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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Just a Thought on Tiger

Tuesday was the day most of the Masters hype began in earnest. I don't mean that in a bad way, just that all the "official" activities really got underway. And pressers by the various players are the big focal point for us fans. (Of course, the Champions' Dinner is the big thing for the players.)

We got to hear stories from Nicklaus and Player, first-timer observations from US Amateur champ Peter Uihlein, and the rambling media circus that is Phil Mickelson. We heard everything from humor, as when he was asked if his vertical jump had increased and he said, "The cameras did not catch me at the apex. I just need to stress that," to more factual info about his equipment.

In case you didn't hear, Phil will again use two drivers, but they aren't set up with different playing characteristics as they were in 2006. Rather, one is about an inch longer and has less loft, which he says he can hit 15-20 yards farther. He also said that he swings harder at the Masters than he does at any other tournament because length is a bigger advantage there, and that he has been working with a doctor to make sure his back was strong enough to withstand the "rotational forces" involved. Typical Phil presser!

But I thought Tiger's presser was the most interesting, even if it wasn't as entertaining. Since I talk a lot about swings on this blog and have speculated on what and why Tiger changes things, I wanted to mention a couple of things he said which put his frequent swing changes into perspective.

Tiger said he makes changes in an effort to get better and more consistent. While he said this in reference to all of his changes, it seemed clear that he specifically meant that his first swing change (the "Butch" swing) was for this reason.

The second change (the "Hank" swing) was made because the move he used in the "Butch" swing tore his left knee up... twice. I've speculated before that, based on different things I'd heard, this was the reason. It was nice to hear it finally confirmed.

But the most interesting thing I heard was his reason for his recent swing change (the "Foley" swing). Tiger finally confirmed that this wasn't merely a swing tweak but a complete rebuild. Then he said he wasn't as consistent making the moves as he wanted, but when questioned further said his body wouldn't permit him to make the moves consistently. In other words, age and damage have taken their toll. This also helps explain the more "stacked" position Tiger is using; with the left knee supporting a bit more weight in the backswing, much of that "snapping" motion of his left knee is eliminated while still allowing him to unwind his body quickly. (Just for the record, there is no "tilt" in the swing; Tiger's hips stay much more under his head using the Foley swing. Again, that means less stress on his body.)

One other fact that came out is that Foley has changed him to a stronger grip. This certainly backs up the idea that his body wouldn't allow him to swing the way he had with Haney. Weaker grips, typically used to eliminate hooks, automatically assume you're making a really fast move with your lower body. A stronger grip will take some pressure off that left knee because he doesn't need to turn as dramatically to get a good release -- more power, less effort.

So now we have a clearer picture of why Tiger has changed his swing so much. What was originally just an attempt to get better has become a need to adapt to a changing body. Apparently even the most athletic golfers are subject to the same human weaknesses as us weekend players.

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