Did Tiger Woods mess with the all-important fingerprints of his golf swing in his never-ending quest to get better?
With Woods preparing to resume his pursuit of Nicklaus’ record 18 major championship titles in next week’s British Open, Azinger sees Woods in an entirely different place at 38 than Nicklaus was at the same age.
“I think one of the big differences that's very rarely articulated is the fact that while Tiger in his dominance always – for whatever reason – was in this quest to get better, I don’t remember Jack ever saying that,” Azinger said in an ESPN conference call Thursday advancing the network’s British Open coverage. “Jack might have made some tweaks and twerks, here and there, minor tweaks and twerks, but Tiger has made astronomical changes in a quest to get better. As a result, Tiger has actually gotten a little bit worse. I think we can all pretty much see that.”
Azinger, whose 12 PGA Tour titles include the 1993 PGA Championship, believes that Woods may have altered what is almost genetic coding in his swing by moving from coaches Butch Harmon to Hank Haney and now Sean Foley.
“I think where Tiger has made his mistake is he's dabbled with the fingerprints of his golf swing, not necessarily the fundamentals,” Azinger said. “I think he's probably the only person that's ever played well who's looked radically different throughout his career. Even the layman golfer can see the difference in Tiger Woods' golf swing. In Tiger's quest to get better, I think he's actually gotten a little bit worse.”
Azinger said injuries, of course, are a factor in where Woods is at in his pursuit of Nicklaus, but he believes making substantial swing changes with Haney and Foley places Woods in a less advantageous place than Nicklaus was at the same age.
“I think that most golfers have made the same mistakes in some weird way about changing their golf swing, about changing fingerprints, if you will, for fundamentals, and I think Tiger has done that to his detriment,” Azinger said. “Jack never made those mistakes. Jack understood that if he could stay the same, he would still dominate.
“Tiger didn't need to get better. He just didn't need to get worse. He needed to stay the same, and he could still dominate, and in his quest to get better, it's kind of backfired on him.”
While Azinger isn’t a swing coach, he is as fascinated with the golf swing today as he was in his prime as a player. He’s particularly interested in the nature of swing instruction and how unnecessarily technical and complicated teaching has become. He believes Woods has fallen victim to the same enticements he fell victim to in trying to improve and change his swing after he made his comeback from cancer.
“Everybody in the world looks different,” Azinger said. “I believe fundamentals are really lost in today's instruction to the point where, I'm not saying it's a crisis, but it's pretty bad. I think a lot of instructors are treating their students like a chiropractor would treat a patient. You need to come back for six straight [treatments]. If somebody tells Tiger Woods it's going to take six weeks or six months, it would shock me. If you don't have Tiger hitting it better in the first 10 or 15 minutes, then you're probably giving him bad information.”
Azinger said it’s a testament to Woods’ greatness that he continued to win majors after dramatically changing his swing under Haney and also has continued to win making large changes under Foley.
“I don't know of anybody who's changed the way they look more than Tiger Woods with respect to his golf swing and still played great,” Azinger said. “Most people just go away. They disappear trying to do what he's done. It just is a real example of what a great player he has been.”
Azinger acknowledges players like Hogan have made changes, but not to the continuing magnitude that Woods has.
If Woods falls short of his quest to catch Nicklaus, Azinger was asked, will injury or swing changes be remembered as what most hindered him?
“I don't know,” Azinger said. “He may look back and have regrets. I know that he's only worked with one guy that's played golf at a really high level, and that's Butch Harmon. For him to just turn it all over to two guys that have never played on a high level is a bit of a mystery, considering how great Tiger was when he did it.
“I'm not trying to be harsh. I guess it's more blunt than harsh. I hope he plays great. I hope he's recovered from injury.”