When rampant charges of infidelity brought Tiger Woods’s marriage to a close five years ago, the world’s greatest golfer lost more than his reputation. He lost his game. What happened? According to a crack team of Top 100 Teachers, Tiger, like a devalued stock, has underperformed. A harsh indictment, but the numbers don’t lie -- Tiger is statistically average in areas where he used to dominate. Here are the five parts of his game where Woods desperately needs to improve, and what you should do in your own approach to scoring so you don’t suffer the same fall.
1. He’s Missing Greens like Never Before
In 2006, three years before his fateful car crash within the gated community of Isleworth outside Orlando, Tiger hit greens at a 74-percent clip. Solid. By 2014, his GIR percentage dropped to a mere 58. Ouch.
It’s simple -- more missed greens lead to higher scores. Tiger’s problem? Poor management. Woods simply doesn’t run his golf brain near as well -- or think as creatively -- as he used to.
Old Tiger once described his training with mental coach Jay Brunza as something that “helped me understand a different part of my creativity. I know I was there [on the course], but I don’t remember the golf shots.” In other words, Woods often played “in the zone.” Powerful stuff. As Brunza explains, “The athlete in the peak performance zone is in a heightened state of awareness and absorbed focus, letting the performance happen rather than thinking about and helping the performance happen.”
That’s how Tiger used to be, but nowadays his thinking is different. He’s making the same mistake as any weekend hacker -- micro-managing. For example, he blamed his collapse in a recent PGA Championship on thinking “too little” about swing mechanics. I’ve been around the game for a looong time. That’s’ the voice of a player thinking too much about swing mechanics. It’s certainly not the voice of the Tiger we knew in 2000, when he was the most dominant golfer ever. He’d be so entrenched in the moment that, as Woods describes, “my subconscious takes over. I remember walking into a shot then I don’t remember anything until I see the ball leave.”
The “blackout period” Woods describes is the ultimate hyper-focus where your conscious mind is sealed up during execution and your swing is handed over to your unconscious competence. Tiger needs to channel that again. You should, too.
Here’s a tip: Try developing some tunnel vision -- a flexible focus that switches back and forth between a narrow "portrait" while you plan and play your shot, followed by a “panoramic” focus where you engage and embrace your environment. It’s as easy as cupping your hands like blinders on each side of your head and honing in on your target like crazy. Anything you can’t see doesn’t matter. Wash it out, go back to your target, and burn it into your brain until you feel the ball compressing against the clubface. Now, you’re in the zone.
2. He’s Losing Strokes from Short Range
By Todd Sones
The short game, for everyone, can be tuned by practice and technique, and Tiger’s combination of the two just isn’t the same. Artists around the green have great touch and feel, and it takes a ton of practice to get there, which might be where Sean Foley may have let Tiger down. In the years they worked together, I never heard either of them talking about the short game. Over the last four years, the discussion has centered solely on Tiger's swing or his putting issues, whereas I’ve heard Hank Haney talk about his years with Tiger, noting that he made greenside shots a priority.
Aside from practice, there’s technique. It's pretty clear to everyone who teaches the game that Tiger's work with Foley has lead to a steeper downswing, which isn’t what you want on delicate pitches and chips, unless the ball is in heavy rough. The difference is like a plane landing and a plane crashing. When the ball is on a good or tight lie, the plane needs to land (shallow path). When it’s buried, the plane needs to crash (steep path).
Plus, with too steep a downswing, it’s easy to switch your balance from forward to back. That’s not what you want, and it might be happening to Tiger.
The real goal is to have more weight on your forward leg at impact. I’ve had success with students by keeping their stance narrow with nearly a 50-50 weight distribution. This helps the club to start down on a shallower angle of approach while allowing the player to rotate their upper body around their front leg. The result? More weight on the front leg at the finish and solid, crisper short game shots.
3. He’s Slower
Tiger used to bomb it past everyone with just about any club, but not anymore. Check the graph plotting Tiger’s clubhead speed at right. A few things jump out. His two speed peaks, one in 2007 and another in 2012, coincide with high confidence in his approach. In 2007, he seemed very confident in what he was doing with Hank Haney, and in 2012 he seemed confident in the changes he made with Sean Foley.
However, in the past few years, I've shockingly seen Tiger pop up, chunk and thin tee shots. The likely cause would seem to be inconsistent contact, but I think it’s his pivot. As Tiger has steepened his hip and shoulder turn over the past few seasons while continuing to “squat” on his downswing, he has created a situation where he’s too close to the ground to swing fast and free through the ball. Now, the only way he can catch it clean and square is to hold off his release and literally "jump" out of the way through impact. These are difficult-to-time compensations, and anytime you’re compensating, you’re slowing down.
A simple tip both you and Tiger could use is to grab your 5-wood, turn it upside-down (so you’re holding the club by the hosel) and make practice swings listening for the "swoosh" sound. You want the swoosh to be loudest (i.e., the club to be moving fastest) at the ball. Tiger's "swoosh" happens too far past the ball; yours probably happens to early.
Next, turn the club around and take your normal grip, and tee a ball up as high as possible. With a 5-wood in your hand and the ball teed high, you’ll pop it straight up if you lose your distance between your hands and the ground. Practice getting your swoosh in the right plane and making solid with a teed 5-wood, and you’ll hit every club squarer and with a lot more speed at impact.
4. He No Longer Dominates Par 5s
One of Tiger’s loudest claims to fame was that if he had five shots to make par, he was constantly shooting for three and consistently making four. He was a go-for-it-in-two machine, but that approach works only if you drive it far and straight, and Tiger isn’t doing a lot of that lately. Beyond power, however, there’s strategy, and Woods’ is pushing the par-5 envelope too far. Before, if the green was within reach, he’d go for it. If it wasn’t, he’d pound it into a greenside bunker if the pin was positioned in the front or idle of the green (leaving an easy blast from the sand), or lay up to a distance that would leave him with a full wedge into the green if the pin was set in the back. Awesome strategy. You should use it. Unfortunately, Tiger has pretty much abandoned it. He’s pressing. Frustration is clouding his judgment, and it’s killing him on holes that should be easy.
5. The Flatstick is No Longer His Friend
By Kevin Weeks
Tiger Woods is no longer a great putter. This is not an opinion. It’s a fact, and it’s been this way for years.
The 2009 season was the last one where you could argue that Tiger was an elite putter. That year, he won $10.5 million in 17 events—during which he posted a strokes gained putting average of .875. Last year, his strokes gained putting average shrank to.425. The difference may not seem like much, but it adds up to nearly two strokes per tournament -- just on the greens!
How did Tiger become what can only be described as an “average” putter? There are four factors at play:
Equipment change: Tiger went from the smooth-faced Scotty Cameron putter he used his entire career to a Nike putter featuring grooves on the face. Now, the Nike model is a fine flatstick, but the grooves produce a different sound at impact, changing the feel for Tiger. No matter how hard you try to reproduce the specs of an older putter, the look, weighting and feel will never be the same.
Caddie change: Joe LaCava is an excellent caddie, but Steve Williams is next-level, and most caddies agree -- Williams is the best green reader on Tour. Sure, Tiger’s the one stroking the putts, but the caddy effect shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Practice time: Tiger’s injuries and wholesale swing changes have taken away from practice time and energy that could be spent on the putting green. You improve your putting by practice, plain and simple.
Inconsistent Setup: Tiger sets up with his hands behind the ball. This does two things: it adds loft to the putter and also closes the blade. It’s important for Tiger, because he has always aimed his putter to the right of his target and opened the putterface during his backstroke. It’s a mish-mash of compensating pieces that are difficult to keep in sync. It’s like they’ve finally caught up with Tiger, and he doesn’t know what to do about it.
If you avoid what Tiger has done, you just may learn to sink more putts. Simplify your stroke by setting up square and limiting the number of moving pieces. Also, stick with what has made you successful in the past. The guy who switches putters every month? He’s wishing, not working.