Tiger Woods is the most malleable man in the history of sports.
Since he turned professional in 1996 Woods has had four different swings and three different swing coaches. His ability to take such a variety of theories, not to mention his own ever-changing ideas, and make them work well enough to elevate him to No. 1 in the world, is unprecedented in any sport. What athlete would change a method that gave him dominance and consistency? Only Tiger.
Now he’s building his fifth professional swing with the help of a fellow by the name of Chris Como.
Butch Harmon, his first coach, was a former Tour player who even had a win (1971 Broome County Open, an unofficial event). Butch's father was perhaps the greatest player/coach in history. While employed as head pro at Winged Foot, Claude Harmon won the 1948 Masters. He was the last club pro to win a major. He counted some of the most knowledgeable men in the history of the game among his friends, men such as Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Jimmy Demaret and Jackie Burke Sr., and they shared lifetimes of empirical experience with the Harmon family. As far as an education in the golf world goes, Butch Harmon went to Harvard.
Woods’ second coach, Hank Haney, oversaw the swing that won 31 of 91 tournaments, the highest winning percentage over such a span in the history of golf. Yet Haney is reviled by many for writing a book about Woods that exposed his private side, sometimes unflatteringly. During Haney’s tenure with Woods, critics – myself included - hated Tiger’s laid-off position at the top and his out-and-around backswing. But what we didn’t know was that Haney was giving Tiger a swing that had a predictable miss. It might not have been as pretty as the swing under Harmon, but that predictable miss and Tiger’s iron play made Woods better than ever.
Can you imagine improving the golf game of Woods from 2000? In many ways Haney did. Maybe Haney never played the Tour, but his understanding of the need to have a one-way miss and the ability to give that to Tiger is an example of what is lacking in many teachers today.
Sean Foley, Tiger’s third swing coach, in a 2012 video interview with Tourplayers.com, said that Tiger never won a major by leading in fairways or greens in regulation but “he got it done.”
Perhaps Foley was taking a shot at Tiger’s previous coaches, something he had done in the past. In a 2010 interview with FoxSports.com golf writer Robert Lusetich, Foley said the Harmon-taught swing was “penal on the body and dependent on timing.” That is coach-speak for unreliable. In a November 2010 interview with Golf World's Jaime Diaz, Foley said of the Haney swing that “… as good as he is, as much work as he put in, the stuff couldn’t have been right or it would’ve worked better.” Better than a 34 percent win rate?!. Neither Harmon nor Haney ever claimed to be a student of the geometry of the swing, like Foley. Perhaps his point was, how could either of them know what the body or the club was doing at impact since they didn't use force plates or Trackman?
But the fact is, Woods led the field in greens in regulation in nine of his 14 major wins; he led in driving distance in five of them and led in fairways hit in one of them. He got it done all right, from tee to green. Under Foley he never led in driving distance, fairways hit or greens in regulation in a single major. But thanks to Trackman, we know he had more “compression,” whatever that is.
Foley has the same DNA as so many of his brethren who got drunk on the philosophy of “The Golf Machine,” the fabulously flawed book on the geometry of the golf swing, a book that has led to the spin-off of swing cults such as Stack and Tilt. All of them are based on the most inconclusive differences, ideas and opinions that cannot prove their theories to be correct. And the ideological conceit of geometric precision is where Tour players’ games go to die.
Como is one the 40 top teachers under age 40, according to Golf Digest, which listed his price at $1,500 for a half-day (no hourly rate was listed), which made him by far the most expensive teacher on the list. This was BEFORE the Tiger announcement.
Outside of Woods, Como’s Tour stable includes Aaron Baddeley, Richard Lee and Jamie Lovemark (also a former Foley student who, like Woods, had a micro-discectomy). For the 2014 season those three finished 174th, 171st and 94th, respectively, in greens in regulation. Only Baddeley kept his card, and he could thank finishing second in strokes gained-putting. Considering the greens-in-regulation list goes only to 177 players, this is not a strong recommendation for the theories of Como. When you further consider that as recently as September, Woods was knocking swing coaches for not having any Sunday back-nine major championship experience, you can’t help but wonder if Tiger did his homework.
Reportedly Como is getting a masters degree in biomechanics from Texas Woman’s University. Sports biomechanics is about applying the laws of mechanics to human movement to understand and improve performance and to reduce injuries. That’s exactly what Woods needs, as his swing has lost its natural athleticism, which was a major source of his old confidence. And that’s to say nothing of the harm the swing he had was doing to his body.
To apply biomechanics to golf, though, one has to study and tediously measure the movements of hundreds of professional golfers and then make comparisons and draw conclusions. This, as opposed to so much pseudo-science in this game, is real science.
What one will learn in studying the biomechanics of great ball-strikers is that there must be a lateral shift off of the ball in the backswing and a corresponding lateral shift into the ball on the downswing. This is imperative and very much what Tiger was doing until 2010.
Staying centered or hanging left at address causes the club to want to go inside abruptly off of the ball and it takes great effort to avoid it. Hanging left robs a player of width in the backswing and flow and rhythm in the downswing. With Woods’ phenomenal hip rotation speed, hanging left caused him to get stuck - coming too much on an inside path - on the downswing and hence his sometimes overexaggerated over-the-top move to counter this tendency. With the driver, more often than not his clubhead path was way out to the right with excessive forward shaft lean, and to offset this his spine tilted away from the target to the point of pain.
If Como understands the way the bodies of the best players of all time moved and applies those principles to Woods, then his pupil has a very good chance of playing uninjured for the rest of his career and a very good chance of achieving his career goals.