A Sports Kinesiologist’s Take: Why Tiger Woods Really Lost the Pro-Am (and Why He Might Continue to Lose)


While national golf writers are trying to spin some optimism into Tiger’s performance at the Pro-Am Chevron World Challenge and are looking to what’s next for the superstar , I look at things through a kinesiologist’s spyglass. My review of Tiger Woods to date: He’s just an above average player now. However, although he has tumbled from superstar athlete to merely above average golfer status doesn’t mean that a new and improved Tiger Woods can’t emerge.

3-D biomechanical comparisons from his performances in 2007 versus his current performance reveal a number of issues with his swing and his body’s overall health. The 3-D schematics show what the naked eye cannot see.

In figure 1, Tiger’s body might look perfectly straight. However, the measurements tell a different story. Instead of being straight, the data measures about 13 degrees of side bend. The next measurement registers 17 degrees of side bend and that four degrees (though microscopic) could magnify the margin of error as the club makes contact with the ball. In addition, that 4 degrees can turn into plus or minus 12 degrees of hip or shoulder rotation, causing Tiger to push the ball to the right, or a big hooking swing pulling the ball to the left.

In recent performances, Tiger (while thinking his swing is getting better) is actually sliding his body weight into his front side hip more than he thinks to compensate for the weaknesses in his right and left side. Where Tiger’s spine alignment is in relationship to his pelvis, significantly impacts the repeatability of his swing (causing under or over shoulder rotation). In a perfect swing, both legs should be heading towards extension combined with rotation of the pelvis and shoulders.

The right leg should be measure 12 degrees of bend at the knee, indicating muscles firing on the back and front of the back leg. In the ideal world, the left should be exactly zero degrees of knee bend. Instead, Tiger’s knees, in recent performances, have shown 41.4 degrees in the right leg (indicating weak calves, glutes, and hamstring muscles) and 12 in the left (indicating weak calves, and quadriceps muscles—no brakes on the car). In other words, instead of extending his knees on the way to his finish position, Tiger’s weaknesses (and many other average golfers) cause him to lean to the weaker side (evidence that the muscles in his legs are not doing their job).

When you look at the success of any athlete, you need to understand how they use their body; how they use it both efficiently and inefficiently. You need to understand how the body compensates for injury and weakness (we don’t always know to address). The cardinal rule is: The body finds a way to perform the task at hand…and, as a kinesiologist, I try to understand physical limitations or weaknesses the body is attempting to compensate for and how that impacts performance.

Visually, Tiger’s swing has changed completely. Instead of using his left leg to stabilize himself and keep his balance, he is now using his left leg as an accelerator (to help initiate his swing). This is the opposite of what Tiger did as a healthier, superstar golfer. The Old Tiger would use his left leg as the brake, instead of the gas. Why? Tiger (in concert with his old and new swing coach) may not be aware of the purpose of his right leg versus his left leg to his performance. Tiger’s left side and leg are weak in specific areas due to multiple injuries and surgeries. In 2008, he had knee surgery reconstruction his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). At that same time, Tiger has gone on record stating that he also suffered a partially torn achilles tendon. During the drama of his personal life, there was an extensive (crucial) period in rehab where he wasn’t working out which affected his long term healing process. Oh sure, the pain and soreness went away, but if Tiger wasn’t addressing the weaknesses during that crucial period, when he came back to golf, his body had already developed compensatory patterns to make up for the weaknesses.

Tiger’s new strategy with golf swing coach Sean Foley forces him to rely on his already fatigued left side in order to strengthen it. It is a longer term strategy that might be fraught with side-effects and, eventually, injury.

At Chevron, Tiger talked about his swing: “I lost my swing in the middle part of the round, and pieced it back together again,” he said. “I was proud of that. I was very committed coming in, and hit some really, really good shots, which was good. Unfortunately, during the middle part of the round, I lost all those shots,” he said. “And Graeme was playing really well.”

The truth is…Tiger didn’t lose his swing, his body could not repeat the swing because it is the opposite of what he learned to do for over 30 years on the road to becoming the Tiger the golf world feared.  Tiger, its not your swing…it’s your body!  Hank Haney couldn’t fix your swing for the same reason’s he couldn’t improve Charles Barkley’s swing on his TV show. THE SWING IS AFFECTED BY THE BODY!!!!!  You have knee problems related to weakness which affect your swing, Tiger! Charles has knee problems for the same reasons that affect his swing.

Graeme McDowell won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, won the final match for Europe at Ryder Cup and became the first player to beat Woods when trailing by at least three shots going into the final round. He is the first person to be able to beat Woods in the last 24 attempts.

The Old Tiger invoked a fear of invincibility. In the old days, we could expect Tiger to regularly dominate the leaderboard.  This invincibility was because Tiger’s worst round would was consistently within 4-5 strokes of his best round. That domination requires both mental concentration and a healthy body to repeat the swing. However, a healthy body also requires use of the entire body and if Tiger simply tweaks a few areas of weakness in his body he can return to his former greatness and best Jack Nicolaus’ record.

Here is my prescriptive sports treatment to help Tiger get his game back:

TIGER…CHANGE YOUR WORKOUT ROUTINE!!! Perform exercises to isolate your true weaknesses (forget about “functional training, you need to isolate your weaknesses). And after

  1. Work on single leg balance with your eyes closed until you can stand on each leg (with all muscles contracting from your foot to your glutes).  When you can stand on one each leg for 3 minutes without losing your balance you’ve made significant improvements.  That little burning feeling in the bottom of your foot Tiger is a sign of weakness, so don’t ignore it.
  2. Perform single leg calf raises on both legs.  You injuries on your left leg have made it weak in specific areas. Improve the weakness in your foundation.
  3. Perform Single Leg (prone) hamstring curls. (Be careful not to use your lower back by arching to make up for the weakness in your hamstrings) If any joint other than you knee moves, you’re cheating. So isolate the weak muscle. This may mean humbling yourself by not looking at the weight on the machine but identifying whether or not you feel the hamstring curls only in your legs (place more emphasis on the right leg)
  4. Finally, Perform single leg hops on both legs (forwards, backwards, and to both the left and the right). Hold one knee up towards your chest to help ensure you are allowing your glutes to help you stabilize your hips as you hop. 2-3 sets of 40 yards of hopping on each leg in each direction.  Work up to it though so you can take the time to do it right.
  5. Stretch you quadriceps by laying down on a bench in a lunge position and bending your knee (while your thigh is braced against the bench!!!!!!

If Tiger Woods want to dominate the next 5 years of golf like he did before, he should follow one simple motto: My body and my swing are one!!!!!!  Hello World!

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With over 18 years of experience in health, fitness, and sports performance improvement, Mr. Ziegler has helped some of the world’s best athletes find their groove in baseball, Olympic softball, basketball, football and many other sports. Learn more in About Zig Ziegler, Sports Kinesiologist.


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