Pulling for Tiger to Win the 2012 British Open

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Tiger Woods at Bay Hill
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Tiger Woods, the greatest golfer of all time, has battled injuries and pain his entire career.  “Most people don’t know this Zig but Tiger’s back hurts every day,” Charles Barkley once said to me about Tiger in 2005 on a call as he invited me to meet him and Tiger for drinks at a Scottsdale nightclub.

Because Tiger failed to treat the root cause of his issues, less than 3 years later his career was in jeopardy after undergoing his third knee surgery. Tiger tore the anterior cruciate ligament in 2008 while winning the US Open at Torrey Pines.  Tiger showedd signs that his body was breaking down from compensating for the root cause of his injuries.  Tiger experienced  pain and suffered injuries to his Achilles tendon, left knee, right knee, lower back, and upper back.

As a result of Tiger’s injuries, his swing suffered.  Tiger’s “expert” swing coaches constantly tweaked his swing to fix his golf issues as he struggled on the course from 2009 to early in this year’s 2012 season. In my opinion, those coaches needed to focus on suggesting Tiger fix his slumping fitness level and fully recover from chronic injuries.

Unfortunately, the latter was not likely to happen because none of the experts surrounding Tiger seemed to be aware of the need to aggressively focus on the physical limitations and compensation affecting his swing. Sure, like many other world class athletes, Tiger is perceived to have the best swing coach and one of the top medical teams (fitness, physical and massage therapists, chiropractors, etc.) who all may want to say they helped Tiger become number 1 or get back on top of his game.   In reality, Tiger makes his coaches look good not the other way around.  Working with Tiger or other high profile athletes does not make them the best.

Tiger is the one on the course and doing the exercises.  And it is his work ethic that allowed or allows him, from the start of his career, to overcome chronic compensations for his pain and injuries. In addition, Tiger has been so much better than everyone else during his career “talent-wise”, that a 50% healthy Tiger  was typically better than 75% of his competition.   As I write this Tiger is preparing to tee off in his third major of the year, the 2012 British Open.

Based upon his efforts to date, Tiger’s body (not his swing) seems to be rounding into shape just in time to win a major.  This could be his weekend to win his first major golf tournament since the 2008 US Open.  But take nothing for granted, Tiger has worked hard to get here.  No one discusses what he’s doing off the course, but if Tiger wins, his swing coach will get credit for bringing him back.  At the end of the day, it’s Tiger Woods return to fitness that will give him the edge he once enjoyed. Oh, Tiger still has more work to do on his body, but he is much closer to getting healthier and fully recovering from the knee injuries and physical limitations.

Team Tiger should get some credit if he wins, but the bulk of the victory is Tiger’s to celebrate. And by the grace of God, from whom he draws his strength, I believe Tiger will demonstrate his return to glory and win one of the two remaining majors this year and the Master in 2013.

If Tiger wins, let’s not crown his swing coach as “the greatest”, but give Tiger his due for working so hard to get back on top.  Tiger is a gift from God and we have all been blessed to have been able to enjoy his golfing career.  The bottom line is that we give too much credit to experts who list names of famous people as their clients.  They may be the best at promoting and building their business but that does not make them the best in their field.  If that were true, Hank Haney would have finally fixed Charles Barkley’s dreadful golf swing.  Sorry Charlie…had to say that.  It’s Charles’ injury history that affects his swing.  There is no amount of instruction alone that will help Charles.

I may not the best at choosing business partners, promoting or building a business, or filing paperwork.  However, I pride myself on conducting thorough evaluations and asking questions to determine the root cause of an injury.  But that alone doesn’t even make me the best Sports Kinesiologist on the planet (yet).   My philosophy is to strive to help lead my clients to solutions for them individually, regardless of the ability level they’ve achieved. I am thankful God has given me the opportunity to work to provide the best services I can to so many of the world’s greatest athletes and anyone who just wants to get back in the game.

No “expert” has any idea how to treat the root cause of your injury until we ask your body some questions. This is done by objectively evaluating your current movement patterns AND injury history.  But regardless, unless we measure, we are guessing.   And while I have written or offered my opinion after evaluating video footage in some cases, I don’t like to guess.  My goal for you as a reader is simple. Ask questions not for references.  The way your questions are answered will let you know more than the feedback you get from hand picked references.

Only time will tell if Tiger is addressing his true deficiencies.  But as a fan, I certainly hope he wins the 2012 British Open.  And I’ll be up early on Thursday morning watching.

Go get’em, Tiger! May God Bless You.

Follow Zig Ziegler, The Sports Kinesiologist on Twitter @zigsports

Tiger: Still Inconsistent? The Sports Kinesiologist Zig Ziegler’s Biomechanics Review

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?

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When kneeling, we can see Tiger supporting the majority of his body weight on the left leg. This can be seen as an indication tightness and weakness in his right leg.

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.

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

PRO-AM REVIEW: “TIGER, JUST AN ABOVE AVERAGE PLAYER NOW.”

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.