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Analyzing each of Tiger's different swings

By Brandel ChambleeNovember 30, 2017, 2:00 pm

David Foster Wallace, who wrote the seminal piece on Roger Federer, titled “Federer Both Flesh and Not,” was also stunningly accurate when considering world class players of a lesser rank.

Of Michael Joyce, who was the 79th-ranked tennis player in the world when Wallace wrote of him:

“You are invited to try to imagine what it would be like to be among the hundred best in the world at something. At anything. I have tried to imagine; it’s hard.”

These words ring in my ear when I think about the absurdity of what it means to be the best in the world at something. And then when I think about what Tiger Woods did, it is not just unimaginable, it is unfathomable.

Just 20 men have ascended to the No. 1 ranking in golf; but only one man did it with four different golf swings. To be fair, who in their right mind would think of such a thing? If one got to No. 1 in the world rankings with a certain golf swing, it stands to reason that he would forever try to duplicate that swing.

For that reason, Woods’ swing changes make him the most enigmatic sports figure of all time. Not just because the changes were manifestly unnecessary, but because with each of the swings he was so dominant – and yet they were so completely different from one another.

I’m not talking about a minor change in the grip or takeaway, something that only the player thinks is massively different, but everyone else in the world has to squint to see. I’m talking about razing Buckingham Palace and building the Kremlin in the exact same spot, only to blow it up and erect the Vatican and then change your mind, tear it down and build a castle instead.

Tiger said he made the changes to get better. But no better golf had ever been played. There was only change for change’s sake. And Tiger adores change as sharks like blood in the water.

So here are the four swings that made Woods, in my mind, by far the best player who ever played the game.

The swing Tiger used from the summer 1993 to the summer 1997

What I call his Masters swing (so named after his record-breaking performance at Augusta in April 1997) had several prominent features. He had a wide stance, a strong grip, a huge move off the ball to the right while keeping the flex in his right knee, a short arm swing and shoulder turn that was right at 120 degrees.

At the top of his swing, the club face was shut and well across the line. But well before he reached the top of his swing he began to shift his entire body back to the left – his legs, hips and back, like someone pulling one end of a rubber-band, while his shoulders continued to turn to the right, in effect pulling the other end of the rubber-band. Then, as his hips started rotating counter-clockwise, his right heel came off the ground so he could use the ball of his right foot to push up as the left side of his body extended and rotated in one fluid, unbroken, magnificent explosion that lifted the entire left side of his body off the ground.

Each move performed in perfect sequence, was a multiplier of force that created a hip speed not seen since Ben Hogan, and a never before seen with such brilliance. It is simply not possible to swing the club better than he did then. With this swing he won three U.S. Amateurs in a row, around 25 percent of his PGA Tour events and the Masters by 12 shots.

He became No. 1 in the world with his Masters swing on June 15, 1997, less than a year after turning pro.

The swing Tiger used from the summer of 1997 to March 15, 2004

What I call his Grand Slam swing (so named for obvious reasons) was a more collaborative design between him and Butch Harmon. His grip wasn’t as strong and his stance wasn’t as wide as before, but he still had a big move off the ball. Less squat into the right knee and a deeper hip turn gave him a much bigger arm swing that looked more symmetrical to his shoulder turn, which was still massive in the 120-degree range. At the top, the club was in that slot tour pros call “down the line,” meaning it was pointed more or less parallel to his target. In transition, he still moved in two different directions, his body drifting towards the target as his shoulders stretched around to the right, and then they impossibly – but gracefully – changed direction.

Watching him on the range Tuesday at the 2000 U.S. Open, I was most in awe of his transition, when the body was moving in two different directions at once and acceleration was imminent. I always expected a burst of speed there, but the club just continued to gather at the top, sort of like Michael Jordan hanging in the air when you think he should be coming down. The club just took a beat longer to reverse itself and then began its spectacular circular track back towards the ball. The right heel lifting, the ball of the right foot pushing up as the hips rotated, and his left side stretched to what looks like 10 feet tall, time and again lifting his entire frame off the ground. No question it was violent, but then it was also elegant.

This is the swing that won four consecutive majors, won six tournaments in a row, won 38 percent of the events he played in 1999 and 45 percent of the events he played in 2000. This is the swing that won the U.S. Open by 15, The Open by eight and set a Vardon Trophy record of 67.79.

He was No. 1 in the world with his Grand Slam swing for 264 consecutive weeks, from 1999 to September 2004.

His Hank Haney swing began on March 15, 2004 and began to erode shortly after the 2010 Masters.

I am amazed at how matter-of-factly people in my business will dismiss this swing as his worst, or the one that most needed changing. When I hear these types of dismissals I know they are judging the swing from an aesthetic bias – some line or position they like to see the club in, because they most certainly are not looking at the facts. The facts are that from just about any criteria one uses to judge the success of a swing philosophy, this was Tiger’s most successful move.

Hank weakened Tiger’s grip, to almost Hoganesque position, with the Vs of both hands more or less pointed at his chin. His takeaway was still wide and shifted to the right, but was more out and around with his arm and wrists, where they would rotate clockwise, putting the club at the top in a slightly flatter position – what most would agree was laid off, meaning that instead of the club pointing parallel to the target at the top, it was pointed to the left.

Because he had not moved off the ball as much in the backswing, his head dropped a little. And no longer needing to move as much left in the transition his head dropped some more on the downswing. He still lifted his right heel so he could push off the ball of his foot as he rotated and extended into the finish, still coming off the ground with the left side of his body. From 2005-09 he won an otherworldly 41 percent of his PGA Tour events, winning seven in a row in one stretch and five in a row in another. In 2007, his scoring average was 67.79, to the hundredth of a stroke exactly the same as the year 2000.

He was No. 1 in the world with his Hank Haney swing for 281 consecutive weeks, breaking his own record with a swing that was unrecognizable to the one he used to set the previous mark.

At the 2010 PGA Championship, Woods started working with Sean Foley.

Sean was working with a much older and much more fragile Tiger. No doubt this affected to what extent Foley could get Tiger to do what he wanted him to do, but after dealing with injuries through 2011, Tiger began winning again in 2012.

The Sean Foley swing returned Tiger’s grip back to a stronger position, but gone was the move off the ball and the wide takeaway. Tiger’s head was stationary and as a result he lost the momentum of a big shift to the right. And whether he was searching for a powerful position or Sean told him to, he began to squat on the downswing. His swing became much shorter and flatter. The more compact swing left less time to generate speed and less space to move in two directions. His swing became far less graceful and much more violent. He would drop more in his downswing and his right heel stayed on the ground, robbing him of the push up and giving him a more pronounced push left. This combination of loss of height and lateral movement made it impossible for Tiger to square the club without a simultaneous jumping of his body while holding a big angle in the club’s release. Tiger won three times in 2012, and in one of the greatest comebacks in golf’s history he won five times and was named Player of the Year at 37 years old in 2013.

He was No. 1 in the world with the Sean Foley swing from March 2013 until May 2014.

In total, Tiger spent 683 weeks as the top-ranked player in the world and won more PGA Tour events than all but one man in history and more majors than all but one man as well. Both speak to his dominance and longevity, but the fact that he has never missed back-to-back cuts on the PGA Tour as a pro (Phil Mickelson has done so 19 times and Jordan Spieth has already done so twice) speaks to his unmatched determination even when winning wasn’t likely.

In looking back at the works of geniuses over the last 2,000 years – of which I am admittedly not an expert, but nonetheless passionate about – the closest example I could find to the equivalent of Tiger’s obsession to create something perfect at the expense of something never before seen – to build and destroy – was Roman poet Virgil, who spent 11 years writing the Aeneid, a 9,896-line epic poem that is considered the greatest such poem ever written and one of the world’s preeminent classics. On his deathbed, he demanded that the work be thrown in the fire because it lacked the precision he had in mind. The emperor of Rome at the time, Augustus, knew the poem’s worth and intervened. It is largely through the Aeneid, that Virgil owes his lasting fame.

But then again, Virgil only tried to destroy one masterpiece, Tiger Woods did so four times. And as we all settle in to watch this week’s Hero World Challenge, he is working on his fifth such iteration. Winning four more majors to tie Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 seems impossible with the injuries sustained and the swing changes not yet cemented. But as time gnaws on his body and mind, wouldn’t it be something if he could win four more tournaments and break Sam Snead’s mark of 82 Tour victories. And just for fun take a fifth new swing to No. 1 in the world rankings.

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Inside Attica: Interviewing Valentino Dixon

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 20, 2018, 2:00 am


Some stories stick with you longer than others. First time you get to do a feature. First time you meet a sports legend (it was Allen Iverson for me). Seeing a championship isn’t bad, either. Been there, done that. Lawnmower museum on the east coast of England, tsunami survivors in California, re-connecting Al Geiberger with his lost 59 tape, all good, but no story or environment has stuck with me like going to Attica Correctional Facility in 2013 to tell the story of Valentino Dixon.

For starters, I’d never been searched before setting up for an interview. Not just me, everyone - all three cameramen, Jimmy Roberts, the guy escorting us in who worked there. Everyone. Attica trusts no one. Can’t blame them after 1971, when inmates protesting living conditions took members of the prison staff hostage. The ensuing police response left 29 inmates and 10 hostages dead.

Attica has a "shank wall," a collection of homemade weapons seized from inmates and displayed like baseball cards in a plastic case on the wall outside the guards' lunchroom. Prison interior decorating at its finest. Nice touch.

We went to do a story on an inmate who was introduced to the world in a Golf Digest article by Max Adler in 2012. "The golf artist who had never stepped foot on a golf course - Valentino Dixon.: He was in for murder. Second degree. You know, your standard golf story.

Wrongfully imprisoned man freed after nearly three decades

Dixon, a former aspiring artist before getting caught up in the Buffalo drug-dealing scene, started sketching photos from Golf Digest for the warden. I’ve never been to prison, but from what I have gathered from watching The Shawshank Redemption some 8,000 times, getting in the warden’s good graces is a smart habit to pick up if you’re doing serious time.

Dixon's art was insanely good. Even more so because he did it all with colored pencils. No paintbrushes allowed (see shank wall above). Jimmy, the crew and I stopped for a good 10-15 minutes to marvel at his creations before continuing with the interview.

We spent a solid 40 minutes talking to the man who supposedly killed a man 20-something years prior. In that time, he pleaded his innocence to us over and over again. He spoke like a man who had rehearsed every angle of his story over and over and over again. I give him credit - there were no holes in his story. I consider myself a pretty good judge of character, and he didn’t look like a killer, didn’t sound like one. either. But what did I know? I’d never met one - that I know of. And if you were stuck in prison for 20-plus years and all of a sudden had a camera in front of you and a platform to plead your innocence, wouldn’t you do your best to try to get out of there?

Since the guards wouldn’t allow any food, the crew and I stopped at the first deli we saw on the ride back into Buffalo. After we were done eating, we all looked at each other, knowing what we all were thinking: "Do you think he did it?”

Didn’t matter what we thought, we were just there to tell the story. On Wednesday, however, people whose opinions mattered made a decision and allowed someone who loves the game of golf, but has never stepped foot on a golf course, to do just that if he so chooses. That's a story that will stick with him for the rest of his life.

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Wrongfully convicted inmate who turned to golf artistry freed

By Associated PressSeptember 20, 2018, 12:35 am

BUFFALO, N.Y. – A New York prison artist who never played golf but became known for drawings of lush courses he could only imagine was set free Wednesday after authorities agreed that another man committed the murder that put him behind bars for nearly three decades.

Valentino Dixon walked out of Erie County Court into bright sunshine and hugs from his mother, daughter and a crowd of other relatives and friends, ready for a meal at Red Lobster and vowing to fight on behalf of others who are wrongly convicted.

"I love y'all," Dixon shouted after trading the green prison uniform he wore in court for jeans and a T-shirt. "It feels great."

Earlier Wednesday, a judge agreed to set aside Dixon's conviction in the 1991 shooting death of 17-year-old Torriano Jackson on a Buffalo street corner and accepted a guilty plea from another man who had confessed to the killing two days after it happened.

"There was a fight. Shots were fired. I grabbed the gun from under the bench, switched it to automatic, all the bullets shot out. Unfortunately, Torriano ended up dying," Lamarr Scott, who has been in prison for 25 years for an unrelated attempted murder, told the court. "I dropped the gun and ran and it was over and done with."

Scott said he had gotten the gun, a Tec-9 semi-automatic, from Dixon and the two men had driven together to the crowded corner where the fighting broke out. Scott was given a sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison, concurrent with his current term.

Judge Susan Eagan let stand a count of criminal possession of a weapon against Dixon, and its 5- to 15-year sentence, which she said he had satisfied.

Inside Attica: Interviewing Valentino Dixon

"You are eligible for release today," the judge said, igniting applause and shouts from courtroom supporters.

"Mr. Dixon is not an innocent man. Don't be misguided in that at all," Erie County District Attorney John Flynn told reporters after the hearing. He described Dixon as "an up-and-coming drug dealer in the city of Buffalo" at the time of the shooting and said Scott was Dixon's bodyguard.

"Mr. Dixon is innocent of the shooting and of the murder for what he was found guilty of," he said, "but Mr. Dixon brought the gun to the fight. It was Mr. Dixon's gun."

While behind bars, Dixon rekindled his childhood passion for drawing, often spending 10 hours a day creating vivid colored pencil landscapes, including of golf courses, while imagining freedom. Articles in Golf Digest and elsewhere have drawn public attention to Dixon's case. NBC Sports' Jimmy Roberts spotlighted Dixon in a 2013 segment for his "In Play" series on Golf Channel.

“I’ve worked in this business for close to 40 years, and this is the most consequential thing I’ve ever been a part of," Roberts said after learning of Dixon's release. "I’m a sports reporter, but we helped get a man out of prison. I’m humbled and dumbstruck.”

Georgetown University students made a documentary as part of a prison reform course last spring. The class worked with Dixon's attorney, Donald Thompson, to have the conviction overturned.

"It went so far beyond reasonable doubt that it's pretty outrageous that he would have been convicted and it would have been upheld," said Marc Howard, director of the university's Prisons and Justice Initiative. Howard taught the course with childhood friend, Marty Tankleff, who also spent years wrongfully imprisoned.

Dixon said he will keep drawing, while working on behalf of other prisoners.

"If you don't have any money in this system, it's hard to get justice because the system is not equipped or designed to give a poor person a fair trial," he said. "So we have a lot of work ahead of us."

His daughter, Valentina Dixon, was a baby when her father went to prison. She brought her 14-month-old twins, Ava and Levi, to court from their Columbus, Ohio, home.

"We're definitely going to go shopping and go explore life," she said. "I can't wait to get him a cellphone and teach him how to Snapchat."

Dixon's mother, Barbara Dixon, said she was in shock after relying on her faith while fighting for his release.

"We're going to Red Lobster," she said when asked what was next. "And everybody's invited."

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Thomas donating to hurricane relief at East Lake

By Jason CrookSeptember 19, 2018, 9:20 pm

Much like in years past, Justin Thomas is using his golf game to help with relief of a natural disaster.

The world No. 4 announced on Twitter Wednesday that he’d be donating $1,000 per birdie and $5,000 per eagle at the Tour Championship to a charity benefiting the victims of Hurricane Florence, which ravaged the Carolinas last week.

At a fan's suggestion, Thomas, who has averaged 4.35 birdies per round this season, also pledged to donate $10,000 for a hole-in-one.

Hurricane Florence made landfall on Friday just south of Wrightsville Beach, N.C., and has left much of the area flooded and without power. At least 37 people have died in storm-related incidents.

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Rose realizes his No. 1 ranking is precarious

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 8:18 pm

ATLANTA – Asked how he would like to be identified when he was finished playing golf, Justin Rose didn’t hesitate – “major champion, Olympic gold medalist, world No. 1.”

He’s had only a week to enjoy the last accomplishment, but the Englishman is aware of what it means to his career to have finally moved into the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“It's a moment in your career that you always remember and cherish,” said Rose, who overtook Dustin Johnson with his runner-up finish two weeks ago at the BMW Championship.

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Rose said he took some time last weekend with family and friends to relish the accomplishment and will play his first event this week at the Tour Championship as the world’s best, but he also understands how tenuous his position atop the ranking is at the moment.

“I accept it's really tight up top. It could easily switch this week,” he said. “I just feel that if I go to [No.] 2 or 3 this week, if Dustin and Brooks [Koepka] both play well, I have an opportunity the week after and British Masters, and going to China and Turkey, there's going to be opportunities to get back there.”

Johnson, Koepka and Justin Thomas could unseat Rose atop the ranking this week depending on their finishes at the Tour Championship.