This week will mark the first time that Tiger Woods goes to a golf tournament with no idea of what he’s going to shoot. At Whistling Straits, you absolutely have to find the fairway, and based on what we saw at the Bridgestone, Woods has no chance in Wisconsin. None at all. Watch him on the tee, and you can see him search and panic. He doesn’t know where the ball is going.
If you’ve ever played competitive golf, you know what he’s going through. When you’ve lost it, there is no worse feeling in the world than standing over the ball with no idea where it is going to go. It is a feeling all golfers, even really good ones, have gone through, and it is painful to watch. However, Woods is a victim of his own stubbornness. It’s plain to see what’s wrong with his swing, but Woods won’t admit it, and the way he’s going about “fixing” his problem just makes it worse.
Tiger continues to try to fix his downswing problems by working on the downswing itself. He should be looking at his grip and the shape of his backswing instead. As every student of the golf swing knows, problems are always caused earlier than they appear. It’s time to fix the mess he has made of his backswing.
Tiger needs a more connected takeaway, with the club more in and up to the top and less out and laid off, with a less bowed left wrist at the top. This will give him a chance to attack on the proper angle and release the club past his body. Woods has always been a player who needs to release the club through impact. While some players try to keep the club, arms and body working together as they make contact, Tiger’s natural instinct is to aggressively let go and extend the club past his body to the target. The way Hank Haney had him swinging the club, Woods can’t let go through impact, which leads to misses in both directions. If you watched Woods on TV Thursday and Friday, you know exactly what I’m taking about.
I show video of Tiger’s swing to the teenagers I teach and they see the problem easily. I don’t know why Woods can’t. Sometimes you work on something for so long, that’s all you can see. He needs guidance and a new swing coach. If he were going in a different direction, I’d say he could do it himself, but he’s clearly working on the same stuff he and Haney worked on, and it’s starting to affect more than just his driver swing. He fanned an 8-iron at Firestone on Sunday. That’s hard to watch.
So why did Woods have such success in 2009 (six PGA Tour wins) with the Haney swing? If you work on something constantly — the way Woods and Haney did — you can make it work. But when Woods took time off after his Thanksgiving accident, he lost his ability to make that unnatural Haney swing work. If your swing is fine, you can take time off and not lose anything. Hunter Mahan could probably go snowboarding for four months and come back without any problems. But when you’re swing is as messy as Woods’s had become, you can’t take time off because things will get really funky really fast.
Plus, Woods didn’t drive the ball especially well last year. What he did was find a way to win. I once asked Marcus Allen how he always seemed to get in the end zone on those third-and-goal plays. He told me, “I found a way.” Whether he had to go over the defense, under the defense, through a hole or just run somebody over, Allen found a way to score. That’s always been Woods’s trademark. Whether he had a great driving day or a poor one, he still found a way to win. I didn’t see any of that at Firestone. He’s lost that everyday mojo, and that’s as bad for his game as his swing problems.
Woods is in an awful place right now, but his game is recoverable. It will just take time. This is a lost year for him. He needs to take some time off after the PGA Championship so he can have a fresh start next season with a new coach and a new mindset. I can’t imagine that he won’t come back and be a threat. Will he ever be what he was before? I don’t know. We’re in uncharted territory now.
Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Brady Riggs is director of instruction at Woodley Lakes Golf Course in Van Nuys, Calif. He wrote the Golf Magazine cover story We Fix Tiger’s Broken Swing in July 2010. Riggs hosts the live instruction chat Ask Brady Riggs every Tuesday at noon on Golf.com.