Pursuit of perfection leaves Tiger's swing in disarray

By Brandel ChambleeAugust 26, 2014, 8:35 pm

In Tiger Woods’ 2001 book “How I Play Golf” he said, “There is no guess work involved in my swing now – when I hit a bad shot, my understanding of cause and effect enables me to pinpoint the reason immediately.”

The roots of that swing were of his conception. After his victory at the 1997 Masters, Tiger watched the tape of that historic blowout start to finish, alone. Expecting to see perfection in his method, he mostly saw flaws.

By his count there were at least 10 things that he didn't like, so he called Butch Harmon, who agreed with Tiger’s assessment and the two of them went to work. Within a year, the swing that would go on to win four consecutive majors was his. He owned it. He wrote a book about it.

What has happened in the last few years has defied all reason. Both his body and his swing have become so altered from that architecture, and he seems so orphaned from the intuition that led to that swing, that he is scarcely recognizable.

This has happened before.

For a while Seve Ballesteros played golf like no one had ever seen, contorting his body in an utterly freakishly athletic way, springing into each shot with a splendid extravagance, each swing unlike the preceding one. Each was a masterpiece. Every move was a new discovery to his genius which originated in the solitude on a beach in Spain where he picked shot after shot off that compacted sand. It was his swing and he owned it.



Tiger conceived of that 2000 swing alone in a room and Seve of his on the beach. I don't think this was provenance being bestowed on them by fate. Besides their enormous physical talents I believe there is intellectual power in solitude, that there is discovery and confidence in solitude. Seve and Tiger tapped into that in a way few ever have.

Like Tiger would be after him, though, Seve was wild off of the tee and like Tiger would do after him he let the pursuit of perfection engulf his talent. Seve, seeking to straighten his drives, sought the guidance of Mac O’Grady, whose mythical ball striking was just that, mostly myth. From 1983-93, his productive years, he was, if I were being nice, average tee to green. But he was a student of Homer Kelly’s book “The Golfing Machine”, a sort of cryptic geometric bible about the golf swing and this advanced the myth.

Seve took the bait and digested those inscrutable golfing machine ideas and never had a top-five finish in a major after age 32. By his mid-30s I saw a player that was divested of all that he was.

Sean Foley read “The Golfing Machine” (TGM) as a teenager but to be fair, like most, he finds flaws in that sphinx-like book. Overriding in his teaching themes, though, are the same sort of propagated mathematical perfections found in TGM. He and teachers like him may yet prove that this more cognitive approach to golf will take the place of Harvey Penick’s homespun instruction in the “Little Red Book.” The promise of this attracts players in the most enticing way. With the promise of perfection, Foley says, “It’s simple math.”

Only it doesn't look simple.

Do yourself a favor, go onto YouTube and search Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus. Scroll down until you find video of them playing in a tournament and watch, not how they swing, but how they begin to swing. In those 20-30 seconds before the club moves away notice how forthright and confident they move – authoritative and awesome to watch.

None of their teachers were ever in sight.

Now search for Suzann Pettersen, Mike Weir, Michelle Wie and Justin Rose, not to see their swings, which are beautiful, but to see how they begin to swing. You will notice a distinct difference to the names above, in both the purpose and cadence of their pre-shot routines. They make rehearsals, they contort their bodies into positions they hope to achieve during the swing, they fret with faux takeaways, all to do something they are already exceptional at. It’s a type of timidity that has become the norm.

Their teachers are rarely out of sight.

The difference between these two groups is the very nature of the way this game is taught now at the professional level – by helicopter teachers who hover. These teachers are well informed and drown out the self-discovery and the confidence that comes from that and replace it with one idea after another and another.

Nicklaus’ teacher Jack Grout said “the golfer who must fall back on a teacher every time any little thing sours in his game cannot but have a limited future.” Jack was given a set of basics or fundamentals and then left to work them out on his own, just as Seve and Tiger did for a time.

Nicklaus’ records stand as evidence not just to his talent but to the proper nurturing and maintenance of that talent. Just as his records are the gold standard so, too, should his teacher-student relationship with Grout be an example that the goal of any instructor should be the independence of their students.

Tiger at 21 knew enough about his swing to orchestrate the changes that lead to the greatest stretch of golf in history. At 38 he may be golf’s version of Humpty Dumpty and all the king’s men hopeless to place him back into his origins. Perhaps he should tell all the king’s men to take a hike.

Alone in thought, watching the video from the 1997 Masters Tiger was in as powerful a state as any athlete can be. He decided what needed to be done, he had a game plan, he could feel it, taste it, smell it and he executed it.

Who should be his next coach is likely the difference between him breaking Jack’s major record or not and because of what he means to golf, that decision means a lot to the game. This is all precisely why I hope his next teacher’s name is Tiger.

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.