Tiger's 'New' Swing

Now that his knee has been repaired, everyone is talking about Tiger's new swing, including the man himself.

Interestingly, no one has bothered to measure his new swing to see how 'different' it really is.

We did, and the results, while better, are also worse.

Alignment

The main improvement has been his Front Spine Angle. This is the number of degrees his trunk tilts to his right at address and impact.

We have noted over the years that as Tiger's Front Spine Angle at impact has increased, his accuracy has gotten worse.

In our book, The Efficient Golfer, we show a simple experiment you can do at home that demonstrates the importance of your Front Spine Angle.

Just set up with your driver in your address position and tilt your trunk to your right. As you do, you will see that your clubface opens.

 
Small Front Spine Angle                               Increased Front Spine Angle

As you know, an open clubface pushes the ball the right, which is where Tiger has lost most of his errant drives over the years.

The Front Spine Angle is just one part of Alignment. As we have said many times, Alignment is what produces accuracy, not restriction of Range (the five measurable elements of a golf swing are Range, Sequence, Separation, Speed and Alignment).

Let's take a look at Tiger's Alignment over the years.

Tiger 2000 Tiger 2004 Tiger 2009

As you can see, Tiger's Alignment is now better than it was in 2000 when he was winning majors by 12 and 15 strokes. But his Front Spine Angle is still more than double that our golfer who won the US Open as a rookie five weeks after we released her microfibers.

Tiger 2009 Se Ri Pak

Will Tiger return to his winning ways of 2000?

It's unlikely he will as he is using his legs and hips much less, and therefore relying on his upper body more than ever in his swing.

In fact, he continues to post on his left leg, which caused his knee cyst and subsequent operations that de-stabilized his left knee to the point where he needed major reconstruction.

If we contrast his hip rotation at impact in 2000 and 2009, you can see the difference. You can also see the marked difference in the left knee at impact. The old Tiger kept his left knee bent, which reduces strain on the knee and allows for more aggressive use of the legs. At the suggestion of his former coach, he 'snapped' or hyper-extended his left knee in an attempt to get even more distance. The result was strain on that knee, and his subsequent operations. Unfortunately, he continues to straighten his left knee.

Tiger Hips 2000 Tiger Hips 2009

What Should Tiger Be Doing?

It may be helpful to contrast Tiger with another one of our golfers, Joe Dolby.

Joe is 5' 10” and weighs only 150 lbs., compared to Tiger, who is 6' 1” and 185 lbs. (or 23% more mass than Joe). As you know, Force = Mass X Acceleration, so by size alone, Tiger should be driving the ball 23% farther than Joe. But Tiger's average drive is 293.4 yards, while Joe's is 295 yards. Joe blows by his bigger competitors because his swing is more efficient, not because he is bigger and stronger. Joe has never lifted weights because that does not make you efficient—but it does make you stiff.

Let's take a look at the two golfers.

Address

In the photos below, you can see several important differences between the two golfers. The vertical yellow line indicates the equidistant point between their two legs.

Tiger takes a narrow stance with his driver and tees up in front of his left heel.

Joe takes a wide stance, and tees up just ahead of the center of his stance.

A narrow stance prevents you from using your legs effectively. Teeing up forward in your stance means you have to shift your hips forward over the ball at impact.

Tiger @ Address Joe @ Address

The belief among golfers and instructors is that you 'have' to tee up in front of your stance with the driver in order to get any distance. But Joe contradicts this belief with his performance off the tee. Of course, if golf is a religion for you, then beliefs are more important that facts, and you will continue to tee up like Tiger.

Another highly accurate golfer who teed up in the center of his stance was Iron Byron, who hit 280-yard drives into a 10-yard circle all day long. He did this not because he was a machine, but because of his design. If the engineers who built Iron Byron teed up the ball forward in his stance, he never would have hit it.

The ball has to be just a fraction of an inch forward of the bottom of your driver's arc in order to make good ball contact. If you tee up opposite your left heel, you have to shift your weight forward to make ball contact; otherwise you would just top the ball.

You are then, literally, trying to hit a 1.5” golf ball from a moving train as you shift forward. This is a sure recipe for ball-contact error.

Here is Tiger's address position compared to Iron Byron.

Tiger @ Address Iron Byron @ Address

Backswing

Having already adopted an address position that will give him trouble, Tiger further compounds his problems at the top of his backswing.

We first measure his Arm Angle, or how much he lifts his left upper arm above horizontal.

Tiger, as you can see below, brings his left upper arm only 68° above horizontal, while Joe brings his up a full 90°. This additional 22° of arm lift gives Joe more time and distance to get his club head up to speed by the time of impact. This means that Joe can hit the diver farther than Tiger with less effort.

Tiger, on the other hand, has to violently contract all the muscles of his upper body to match Joe's club head speed. We all know that we are not as accurate when we exert maximum effort our drives. So why does Tiger do this?

Paradoxically, it is a vain attempt to increase his accuracy. The belief (there's that word again) among golfers and instructors is that restricting range-of-motion during the backswing is the best way to increase accuracy. Since stiff golfers cannot easily get their left arm to 90°, restricting their Arm Angle may make some sense, but why not just increase their flexibility instead?

Hopefully, Tiger has not lost so much flexibility that he has to restrict his Arm Angle. But since weight lifting builds muscle mass by tearing muscles fibers and forming scar tissue, perhaps Tiger has lost flexibility in his shoulders and now has to swing like an old man. That would be a shame, given he is still in his prime as a golfer.

Tiger Arm Angle Joe Arm Angle

Shoulder Turn Angle

Tiger is also restricting the turn of his shoulders. Again, this type of restriction is part of the current orthodoxy in golf—a game where you have to propel the ball farther than any other sport. Restricting the Range golfers turn away from the ball only restricts their ability to generate club head speed. By restricting his Shoulder Turn Angle, you force a golfer to overuse his back muscles to generate club head speed, and this leads to lower back strain and overuse of the arm muscles in order to make up for the lack of shoulder turn. It only makes sense if the golfer is very stiff, in which case it would be better just to increase his flexibility.

Tiger Shoulder Turn Angle Joe Shoulder Turn Angle

By the way, if 138° of shoulder turn seem excessive, keep in mind that Sam Snead turned his shoulders away from the ball 140° and won more professional tournaments than any golfer in history.

Hip Rotation Angle

Finally, we come to the worst part of Tiger's backswing: his ridiculously restricted hip rotation angle. After Jim McLean wrote his article on the 'Y' factor (the greater the differential between the rotation of the shoulders and hips at the top of the backswing the more distance on the driver), golfers and instructors have been on a crusade to restrict hip turn.

It would have made more sense if they just increased the flexibility of the trunk.

But, of course, that is not possible with stretching. Stretching does not make much of a measurable improvement in flexibility as most golfers have microfibers (scar tissue) throughout their trunk that they developed from playing hockey, football, baseball, basketball and rugby when young. As we all know, you can't stretch out scar tissue, so stretching is of limited use for men. Women, on the other hand, who have not played contact sports or lifted weights (which also creates scar tissue) can benefit from stretching.

As we will see later in this article, there is fortunately an alternative to stretching that can help a golfer achieve the minimum ranges he needs to have an efficient swing. In the meantime, turn your hips as far as you comfortably can.

The reason you want to turn your hips more away from the ball is that it gives your hips more time to get up to speed at impact. The kinetic (movement) energy generated by accelerating the mass of your hips will then be transmitted by your trunk and arms to the club, generating effortless club head speed at impact.

Tiger Hip Rotation Angle Joe Hip Rotation Angle

Cast Point

The Cast Point is the point in the downswing when the left arm is 45 degrees below horizontal, or the hands are at the hips. This is a convenient point to measure casting and also hip speed.

As you can see from the photos below, neither Tiger nor Joe casts his club at all. In fact, Tiger is deeper into his golf swing and so casts even less than Joe. This is the one saving grace in his swing that allows him to hit the ball as far as he does.

Tiger Cast Angle Joe Cast Angle

Hip Rotation Angle @ Cast Point

Efficient golfers all have the same downswing sequence. They fire their legs first, then rotate their hips, followed by shoulder rotation, arm pull and finally extending the wrists. This sequence is the same one used by NASA to put satellites into orbit. The lowest stage fires first, followed by the second, third, etc.

For this reason, we say that a golfer is basically placing the club head in an orbit around his body by using his body as a five-stage rocket. The club head, in turn, places the ball in a small, short orbit around the earth by the force of its impact.

We have illustrated our concept below. The legs are Stage 1, the hips Stage 2, the trunk and shoulders Stage 3, the arms Stage 4 and the hands Stage 5.

As with all rockets, the biggest, most powerful stages are at the bottom and the smaller, less powerful stages are toward the top.

Stage 2, the hips, is our present focus. 

 
Rocket Man--An Efficient Golfer

As we mentioned before, Force = Mass X Acceleration. If you want to increase the force generated by your hips you can either overeat and gain a lot of weight around your hips (unattractive and unhealthy) or you can speed them up.

How fast you turn your hips can be gauged by their position at Cast Point. If you are accelerating them at a good clip, they will be a minimum of 45 degrees open at Cast Point, as you see with Joe below.

Tiger, on the other hand, has had to spend so much time shifting his hips that he has only been able to rotate them open 5 degrees. This, again, is the hallmark of a golfer in his late 60's, not someone in his prime.

A golfer has only a few 1/30th of a second to get his hands from the top of the backswing to Cast Point. Every 1/30th you waste shifting the hips is a 1/30th you don't rotate. (We use 1/30th of a second to measure because that is the time of one frame of video).

It is understandable that Tiger did not rotate his hips much when his knee was unstable. But now that it is repaired, there is no reason not to use his hips to their fullest. It is as if a NASA engineer said “Let's just use 1/9 of the fuel in the second stage” and yet still hoped to get his satellite into orbit.

When the hips don't contribute to club head speed, you have to make up for it by using other muscles—notably the right obliques. Unfortunately, as you contract the right obliques you also increase your Front Spine Angle, which decreases your accuracy. 

Tiger-Hip Rotation Angle @ Cast Joe-Hip Rotation Angle @ Cast

You can see in the photos above, how much more aggressively Joe uses his legs and hips to drive the ball—which is why he can average 295 yards at only 150 lbs.

Distance and Accuracy without Drugs or Weights

The underlying assumption amongst all athletes these days is that muscles are critical to success in sports. This has been reinforced by the rampant use of steroids in baseball and football, and the success of some golfers after lifting weights.

In reality muscles (from the Latin for 'mouse') are not all that important.

The brain is really much more important for success in sports than the muscles. The image you have in your mind of the golf swing will determine, in large part, how successful you are on the course. Unfortunately, most golfers have a faulty image and are completely unaware of it. Much of the work we do with golfers at our Institute in Tiburon, CA, is identifying and correcting faulty images.

The current crop of instructors and golf magazines promulgates this faulty image of a restricted golf swing. They are all under the spell of Saint Hogan who played better after restricting his swing following a horrendous automobile accident. Hogan, who was an inveterate hooker, also shifted his hips first on his downswing, which, unbeknownst to him, corrected his hook by opening his clubface. As a result, millions of golfers who are not hookers push the ball into the right rough.

To find golfers who are efficient, you have to go back a long way in golf when golfers were self-taught and did not lift weights. You also have to look at a non-golfer (Iron Byron) to learn a new image of an accurate swing.

Your muscles respond to the image in your brain. They do not have a mind of their own. The expression 'muscle memory' is inaccurate. Muscles do not have the capacity to remember anything. What is taken for 'muscle memory' are just pathways in the brain that have been reinforced by practice.

Even most of the gains from weight lifting are in the brain.

A common assumption is that each muscle is connected to the brain by a single nerve. The only way to make the muscles stronger is to lift weights and make them bigger.

While muscles do get bigger from lifting weights, it is only because weight lifting tears thousands of the tens of thousands of individual fibers that make up each muscle. As these torn fibers repair themselves, they become bigger and stronger.

But increased size accounts for only 10% of the gain in strength.

The other 90% occurs in the brain. This is because each muscle is connected to the brain by tens of thousands of individual nerves, each connected to an individual muscle fiber within the muscle. Your brain determines the strength of any contraction by recruiting or firing more or less individual muscle fibers.

This is why, under circumstances of severe stress, small individuals have been known to lift a car off an injured person. Their brain contracted all of their fibers.

Unfortunately, we cannot will ourselves to fire all our individual fibers, so we have to train the brain to recruit (contract) more of the fibers in each muscle.

It is better to train the brain using a large number of repetitions with light resistance. In this way, you don't tear the individual fibers and create scar tissue. This is why we recommend golfers use our Power Hip Trainer to train their hip muscles, which are really the heart of the swing.

Creating scar tissue is the downside to lifting. It has affected the careers of many top golfers, including David Duvall and Annika Sorenstam, among others. In fact, most of the work we have done with professional golfers is undoing the damage caused by lifting weights.

Scar tissue, of course, is a form of connective tissue. In sports, your connective tissue is actually more important than your muscles. It is the connective tissue between your muscles that determines your flexibility.

Normally, the connective tissue membranes (white) between the muscles (red) are smooth. They allow the muscles to slide past each other, which they have to do in order to stretch.

But when you have even a mild injury (falls on court), overuse (lifting weights, running) or stress , microfibers form as part of the healing process to immobilize the area. Microfibers are nature's internal cast.

Unfortunately, once the area has healed, the microfibers not only do not go away, they tend to accumulate over time, making athletes stiffer with age.

Since most golfers were active as kids, and many played contact sports such as football and hockey, or were knocked down while playing soccer or basketball, or slid into base in baseball, or lifted weights at the behest of their instructor or friends, most golfers will have a damaged connective tissue system. The microfibers that they have developed will not allow their muscles to slide past each other, and therefore they will not have the flexibility they need to play golf.

How much flexibility do you need for an efficient swing?

We have not had the chance to measure Tiger's flexibility, so we do not know how much he has lost from lifting weights. Ten years ago, a golfer saw Tiger lifting in a training room and warned him that lifting will reduce flexibility. His response was “I am already too flexible”. Apparently losing flexibility was part of Tiger's goal in lifting. It's good that whoever told him he was too flexible did not get his hands on Sam Snead. Snead was the most flexible golfer of all time (he could kick his cleats into the top of a door frame in his 70's) and also won the most professional tournaments of all time.

Here are some minimum ranges you need for an efficient golf swing.

 
Internal Hip Rotation—to rotate your hips away from the ball

 
Shoulder Rotation—to rotate your shoulders away from the ball

 
Arm Flexion—for a vertical arm on your backswing

 
Neck Rotation—to keep both eyes on the ball on your backswing

If you do not have at least these ranges, your connective tissue system has already been damaged by scar tissue that is keeping you from playing your best golf.

Fortunately, this scar tissue can be released with Microfiber Reduction, which will improve your flexibility far beyond what stretching alone can do.

Tiger's Goal

If Tiger's goal is to be the best golfer of all time, he might take some lessons from the golfer who won the most professional tournaments of all time, Sam Snead.

Tiger Arm Angle Sam Arm Angle

Tiger Shoulder Turn Angle Sam Shoulder Turn Angle

Tiger Hip Rotation Angle Sam Hip Rotation Angle

Conclusion

While Tiger has improved his Front Spine Angle, which will improve his accuracy off the tee (he was second this year in driving accuracy at Memorial), his egregious restriction in hip rotation will make it difficult for him to return to the halcyon days of 2000 when he won majors by 12 and 15 strokes. When you restrict your main power source (hip rotation) in golf, you have to make up for it in your arms. Since the arms are much smaller than the hips and legs, this means much more effort with every shot.

As golfers everywhere know, effort is the archenemy of a good round of golf.

Golfers and instructors should finally abandon the Hogan paradigm that restriction improves accuracy. After all, the paradigm is 50 years old. It worked for one chain-smoking golfer 50 years ago, but it hasn't improved Tiger or other golfers in the long run. While there may be some initial improvement, back and shoulder injuries are far more common on tour today because of a restricted backswing. Do you want to be a broken golfer because you copied someone from 50 years ago?

It's time to move on.