Is swing coach Como the right fit for Woods?

By Brandel ChambleeDecember 1, 2014, 3:30 pm

Tiger Woods is the most malleable man in the history of sports. 

Since he turned professional in 1996 Woods has had four different swings and three different swing coaches. His ability to take such a variety of  theories, not to mention his own ever-changing ideas, and make them work well enough to elevate him to No. 1 in the world, is unprecedented in any sport. What athlete would change a method that gave him dominance and consistency? Only Tiger. 

Now he’s building his fifth professional swing with the help of a fellow by the name of Chris Como. 

Butch Harmon, his first coach, was a former Tour player who even had a win (1971 Broome County Open, an unofficial event). Butch's father was perhaps the greatest player/coach in history. While employed as head pro at Winged Foot, Claude Harmon won the 1948 Masters. He was the last club pro to win a major. He counted some of the most knowledgeable men in the history of the game among his friends, men such as Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Jimmy Demaret and Jackie Burke Sr., and they shared lifetimes of empirical experience with the Harmon family. As far as an education in the golf world goes, Butch Harmon went to Harvard. 

Woods’ second coach, Hank Haney, oversaw the swing that won 31 of 91 tournaments, the highest winning percentage over such a span in the history of golf. Yet Haney is reviled by many for writing a book about Woods that exposed his private side, sometimes unflatteringly. During Haney’s tenure with Woods, critics – myself included - hated Tiger’s laid-off position at the top and his out-and-around backswing. But what we didn’t know was that Haney was giving Tiger a swing that had a predictable miss. It might not have been as pretty as the swing under Harmon, but that predictable miss and Tiger’s iron play made Woods better than ever.

Can you imagine improving the golf game of Woods from 2000? In many ways Haney did. Maybe Haney never played the Tour, but his understanding of the need to have a one-way miss and the ability to give that to Tiger is an example of what is lacking in many teachers today. 

Sean Foley, Tiger’s third swing coach, in a 2012 video interview with Tourplayers.com, said that Tiger never won a major by leading in fairways or greens in regulation but “he got it done.” 

Perhaps Foley was taking a shot at Tiger’s previous coaches, something he had done in the past. In a 2010 interview with FoxSports.com golf writer Robert Lusetich, Foley said the Harmon-taught swing was “penal on the body and dependent on timing.” That is coach-speak for unreliable. In a November 2010 interview with Golf World's Jaime Diaz, Foley said of the Haney swing that “… as good as he is, as much work as he put in, the stuff couldn’t have been right or it would’ve worked better.” Better than a 34 percent win rate?!. Neither Harmon nor Haney ever claimed to be a student of the geometry of the swing, like Foley. Perhaps his point was, how could either of them know what the body or the club was doing at impact since they didn't use force plates or Trackman? 

But the fact is, Woods led the field in greens in regulation in nine of his 14 major wins; he led in driving distance in five of them and led in fairways hit in one of them. He got it done all right, from tee to green. Under Foley he never led in driving distance, fairways hit or greens in regulation in a single major. But thanks to Trackman, we know he had more “compression,” whatever that is. 

Foley has the same DNA as so many of his brethren who got drunk on the philosophy of “The Golf Machine,” the fabulously flawed book on the geometry of the golf swing, a book that has led to the spin-off of swing cults such as Stack and Tilt. All of them are based on the most inconclusive differences, ideas and opinions that cannot prove their theories to be correct. And the ideological conceit of geometric precision is where Tour players’ games go to die. 

Como is one the 40 top teachers under age 40, according to Golf Digest, which listed his price at $1,500 for a half-day (no hourly rate was listed), which made him by far the most expensive teacher on the list. This was BEFORE the Tiger announcement.

Outside of Woods, Como’s Tour stable includes Aaron Baddeley, Richard Lee and Jamie Lovemark (also a former Foley student who, like Woods, had a micro-discectomy). For the 2014 season those three finished 174th, 171st and 94th, respectively, in greens in regulation. Only Baddeley kept his card, and he could thank finishing second in strokes gained-putting. Considering the greens-in-regulation list goes only to 177 players, this is not a strong recommendation for the theories of Como. When you further consider that as recently as September, Woods was knocking swing coaches for not having any Sunday back-nine major championship experience, you can’t help but wonder if Tiger did his homework.

Reportedly Como is getting a masters degree in biomechanics from Texas Woman’s University. Sports biomechanics is about applying the laws of mechanics to human movement to understand and improve performance and to reduce injuries. That’s exactly what Woods needs, as his swing has lost its natural athleticism, which was a major source of his old confidence. And that’s to say nothing of the harm the swing he had was doing to his body. 

To apply biomechanics to golf, though, one has to study and tediously measure the movements of hundreds of professional golfers and then make comparisons and draw conclusions. This, as opposed to so much pseudo-science in this game, is real science. 

What one will learn in studying the biomechanics of great ball-strikers is that there must be a lateral shift off of the ball in the backswing and a corresponding lateral shift into the ball on the downswing. This is imperative and very much what Tiger was doing until 2010.  

Staying centered or hanging left at address causes the club to want to go inside abruptly off of the ball and it takes great effort to avoid it. Hanging left robs a player of width in the backswing and flow and rhythm in the downswing. With Woods’ phenomenal hip rotation speed, hanging left caused him to get stuck - coming too much on an inside path - on the downswing and hence his sometimes overexaggerated over-the-top move to counter this tendency. With the driver, more often than not his clubhead path was way out to the right with excessive forward shaft lean, and to offset this his spine tilted away from the target to the point of pain. 

If Como understands the way the bodies of the best players of all time moved and applies those principles to Woods, then his pupil has a very good chance of playing uninjured for the rest of his career and a very good chance of achieving his career goals.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.