TIGER WOODS – THE BIG FIX
Tiger Woods’ return to competition showed promise early and then, seemingly still fighting a foreign swing, he was sidelined again with back problems. Here, we chat to six leading Australian teaching professionals as well as a doctor on the likely causes
Jimmy Emanuel consults six leading teaching professionals, and a doctor, to find out what Tiger Woods needs to do to start winning again.
Tiger Woods hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since 2015 and at the time of writing is the No.742 ranked player in the world. Yet he has still proven to be one of the major stories in golf in 2017.
Woods’ much anticipated return to competitive golf from multiple back surgeries at the beginning of the 2017 wraparound season had the undivided attention of fans, sponsors and his fellow PGA Tour players. The 20th anniversary of Woods’ first major win at The Masters in 1997 added to the anticipation.
While expectations had been set as low as they could be for a 14-time major champion who changed the game of golf, golf fans’ anticipation grew with every piece of positive news. Appearing thinner than in recent years, Woods was rusty but showed promising signs at his own Hero World Challenge in December. His troublesome back didn’t appear to give him any significant trouble, and he was seemingly swinging the club unhindered, albeit not at the impressive speeds of his younger days. An extended break over the Christmas-New Year period, meant more time for the media and armchair critics to pick apart his every move from the tournament in the Bahamas, with the hopeful majority agreeing the American might finally be past the nerve injuries that had plagued him.
Woods’ next appeared in late January at the Farmers Insurance Open, held at Torrey Pines in San Diego, a course Tiger dominated in the past and the site of his last major championship victory, the 2008 US Open.
After a long, wet winter Torrey Pines was playing long and tough and Woods’ inaccurate driving left him too much to do with the short clubs, resulting in a missed cut. Woods was not alone in struggling in San Diego however, with playing partners Jason Day and Dustin Johnson also failing to make the weekend. Playing with two of the current crop of top players, Woods had clearly lost his ability to overpower a golf course, but looked to swing the club in a way that would protect his troublesome back.
A long flight to Dubai to play the Omega Dubai Desert Classic followed, where Woods was confident his course knowledge would help him through the week. Woods discussed his back and his new swing with the media prior to the tournament.
“Whether my swing looks classical, rhythmical or it may look unorthodox, I don’t care. As long as I don’t feel that nerve pain,” he said. After an opening round 77, where Woods never seemed comfortable with his game, the former World No.1’s comeback was dealt a deafening blow. Tiger withdrew on Friday morning citing spasms in his troublesome back. The most dominant player of the modern era has scarcely been seen since and at the time of writing was an unlikely starter at The Masters.
Tiger is by no means the first golfer to suer back pain, but as with everything in Tiger’s career, his back is a hot button issue. Many lay the blame on Woods’ numerous swing changes under the guidance of Butch Harmon, Hank Haney, Sean Foley and most recently Chris Como. The now 41-year-old’s heavy training and physical transformation, from a skinny teenager to the muscle bound Woods of the late 2000s, has also been heavily criticised as the source for much of his injury troubles.
We have consulted some of Australia’s leading teaching professionals and a doctor to get their opinions on Woods’ current and past golf swings, training regime, as well as where they might focus their attention if they were fortunate enough to spend even a mere 10 minutes with perhaps the most dominant player the game has seen.
TIGER IS BY NO MEANS THE FIRST GOLFER TO SUFFER BACK PAIN, BUT AS WITH EVERYTHING IN TIGER’S CAREER, HIS BACK IS A HOT BUTTON ISSUE.
Watching Tiger at the start of 2017 his swing is definitely di erent from the Tiger we know from the early 2000s. Through his work with Chris Como it looks as if he is really trying to protect his lower back (pic 1 & 2). The move is a little less aggressive through the bottom of the golf swing than we are used to and I think he is doing a really good job with the body he has got to work with at the moment.
When Tiger was younger he was tall, with not a lot of muscle on him and moving really quickly. The club was a long way in behind him on the downswing and essentially his body wasn’t really built for the way he was swinging it. Although dicult to say certainly for any athlete, not just Tiger, injury was probably inevitable.
When working with a player like Tiger, who has back and disc injuries, a lot of the work comes down to set-up positions and ensuring the correct areas of the body have enough stability and activation in them – through the abdominal region, the glutes, the big areas that need stability in the golf swing. Setting that at address then making a movement where those areas are working eciently through the motion, with Tiger trying to feel like his glutes and his core section of his body are really helping out, rather than hindering him.
I would try and get Tiger’s training to somewhat complement what he is trying to achieve in the swing. Building up the strength in his key areas and then learning how we can use the strength in those key areas to support the golf swing he is trying to build. As with every student, assessing Tiger’s range of mobility, stability, posture and balance would be key to then make his golf swing as ecient as possible. • Richard Woodhouse is the current Queensland and Australian PGA Teaching Professional of the Year. www.kdvsport.com
While there have been elements of the golf swing that have made Tiger’s back worse over the years, I don’t think it’s been his swing that has caused the problem. I think you need to look at his weight and exercise programs.
In hindsight, when Tiger turned up as a skinny, young kid and was the longest hitter on tour (pic 1), his training and exercise regime needed to be based in longevity. However, Tiger worked on his body more than anyone and his body changed and he bulked up (note the change to his body by 2006, pic 2). I believe as a result of that work, he didn’t hit the ball any further and there was nothing measurable in his golf game, which you could say that the physical workout did nothing to help his golf.
As time went on his body e ectively broke down – knee, back and a serious Achilles injury, some of which are very foreign injuries for golfers. I would say from the outside looking in, it has been the work he has done physically on his body that has probably put the stress on his body and caused a lot of those injury problems.
Watching Tiger swing the club at Torrey Pines, it was very obvious he was protecting his back and obviously wasn’t generating anywhere near the speed that he used to. His swing didn’t look particularly athletic and he struggled with the shot going right, which he has struggled with for some time.
In Tiger’s swing in recent years he has struggled with getting his arms stuck behind his body and he has relied on his athleticism to square the clubface (pic 3). This compensation would have added some stress to his back.
Building a golf swing that places less load on the back is key for golfers with bad backs to minimise the stresses on the back. If Tiger were to improve his sequence, having his arms work more e ciently, so that his arms and body could catch up at impact, that way he could accelerate the club at impact without having to sit back on it and wait for his hands and arms to catch his body. • Dale Lynch is a former Australian PGA Teaching Professional of the Year and has worked with several of the country’s leading tour pros. www.yarrabendgolf.com
PGA Teaching Professional based at Adelaide Shores Golf Academy
The way Tiger swung the club as a young player where he hit it hard, hit the ball a long way and produced as much spin as he could has placed a huge burden on his back and it has started to show up over the last few years in all sorts of injuries. He needs to make some changes to his swing to ensure he is around a lot longer.
I am sure he already is working on core-related strengthening. Pilates type exercises are also extremely important to ease the problems with his back, as I believe much of the golf swing generally comes from our stronger muscles, particularly the core.
Some subtle changes in Tiger’s set-up would help to ease the pressure on the back. Specifically, narrowing his stance a little, flaring his feet and standing up taller. Through utilising his core muscles more throughout the swing, I would try and have Tiger swing over quieter legs, to maintain and look after his body and hopefully, extend his career. Creating less leg drive so it isn’t exerting so much pressure on his spine as he moves through the ball is important for Tiger.
At the end of the day you are trying to move the ball from point A to point B and then into the hole. From an entertainment perspective, watching Tiger hit the ball a long way is thrilling, it might be time for him to focus on swinging within himself rather than trying to muscle the ball around. Look at some of the LPGA Tour players, who still generate a fair amount of clubhead speed but don’t exert so much energy.
Tiger is a sensational player who knows his swing inside out, but I worry that all of Tiger’s work with various coaches, means he doesn’t have the simplicity and concrete swing thoughts he had as a kid. • Anne-Marie Knight is the 2016 South Australian PGA Teaching Pro of the Year. www.adelaideshores.com.au
CHRISTIAN SMALL Head Teaching Professional, The Lakes GC, Sydney
Tiger throughout his career has chased the feeling of not being stuck in his downswing. He played great in 1997 with his arms stuck behind him, which allowed him to create a lot of speed and flip the club though impact. In 2000, when Tiger had his best year, in my opinion, he swung the club the best he has, his hands and arms were more in line with his right hip coming down pre-impact. From that time on his golf gradually got worse with a spike in 2005 and 2006 and then rapidly got worse
Around 2013, after his work with Sean Foley, who worked to get Tiger more on top of the ball with his arms in front, was when Tiger’s swing looked its worst. He was stuck but on top of the ball, not behind it like before where he could flip it and catch up.
From watching him at the Australian Open in 1996 to today, I don’t believe Tiger understands how to transition from the top of swing correctly. In his book, Tiger says that from the top of the swing he feels his left knee straighten prior to impact, which is a flawed fundamental concept. While Tiger was physically gifted enough to make it work, it doesn’t make it right and it has a side-eect of getting stuck and you can hurt yourself, like Tiger did. This is where his stuck feeling has come from. With the chance to work with him for even just 10 minutes I would talk to him about the right way to transition to get his arms in front of the body in a way where he is not stuck, like he was with Foley.
In his current swing, his hips and body are rotating far too early in the downswing, causing the club to get stuck behind him resulting in a spinning out feeling, in essence still putting strain on his back albeit in a dierent way to how his swing with Foley did. I would explain to Tiger how to transition correctly. From the top of the swing there should be a push down feeling to the left toes, which is a little bit more closed o, which allows the arms to get down more in front of his body and then to rotate out of that place. • Christian Small is a AAA-accredited PGA of
Australia teaching professional.
Head coach Pittwater Golf Centre, Sydney I think Tiger’s current swing is very good and has improved out of sight. While I believe he hasn’t implemented all the changes he is making and it will continue to improve, his swing looks to be a more free-flowing type of action again. He is swinging the club more around his body and the swing is more circular than what he was in the past.
Previously, Tiger got very short, stilted and had too much right lateral side bend in his backswing, which put simply is too much tilt away from the target. This caused him to get jammed coming down and through (pic 1), with his hips jammed forward so he couldn’t keep rotating, which I believe hurt his back more than anything.
He still has too much tilt away from the target (pic 2) in my opinion. I would get him to keep his spine more upright – particularly at the top of the backswing, and then he could keep turning around, with a little more clearance at impact he could take a lot of the pressure of his spine. Players like Jason Day and Adam Scott are good examples of being very upright with their spines.
If the spine is upright, not tilted away from the target, then through the legs turning, the shaft will then shallow back on to a 45 degree angle to the ground and he can rotate around that without pressure on the spine.
Preparation is important for Tiger. He is over 40 now, and his body won’t respond like it did when he was 21. Apart from him obviously practicing hard like he does, I don’t believe he plays enough tournament golf.
In the past he hasn’t allowed himself to get tournament tough, working to put a score on the board. When he was playing great previously he got away with it, but it is very dicult to get match fit without playing matches. • David Saunders is a AAA-accredited PGA of
Australia teaching professional.
Head teaching professional at Commonwealth GC, Melbourne
Tiger was the best golfer in the world bar none, probably the best of all time. He either got bored or he just thought he could get better and better and in his quest to get better he got worse.
If you look at where Tiger is now I think he is just confused. Tiger in his prime moved o the ball a little more laterally, more into his right side in his swing and his arms were more upright, at times he even appeared a little crossed over at the top. Whereas with Hank Haney and Sean Foley he was laid o .
In his current swing, I like the plane of his arms and the shaft, particularly with driver, more than in his time with Haney and Foley. It looks now like he will get his driver more under control. To work with Tiger, you would have to sit down with him and work out what he is able to do physically. The number one thing I would want to do as a coach would be to empower him to make his own decisions and run his own race. I would want to help him find a swing he could compete with, not follow any one method of swinging the club. I would get Tiger hitting golf shots, find out what golf shot he can’t hit, what’s the hardest shot to hit and explore ways of getting him to hit those shots. There is no one in the world who has a better understanding of what it takes to win and how to control their emotions than Tiger Woods. My only queries are if he knows how to win ugly and if he is going to be satisfied with that. If Tiger is to come back he has to learn to win smart rather than dominating. • Sandy Jamieson is a AAA-accredited PGA of Australia teaching professional. www.jamogolf.com
DR ANTHONY BLOOMFIELD
Personal trainer and doctor When dealing with any injury, particularly a major one, approach to treatment is crucial. Just looking at the body when dealing with major back issues, is a small segment and you have to look at the individual holistically. What Tiger must realise is his body has changed and changed forever. His values, beliefs and thoughts around his injury and rehabilitation need to be looked at and whether his expectations are realistic with his body’s capabilities. For Tiger this may relate to training, practice or his golf swing. While we don’t know when Tiger’s back problems began, the reality is, the human body is pretty simple, and understanding the cause of injury is crucial in the approach to recovery. Using the exercise physiology principle of General Adaptation, which put simply, is to increase strength, muscles and joints must be placed under stress. Initially the muscle will be weaker, with rest the muscle will become stronger. With injury, the stress applied to the body is greater than its capacity to withstand stress, without ample recovery, the body may never return to its baseline strength.
Watching Tiger hit balls at the 2005 Masters (pics 1 to 8), the rotation and torque going through his spine was incredible. While impressive to watch how far he hit the ball and the ball flight, the human body only has a capacity to get itself into certain positions and done repeatedly is when you start getting degeneration of joints. The wear and tear on the body eventually has to give. The swing at the time was not sustainable for the next 20 to 30 years of Tiger’s career.
Moving forward the answer isn’t a simple one. Generic muscle building and core work don’t necessarily apply. Assessing Tiger’s core and back and understanding what biomechanical deficiencies he may have would be crucial in the tailoring of a program that addresses them systematically. • Anthony Bloomfield is Australia’s only personal trainer with several medical degrees, including Bachelors of Science (Physiology / Pharmacology), Medicine and Surgery. www.anthonybloomfield.com.au
THE SWING AT THE TIME WAS NOT SUSTAINABLE FOR THE NEXT 20 TO 30 YEARS OF TIGER’S CAREER. – DR BLOOMFIELD
DALE LYNCH PGA of Australia Teaching Professional with BannLynch Golf based at Yarra Bend Golf in Melbourne.
RICHARD WOODHOUSE KDV Academy Director of Instruction on the Gold Coast
Woods was frustrated with his game in Dubai before withdrawing due to back spasms.