Pursuit of perfection leaves Tiger's swing in disarray

By Brandel ChambleeAugust 26, 2014, 8:35 pm

In Tiger Woods’ 2001 book “How I Play Golf” he said, “There is no guess work involved in my swing now – when I hit a bad shot, my understanding of cause and effect enables me to pinpoint the reason immediately.”

The roots of that swing were of his conception. After his victory at the 1997 Masters, Tiger watched the tape of that historic blowout start to finish, alone. Expecting to see perfection in his method, he mostly saw flaws.

By his count there were at least 10 things that he didn't like, so he called Butch Harmon, who agreed with Tiger’s assessment and the two of them went to work. Within a year, the swing that would go on to win four consecutive majors was his. He owned it. He wrote a book about it.

What has happened in the last few years has defied all reason. Both his body and his swing have become so altered from that architecture, and he seems so orphaned from the intuition that led to that swing, that he is scarcely recognizable.

This has happened before.

For a while Seve Ballesteros played golf like no one had ever seen, contorting his body in an utterly freakishly athletic way, springing into each shot with a splendid extravagance, each swing unlike the preceding one. Each was a masterpiece. Every move was a new discovery to his genius which originated in the solitude on a beach in Spain where he picked shot after shot off that compacted sand. It was his swing and he owned it.



Tiger conceived of that 2000 swing alone in a room and Seve of his on the beach. I don't think this was provenance being bestowed on them by fate. Besides their enormous physical talents I believe there is intellectual power in solitude, that there is discovery and confidence in solitude. Seve and Tiger tapped into that in a way few ever have.

Like Tiger would be after him, though, Seve was wild off of the tee and like Tiger would do after him he let the pursuit of perfection engulf his talent. Seve, seeking to straighten his drives, sought the guidance of Mac O’Grady, whose mythical ball striking was just that, mostly myth. From 1983-93, his productive years, he was, if I were being nice, average tee to green. But he was a student of Homer Kelly’s book “The Golfing Machine”, a sort of cryptic geometric bible about the golf swing and this advanced the myth.

Seve took the bait and digested those inscrutable golfing machine ideas and never had a top-five finish in a major after age 32. By his mid-30s I saw a player that was divested of all that he was.

Sean Foley read “The Golfing Machine” (TGM) as a teenager but to be fair, like most, he finds flaws in that sphinx-like book. Overriding in his teaching themes, though, are the same sort of propagated mathematical perfections found in TGM. He and teachers like him may yet prove that this more cognitive approach to golf will take the place of Harvey Penick’s homespun instruction in the “Little Red Book.” The promise of this attracts players in the most enticing way. With the promise of perfection, Foley says, “It’s simple math.”

Only it doesn't look simple.

Do yourself a favor, go onto YouTube and search Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus. Scroll down until you find video of them playing in a tournament and watch, not how they swing, but how they begin to swing. In those 20-30 seconds before the club moves away notice how forthright and confident they move – authoritative and awesome to watch.

None of their teachers were ever in sight.

Now search for Suzann Pettersen, Mike Weir, Michelle Wie and Justin Rose, not to see their swings, which are beautiful, but to see how they begin to swing. You will notice a distinct difference to the names above, in both the purpose and cadence of their pre-shot routines. They make rehearsals, they contort their bodies into positions they hope to achieve during the swing, they fret with faux takeaways, all to do something they are already exceptional at. It’s a type of timidity that has become the norm.

Their teachers are rarely out of sight.

The difference between these two groups is the very nature of the way this game is taught now at the professional level – by helicopter teachers who hover. These teachers are well informed and drown out the self-discovery and the confidence that comes from that and replace it with one idea after another and another.

Nicklaus’ teacher Jack Grout said “the golfer who must fall back on a teacher every time any little thing sours in his game cannot but have a limited future.” Jack was given a set of basics or fundamentals and then left to work them out on his own, just as Seve and Tiger did for a time.

Nicklaus’ records stand as evidence not just to his talent but to the proper nurturing and maintenance of that talent. Just as his records are the gold standard so, too, should his teacher-student relationship with Grout be an example that the goal of any instructor should be the independence of their students.

Tiger at 21 knew enough about his swing to orchestrate the changes that lead to the greatest stretch of golf in history. At 38 he may be golf’s version of Humpty Dumpty and all the king’s men hopeless to place him back into his origins. Perhaps he should tell all the king’s men to take a hike.

Alone in thought, watching the video from the 1997 Masters Tiger was in as powerful a state as any athlete can be. He decided what needed to be done, he had a game plan, he could feel it, taste it, smell it and he executed it.

Who should be his next coach is likely the difference between him breaking Jack’s major record or not and because of what he means to golf, that decision means a lot to the game. This is all precisely why I hope his next teacher’s name is Tiger.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.



Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.



Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.



What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

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McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.