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Thursday, December 1, 2011

"A Position I Recognize"

When Tiger did his press conference on Wednesday, he said something that none of the media pursued. I think it's a revealing statement about the learning process, one that all weekend golfers can benefit from if they understand it.

The statement was a simple one. Tiger was asked what had changed about his swing and why he was playing so much better now. He said he had known what he wanted to do and what he needed to do, he just couldn't do it. (A lot of that was health-related, of course.) He talked about the time it took to learn the new approach Sean Foley was teaching him. He talked about how it took a while to understand what he was doing wrong when he made mistakes. And then he said -- and I believe this is the exact quote -- "Sean has me in a position I recognize."

This statement says so much in just a few words! It tells you that the principles Tiger was working on are now moves he can duplicate consistently. More importantly, it tells you that those positions feel not just good but familiar.

Familiar. That's a word you wouldn't expect, based on the criticism he took earlier in the year. Analyst after analyst complained that the swing he and Foley were building didn't look or act anything like that mythical Holy Grail called the "Butch" swing of 2000-2001. And yet familiar is the word Tiger uses to describe his "new move."

It's no secret that I think Tiger and Sean have been trying to go back to his teenage swing -- minus that big move off the ball that Tiger eliminated under Butch Harmon's care. I've said as much in earlier posts. The real question is how can a swing feel familiar but look entirely different from what you did before?

I spend a lot of time on this blog discussing how you can think you're doing one thing when you're actually doing something else. The first time I saw my swing on video shocked me. For example, I was certain that my club was on plane during my backswing. Instead, I was twisting the club into a laid-off position and moving my hands way underneath the plane. It wasn't until Carl taught me some drills that felt entirely wrong (at first) that I learned an important truth:

Feelings are deceptive in the golf swing. Without an objective standard to measure yourself against, your feelings are not an accurate indication of what you're doing -- or not doing -- during your swing.

It has taken Tiger quite a while to get the hang of what Foley has been teaching him. It clearly felt odd to him before; that's why he was "thinking mechanics, not swing" out on the course. That's because the moves that felt right didn't produce the actions that Sean wanted him to do.

That's changed now. Tiger finally realizes that the moves he was trying to do before actually feel different from what he thought they should. Now he's associated the new feels with the mechanics he intended to do all along. When he recreates the "feels" that seemed so wrong before -- feels that he could make easily but didn't match the mental picture he had of his swing -- he knows that he's actually right where he intended to be all along. The mental disconnect is gone.

To use Tiger's words, now he's in a position he recognizes.

When you're working with a new swing thought, the problem is rarely a hard-to-duplicate move. It's your mind's inability to believe that this new move is correct. The wrong move feels right to you, and the right move feels wrong. If you can identify a move you already know that duplicates the correct feel, you can often short-circuit this problem. I use this idea all the time in my posts, as when I suggested that (to me, anyway) the downswing feels very similar to throwing a Frisbee. Researchers have found that the fastest way to learn anything is to associate it with something you already know.

Are you struggling to make a change in your swing? Compare it to "a position you recognize." You just might find the new move isn't so hard to learn after all.


  1. Tiger should have just hired you from the beginning because this is what you have been teaching me since we met. You taught me how to get into the right positions, but more importantly, you taught me to understand the "feeling" behind a shot.

    We've talked about it before, but this led to great improvement because when I make a swing that doesn't feel right, I am now able to correct it during a round rather than making the same mistake over and over.

    Tiger needs to subscribe to this feed:-D

  2. Thanks, Dex. ;-)

    However, in all fairness to Tiger, I should point out that you didn't have to deal with knee surgery or... "outside distractions." I'm sure those things made the job considerably harder.

    In any case, he certainly seems to be on the right track now. That -3 he shot Thursday at Chevron has to be one of his better rounds this year.

  3. This is true. Those were pretty huge hurdles to overcome. I'm predicting that he will have one of the greatest runs of his career. Any time a person confronts their mistakes and really tries hard to change, they come out stronger for it.

    He really does have an opportunity to show others that we are all human, make mistakes, but the important thing is how we react to it. At first he was a little "standoffish". But it seems like in recent weeks he has embraced it and moved on. He was even signing autographs after the 1st round of the Chevron. 2012 could be huge for him.

  4. I agree wholeheartedly, Dex. Not to toot my own horn ;-) but I wrote a post quite a while back where I said that failures don't define our character -- it's how we respond to them. Change always takes time but it certainly appears that, after two years, we're beginning to see some major positive changes in the way Tiger relates to others.

    I suspect Earl would be proud of the changes Tiger is making.