On the Fly

By Rex HoggardAugust 10, 2009, 4:00 pm
2009 PGA ChampionshipOn a breezy Friday in the shadow of the nations capitol, Tiger Woods made the turn at Congressional Country Club 9 under for the tournament, 3 under for the day, cruising to one of the few trophies in golf that had eluded him ' his own AT&T National.
It was precisely the moment when things went sideways. The world No. 1 missed the fairway left at the first, his 10th hole of the day, and back-to-back greens at Nos. 2 and 3. The track meet was getting away from Woods.
He found a fix, more often than not he does, and played his final eight holes in 1 under. Hardly the stuff of legend, but it may be the single most important reason why Woods arrives at Hazeltine National this week the metaphorical elephant in the PGA Championship room.
Tiger Woods and Hank Haney at Hazeltine
Tiger Woods works with Hank Haney Monday at Hazeltine. (Getty Images).
I knew what I was doing, I just wouldn't quit doing it, said Woods, sounding more human than ever. After I hit a good drive down 3, terrible iron shot, but at least I hit a good drive down there. From then on I just tried to make sure I made the same swing as I did on that tee shot.
More so than his prodigious power or Kreskin-like short game, and perhaps only slightly less important than his mental resolve, Woods ability to fix his swing on the fly is a large part of what separates him from the rest of the millionaires.
It may also be the final piece to his 2009 Grand Slam puzzle and allow Woods to avoid a Grand Slam shutout for the first time since 2004 and for just the fourth time in his career.
Glorys Last Shot never seemed so apropos, what with Woods, Phil Mickelson and defending champion Padraig Harrington all looking to get off the Grand Slam schneid before the 09 window closes.
At some point this week all three leading men will likely find themselves at a mid-round crossroads at Hazeltine National when a slightly misfiring action will offer two choices ' plod along and play your way out of the tournament or dig deep and find a Band-Aid that will get you off the course in one piece.
Every Tour player has the ability to self-correct mid-round, but 70 Tour titles and 14 major championships suggests no one does it better than Woods.
In my opinion it is the role of any teacher to point a student in the right direction, teaching to me is guiding a student, said Woods longtime swing coach Hank Haney. It is up to the student to learn and Tiger learns better than anyone I have ever taught.
As a teacher I try to help my students become their own best teacher. I think with Tiger if I have been able to do anything good it has been that I have in some way helped him become a better teacher of himself. I take great pride in Tiger as a student when he says he is better now at fixing himself during a round of golf than he has ever been.
There is no Fix on the Fly stat produced by ShotLink. Perhaps the single-most telling indication of how well a player adjusts to a slightly off-kilter action is front- and back-nine scoring average. Woods ranks third on Tour in front-nine scoring with a 34.63 average, and only gets better on his closing loops with a 34.58 average which is the second-best on Tour.
Feel, more so than technical swing thoughts or routines, is the most common theme players fall back on when things get sideways.
Its the hardest thing for a Tour player to do, Charles Howell III said of the mid-round fix. Its really a leap of faith making sure your next shot has a totally different feel to it.
Howell, one of the most technical players on Tour earlier in his career until he started working with Sea Island (Ga.) Resort swing coach Todd Anderson last year, said when things go bad on the golf course he focuses on hitting a single type of shot.
Howells go-to shot is a choke-up, cut driver, while Woods has perfected the 3-wood stinger when the pressure is on and he has to put the ball in play.
Its the difference between turning a 72 into a 69, heck even a 74 into a 70, Howell said.
Perhaps one of the most impressive, yet little known, mid-round fixes came at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Geoff Ogilvy was hitting the ball very scratchy when he started his week, but through a series of drills, like baseball swings with a golf club or one-handed swings, he slowly played his way through the rough patches and onto the U.S. Open trophy.
It wasnt an epiphany, said Dale Lynch, Ogivlys swing coach. He doesnt think about a lot of technical stuff. Just an awareness of how the club and the body are moving together. He gradually got it.
Of course, rebounding from a tough stretch mentally, more so than physically, is often the hardest adjustment for a player to make.
Most agree the mental fix is more difficult than the physical corrections, particularly on a Sunday when the difference between victory and a missed opportunity can be measured by a single swing.
A boxer can take one or two punches, but its the third one that gets them, said Dr. Gio Valiante, a sports psychologist who counts Camilo Villegas among his Tour stable. A golfer can take a bad shot or a bogey or two or three, but four, five, six bogeys, that is when you see if a guy is mentally tough enough to turn things around.
Woods, fresh off back-to-back victories, has proven himself plenty tough enough to weather the rough patches and right the ship mid-stride. And that may be all he needs to avoid a major shutout.
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