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While watching Tiger Woods dominate the field at Arnold Palmer’s 2012 Bay Hill Invitational, I found myself for the first time in a long time watching and enjoying the moment. I got a chance to be a fan. Like millions of other viewers, I wanted Tiger to win. And Win He did.
Throughout the weekend, it was amazing to hear all the bandwagon jumpers who’ve abandoned Tiger since 2009, praising the return of Tiger Woods. “He’s back,” many golf experts proclaimed. Every expert watching from day one was pulling for Tiger to win and had great reasons to pull for Tiger. Most importantly, it helps their jobs, gives them a hot topic, and is great for the game of golf. Congrats on the win Tiger. But is is the Tiger Woods of old?
Not so fast.
While I have not had a chance to conduct a full biomechanics assessment on Tiger’s swing from just two weeks ago at Bay Hill, visually there were still glaring issues with his swing and body. Just two weeks prior to Bay Hill, Tiger withdrew from the WGC-Cadillac Championship citing a left leg injury. It was later reported that Tiger was suffering from left Achilles tendon soreness…again.
While the world is ready to anoint Tiger’s swing coach and Tiger victorious for making changes to his his swing that may return him to greatness, I’m not quite there yet. When Tiger struggles, both Tiger and all around him quickly blame his inability to put swing traits related to his “old swing” behind him. In reality, two things are two blame, neither of which are related to his old swing. Both reasons for Tiger’s struggles are related to Tiger’s old body not his new swing. The same physical limitations related to Tiger’s fitness are the only reason he continues to struggle in spite of his new swing.
The Achilles tendon soreness will continue to pop up in Tiger’s game unless and until he address on a regular (daily) basis. Tiger needs to bring along his massage therapist, muscle activation specialist, or other manual therapy expert to help assist him with recovery from round to round, not just week week. The therapist should focus on releasing tightness and fatigue in Tiger’s entire left leg, from foot to hip. In particular, unlock the left ankle with manual therapy on the anterior (front) side of the lower leg while addressing fatigue in the gastroc/soleus areas (calves). This will release the ankle dorsi flexors and allow Tiger to get back into planter flexion during his swing. this will allow Tiger’s body weight to be more evenly distributed towards the middle of the left foot, enabling him to apply the brakes and maintain a better position of his hips at impact.
The biggest contributor to the left Achilles tendon sores in Tiger…Right leg weaknesses. Tiger’s right leg still shows significant signs or weakness. As a result, Tiger’s “new swing” and right leg weaknesses force Tiger to repeatedly overuse his left leg in the swing.
When we look at Tiger’s swing from Bay Hill several flaws show up, which when rested, Tiger is capable of overcoming. However, as soon as fatigue in the left leg sets in, Tiger begins to over-swing with his upper body to compensate for the fatigue on the left leg and weakness on the right leg. At Bay Hill, Tiger’s posture was the most improved I had seen in months. However, when we look closely at his feet during each swing, here is what I see.
1. Tiger’s weight is distributed more towards the middle to front of his feet at address. During his backswing, Tiger’s weight shifts into both heels. It drifts to the outside back heel on his right foot and the inside back heel of his left foot.
2. During his downswing, Tiger’s weight shifts forward towards the center of his feet.
Now here is where the first compensation for weaknesses in his right leg begins to show up…
At Bay Hill, Tiger’s left foot slides open towards his target slightly during his downswing (It appears to rotate open approximately 10 degrees on shorter shots, but closer to 30 degrees on longer shots).
How does this affect Tiger? Well its actually pretty simple.
At Bay Hill, Tiger’s left leg may not have been as fatigued as it appears during the 2012 Masters Championship in which he is currently playing. As a result, when Tiger’s left foot slides open, the weight which has started to transfer from his heel to the middle of his foot actually ends up closer to the front of his left foot. In order to stop the weight from continuing to move forward, Tiger must begin to plantar flex (press downwards) with his left foot (as if to apply the brakes on his lower body during the swing). This natural reaction pf the body to control his balance during his swing actually forces Tiger’s hips to slow their rotation. The benefit of this to Tiger is that the braking action initiated by his feet allows his arm rotation to stay ahead of his hip rotation. This keeps Tiger’s back side (right) arm from getting trapped behind his body.
In the good ole days, Tiger had a problem with over rotating or rushing his hips and getting stuck or trapped behind that rotation. Under Butch Harmon and Hank Haney, Tiger learned to close down his front foot thinking that would slow or limit his hip rotation. This is true but Tiger’s swing mechanics (no reverse weight shift) were so different (as was Tiger’s leg strength) that he was able to overcome the teaching flaw.
In his new swing under Sean Foley, for the first time in his career Tiger Woods is exhibiting major signs of a reverse weight shift (making Tiger Woods play like a mere mortal). The reverse weight shift makes it look as if Tiger is attempting the Stack and Tilt technique on most of his swings off the tee. His short iron shots however, show a lot less signs of reverse weight shifts. This is due largely in part to Tiger’s focus on the shot accuracy as opposed to the added factors of striving for distance and control off the tee.
Now I have not been in sessions with Tiger’s swing coach. But based upon what it appears they are working on with his swing, a part of the blame for the reverse weight shift is Tiger’s new swing mechanics under Foley. But the bigger contributor is the lack of strength and flexibility in Tiger’s right leg.
In his first two days at the Masters 2012, Tiger’s legs appear very fatigued and as a result, he is “over swinging” on all swings of distances over 150 yards. The over swinging shows up as a result of two issues. Weight distribution (in his feet) and hip rotation. Both of these issues are affected by his left leg fatigue.
At Bay Hill, Tiger was able to overcome the weight distribution issues. At the Master’s 2012, Tiger’s inability to control the weight distribution in his feet, is preventing him from controlling the rotation of his hips. As a results, his hips are significantly more open at impact. At Bay Hill, Tiger’s hips appear to be close to 30 degrees at impact (exactly 22.5 degrees open at impact is ideal).
At the Masters 2012, Tiger’s hip rotation appears to rotate way past 30 degrees at impact and is closer to 45 degrees open at impact.
The result for Tiger’s shots with hips too open? Big misses to the left.
At one point during a late round missed shot by Tiger on Friday, one of the ESPN announcers said, “I don’t know what the swing plane is that he’s practicing….”. The announcer was referring to a steep downward practice swing with so much rotation visible that the only place for Tiger to hit the ball was to the left. Maybe he’s got Beyonce’s song playing in his head or perhaps Tiger is just trying to hard. Regardless, for Tiger to win his 15th Major golf tournament, he must correct this early on Saturday or Tiger Woods will continue to struggle up and down the course. If he corrects the problem, Tiger may shoot 65. If he does not, Tiger may shot 75…again.
If Tiger can slow down and swing under control he may yet win the Masters 2012. If he does not, we may see him hobbling around or withdrawing on Sunday again blaming left leg issues.
For the long term..Tiger as a fan, please improve the strength and flexibility of your right leg, from the foot to the hip. Also, please improve the flexibility/mobility of your left leg. Its extremely fatigued. If not, you’ll be under the knife again. At a minimum…Stretch Your Left Quadriceps! Stretch our Left Quadriceps! Stretch Your Left Quadriceps!
Hey Tiger? All the back pain you’re complaining about is not from your back. That’s a symptom of a bigger problem. So the stretching I see you doing periodically to release discomfort in your mid and upper back and into your neck is related to the same issues identified above. It’s all connected.
How will we know if Tiger is going to play well..Watch for this major sign.
When Tiger makes a full swing, pay close attention to his posture at and after impact. If Tiger slides his hips, we won’t see him flow naturally to the upright finish position we saw at Bay Hill 2012. If he does not over slide his hips to the left,Tiger will be able to maintain his swing path through the ball longer and stay on target with each shot. That slide will be evident when we see a lot of side bend at impact and then a second move where Tiger has to stand himself up into the upright posture we saw at Bay Hill. When Tiger is on track, we will see a natural and smooth transition to upright posture at finish. Another quick sign: If Tiger’s right shoulder is point past the target at finish, he is over rotating his hips which allows his shoulders to over rotate. But Tiger and his swing coach must fix the problem not the symptom.
Let’s hope for a smooth fluid swing on Saturday and Sunday so Tiger Woods can win the Masters 2012.