By outsourcing his swing, Tiger Woods may have lost control of the thing he wants most

May 31, 2012

DUBLIN, Ohio – One of the new books of the moment, which was recently reviewed in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, is called The Outsourced Self, Intimate Life in Market Times, by Arlie Russell Hochschild. It’s far from a golf book, but the subject of outsourcing is certainly relevant to Tiger Woods and in particular his golf swing, for which he has assigned custodial duties to Rudy Duran, John Anselmo, Butch Harmon, Hank Haney, and now Sean Foley.

Woods, who in his last three starts has tied for 40th twice (Masters, Players Championship) and missed the cut once (Wells Fargo),  will return to action at this week’s Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village, where he won from 1999-2001, and again in 2009. After playing a U.S. Open practice round at San Francisco’s Olympic Club on Tuesday, he was up early for the Memorial pro-am at Muirfield Village on Wednesday.

Wearing khaki pants, a black shirt, black shoes and a black cap, and with Foley looking on, Woods piped his opening shot down the first fairway with a driver and smiled. That would seem to support what Woods said in an online chat earlier this week: He’s identified the cause of his woes the last three starts.     

“I hadn't played well in a couple of weeks,” Woods said, “but we know what it is. It’s a matter of getting reps in and getting the trust in it.”

There was nothing new there. He said the same thing at the Players Championship, Wells Fargo and the Masters. But what is new, or at least what The Outsourced Life reminds us in advance of the Memorial, is yet another contradiction in the complicated life of Woods: He says he wants to own his swing, and yet he keeps giving it away.

Here is what Woods told Golf Digest in late 2004:

“Only two players have ever truly owned their own swings: Moe Norman and Ben Hogan. I want to own mine. That’s where the satisfaction comes from.”

And yet one of the obvious and unavoidable byproducts of outsourcing is a disconnection from the thing that you hand over to others, if not out-and-out learned helplessness. How many of us remember how to change our own oil?

Many players have coaches. There’s no reason to criticize Woods for entering into one of the most common relationships in all of pro sports. And Foley is simply a charismatic, proven talent trying to do his job. Still, Woods seems to be saying one thing and doing another. By outsourcing his swing so readily — he’s done it three times as a pro, five times overall, or six if you count the late Earl Woods as a coach — Woods may be getting further away from owning his swing, not closer to it. In The Big Miss, Haney said he was surprised at how little Woods knew about the swing. That’s the big downside to outsourcing.

As Woods teed off at the first hole Wednesday morning, Rory McIlroy, who is also struggling and has missed his last two cuts, was teeing off the 10th hole. The fans divided themselves in half as golf’s once and future kings began their days.

Trusting the change is always the final piece of the puzzle, Woods says. He seemed to have that trust in winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill on March 25. Alas, whatever Woods had figured out disappeared en route to Augusta, where he played terribly, for him. He played worse at Quail Hollow.

“Sometimes you have to be patient,” says Justin Rose, the 2010 Memorial champion, who tied for second at the BMW PGA at Wentworth last weekend. (Rose and Woods share a coach in Foley.)  “I think Tiger is doing the right thing, but right now it’s not paying off. There’s all sorts of conjecture. Who knows? You’ve got to wait until it’s all said and done before anyone knows who’s made a right or wrong decision.” 

Woods is hardly the only player to have had three or more coaches. He has company in Padraig Harrington, Rose, and others. But did Jack Nicklaus make this many major swing changes? No. Did Arnold Palmer? No.

"I saw Jack Grout maybe once or twice a year for maybe an hour," Nicklaus said in his press conference at Muirfield Village on Wednesday. "If I was in the Miami area or something, I'd run down and see Jack, and we'd spend about an hour. We'd spend five minutes on the golf swing and an hour catching up. But he taught me young the fundamentals of the game. He taught me how to assess what I was doing." 

Many observers hope Woods is right when he says of his recent woes, “We know what it is.” He may prove as much at Muirfield, where seven of the top 10 players in the world will tee it up. Another Woods victory at Jack’s place would add buzz to the U.S. Open at Olympic, June 14-17, as he aims for his 15th major.

The trouble with outsourcing, though, is that you lose touch with reality. Woods says he knows what’s wrong, but at 36, after years of turning over his swing to so many others, he may no longer have a clue. Unless he’s the exception to the rules of outsourcing, he may never own his swing for more than a week at a time.

Short game: Jason Dufner, Matt Kuchar and Lee Westwood are the only players in the top 10 of the World Ranking who are not in the Memorial field. … Despite winning the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions, defending Memorial champion Steve Stricker has fallen out of the top eight in Ryder Cup points. … In his 11 starts at the Memorial prior to last year, Stricker was eight over par on the front nine and six under on the back, but he went 20 under on the front and four over on the back to win last year. … McIlroy has finished in the top 10 in both of his Memorial starts. Luke Donald, who regained the No. 1 ranking from McIlroy last week, tied for seventh at Muirfield last year. … The club’s new practice facility added 45 yards to the landing area and seven more target greens. … Rickie Fowler, the Memorial runner-up in 2010, was among those who stayed out late for “Bubba Bash,” a Bubba Watson-hosted party that featured a Christian rap group Tuesday night. … Colin Montgomerie, 48, shot a final-round 81 at the BMW PGA at Wentworth, England, drove to his home in Perthshire to change putters, then got back in the car to drive to the U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Walton Heath in Surrey. After the 900-mile trip, which took him most of the night, he shot 68-72 and missed a playoff by two shots. … Alex Noren, who was co-medalist at the Walton Heath qualifier, is the defending champion at this week’s Wales Open at Celtic Manor on the European tour. … Hale Irwin, 66, who matched his age for the fourth time in his career at the Senior PGA, is one of two co-chairs of the Nationwide tour’s Rex Hospital Open at TPC Wakefield Plantation in Raleigh, N.C. Alas, Irwin will be playing in the Champions tour’s Principal Charity Classic in Des Moines, Iowa, this week. … The U.S. Army Golden Knights will present the trophy on the Nationwide after jumping out of an airplane over the 18th fairway at Wakefield Plantation.