body part is when you drop it down over 50 percent in speed," Woods said at a recent Nike demonstration. "I try to feel everything moving in the golf swing, where I'm going wrong in the swing, and try to pinpoint it so I can fix it and then exaggerate it a little bit."

His warm up
"I spend more time with my 8-iron or my 4-iron before I move onto my woods," Woods said. "Other times I may spend more time with my woods because that may be something I just don't quite feel right [about] that day. It's all just a feel thing, but I basically hit about the same amount of golf balls at the same amount of time. I warm up by hitting golf balls for probably 40 minutes just about on the clock every time.

"I'm always trying to do something with it. That may mean that I only fade it one yard or draw it one yard, change it just a little bit, but I'm always trying to do something with it. I can't go out there and look at a flag and just hit it. I'm trying to place the golf ball in a certain area."

"A lot of times, they ask me the question, 'How many flags did you fire at today?' Well, I fired at one. 'Why would you only fire at one flag?' Well ... I may be firing six feet right or six feet left of the flag. That was my target." — Mike Walker

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