WINDERMERE, Fla. – Tiger Woods is not the first player to endure the ebbs and flows of a swing change, just the most high-profile convert.
Woods’ experiment with new “swing consultant” Chris Como will be, more or less, his fifth different action as a professional, from the initial world-beater swing under Butch Harmon he took to Augusta National in 1997 to the last four years with Sean Foley, and to varying degrees he has enjoyed success with each.
He has also endured his share of slings and arrows along the way for what some see as a pathological desire to fix what isn’t broken, particularly after splitting with Harmon, with whom he worked with from 1993 to August 2002 when he won eight majors and 26.8 percent of the time on the PGA Tour.
All of which gives his most recent switch all of the markings of a seminal moment for an often-injured, soon-to-be 39-year-old.
What direction do I want to go?
What do I want my swing to look like?
What do I want to get out of my body?
These were all questions Woods mulled in the weeks following his last start at Valhalla and eventually led him to Como, but this week’s host is hardly the first world-class player to reach these types of epiphanies.
Each week on Tour the practice tee is dotted with players who reached the same crossroads. Players like Steve Stricker, who at the end of 2005 seemed to have two choices – change or quit.
“I was at a point where do I continue to play? It wasn’t much fun the way I was playing, or determining what I needed to do to get better,” said Stricker, who had dipped to 162nd in earnings in ’05.
While Woods’ road is not nearly as dire, the two friends seemed to have the same internal debate as well as the same tempered expectations.
“When you go through a change there are some bumps in the road,” said Stricker, who has become something of a putting sounding board for Woods over the years. “You want it to come quickly, but you just know it’s golf and it’s hard to do and there is a learning curve to this.”
Keegan Bradley had a slightly different take when he embarked on what he now considers a “dramatic” swing change in December 2013 with Chuck Cook.
When Bradley made the jump to Cook from longtime coach Jim McLean he’d already won three times on Tour, including a major (2011 PGA Championship) and a World Golf Championship (2012 at Firestone) and was considered by many a bona fide phenom.
While perceived deficiencies in his short game led Bradley to Cook, he never subscribed to the idea that change, of any variety, comes with a price.
“I never make a change and think I’m going to get worse,” Bradley said. “It may happen and any time you change something and put it under the gun it’s nerve-racking, but that’s why we put in the work.”
The Tour’s landscape is littered with stories of swing changes gone awry. Luke Donald spent just a little over a year working with Cook before calling a mulligan and reuniting with Pat Goss, who he had split with to work with Cook in August 2013.
Lee Westwood gave his experiment with Foley even less time, splitting with him at the end of 2013 after roughly seven months.
At the heart of these changes appears to be a particular player's motivation for change. Like Woods, who has repeatedly stated his desire for continued improvement behind his numerous changes, the elusive drive for perfection often clouds the more subtle elements behind an overhaul, like expectations and long-term goals.
Billy Horschel set his path at a relatively young age when he was a senior at the University of Florida and makes a key distinction between what some may view as little more than an overhaul compared to an extreme makeover.
“A swing change is when you’re changing philosophy on what you think a swing should be and you’re going with a method teacher,” said Horschel, who this year became the second player coached by Todd Anderson to win the FedEx Cup.
“Todd and I have made tweaks to make my game better and more consistent. Is that a swing change? No, that’s just getting back to where I swing the club the best.”
Whether Woods’ most recent transition would fall into the latter category – which he seemed to suggest on Tuesday when he spoke with the media – or will be remembered as a dramatic overhaul remains to be seen, but what’s certain is that he is not unique in setting out down an unknown path.
He’s just the only one who does it under the glare of a 24-hour news cycle.