Brady Riggs is a GOLF Top 100 Teacher based out of Woodley Lakes Golf Course in Van Nuys, Calif. He's taught amateurs and professionals on the PGA Tour, Champions tour and more. You can visit his website here.
No golfer in history has had his swing changes sliced and diced more than Tiger Woods, and last week was no exception. During Tiger's return to competition in the Bahamas it wasn't just the usual armchair swing analysts and Golf Channel provocateurs doing the dissecting -- even one of his former coaches joined the party. The attention paid to Tiger's swing is born from golf fans' longing for the game's greatest phenomenon to return to prominence, and who could blame us: There is only one Tiger Woods.
Over the last couple of years critics have taken so many shots at Tiger's coach, Chris Como, that you'd think Woods found him in a Crackerjack box. The fact is Chris had built a reputation as one of the elite teachers in the game long before he teamed up with Tiger. Chris is exactly what Tiger needed at exactly the right time in his life. The approach Chris and Tiger have taken toward his swing seems to be a combination of looking into what worked so well in the past, evaluating what Tiger's body can and can't do in the present and what makes sense from a practical standpoint moving forward. You would be hard pressed to find even a handful of teachers capable of handling the challenges of working around these parameters.
What's so exciting to me as a teaching professional and student of the swing is how far Woods and Como have progressed. Sure, Tiger hit some squirrely shots at the Hero World Challenge last week but much of that can be chalked up to his 16-month competitive absence – anyone would be rusty after that long a layoff. Here were the five critical moments I was watching most closely to gauge how far Tiger has come:
1. How did Tiger play the first hole?
Tiger's first hole at the Hero felt like the Apollo 11 moon landing — seemingly the whole world was watching. Mainstream sport outlets and social-media mavens were all "live" broadcasting/analyzing Tiger's opening hole in the opening round of a meaningless event in December. That never happens. How did he do? He tugged his tee shot just left of the fairway, but then he hit his approach from a tricky downhill lie in the rough to 20 feet from the hole for an easy two-putt par. Everyone, including Tiger, could breathe a sigh of relief.
2. Did his swing have a flow?
I was keen to see if Tiger's swing had a rhythm and a discernible confidence to it. Did his finish look balanced? Did the swing look "freed up"? Yes, yes and … yes.
3. Was Woods able to get his game going and keep it going?
In the first round, no, he couldn't. But in the second round he flashed his old greatness, carding a seven-under 65. That torrid form carried into the third round when he played the first seven holes in six under. He cooled off thereafter but his ability to get hot and make birdies hand over fist (he ended up with 24 birds over four rounds to lead the field) was undoubtedly a sign of more good things to come. He's got the good back. Now he just needs to limit the bad.
4. Was a big block his big miss?
Woods did shove some drives, but his misses were in both directions and overall his driving appeared much improved. During his 2015 comeback, Woods's misses to the right cost him countless shots. If he can mitigate that tendency, he'll be way ahead of where he was.
5. Was he able to utilize all his gears?
This was the cherry on top for me: seeing Tiger reach back and get after a tee shot with full recoil in the finish, capped by a club-twirl and a purposeful stride off the tee box (see below). On Sunday he was on full tilt speed-wise. He wasn't just trying to hit fairways -- he was taking an unhindered lash at the ball that I haven't seen from him in years.
What does all this mean going forward? Obviously Tiger needs to sort out some issues in some areas of his game (his short game, in particular), but he appears to be headed in the right direction. As he continues his comeback, I am going to sit back, tune out the so-called experts and enjoy watching Woods do what he does best: compete.