Is Vijay Singh's Golf Swing Costing Him Wins on Tour?

A large number of golf analysts wonder why some of the better players don't stand up to 'challenge' Tiger Woods, as if they were missing some strength of will.

Measuring their swing mechanics, as described in our new book The Efficient Golfer, reveals that their swing problems are holding them back — not lack of will.

Vijay Singh is a good example. Here are some measurements of Vijay's alignment from the front and down the line.

Front Spine Angle

The Front Spine Angle is the number of degrees that the spine tilts away from vertical at address, top of the backswing and impact. For maximum accuracy, the Front Spine Angle should remain constant prior to impact.

At address and at the top of his backswing, Vijay's Front Spine Angle is zero, meaning that his spine is vertical. This is actually less than most tour players, who have a Front Spine Angle at address of 3-11 degrees to their right because they grip their driver with their right hand low. Vijay compensates for his right hand low by dropping his right shoulder, rather than tilting his spine.

But at impact, Vijay has changed his Front Spine Angle 15 degrees, which is at the high end of most other Tour players.

This fault is very common in golfers. In fact, many instructors and golfers praise this position as 'keeping the weight behind the ball'.

But, as pointed out in The Efficient Golfer, increasing your Front Spine Angle at impact opens the clubface, pushing the ball to the right. You can verify this for yourself by standing at address with your driver and tilting your upper body to your right. You will see the club face open.

Ben Hogan popularized this tilt-to-the-right position, which benefited him because he suffered from a vicious left hook. Opening his clubface at impact reduced his tendency to hook the ball.

But for players who are not hookers, the open clubface pushes their ball into the right rough. This is a problem that plagues Tiger Woods, whose tilt-to-the-right-at-impact has increased over the years.

Once they tilt to the right, golfers have to compensate for the open clubface by squaring it up with their hands--a tricky proposition. You have less than 1/30th of a second to do this prior to impact, while the club is traveling over 100 miles an hour and pulling away from you with 100+ lbs. of force. Sometimes you can square it and the ball goes straight; sometimes you overdo it and the ball goes left; and sometimes you are late and the ball goes right. To get it just right requires endless practice.

Weight Shift

Vijay also shifts his weight a lot prior to impact. Again, this is something recommended by most instructors, but it makes good ball contact problematic. As we explain to our clients, trying to hit the ball while shifting your weight to the right and left is like trying to hit the ball from a moving train. Not impossible — just very difficult.

The vertical line drawn through the center of Vijay's hips shows you his weight shift.

Spine Angle

Change in his Front Spine Angle is not the only thing that is costing Vijay accuracy. He also makes an enormous change in his Spine Angle, as seen from down the line.

Here is Vijay at address and at the top of his backswing.

So far, Vijay is picture perfect. His Spine Angle is exactly the same at both positions, and he is within the range of most professional golfers, who are between 25 and 30 degrees at address with their driver.

But his downswing and impact is another story.

Vijay has changed his Spine Angle from 25 degrees at address to just 5 degrees at impact. This 500% change is the biggest Spine Angle change we have ever measured.

It very difficult to make good ball contact when your spine is wandering all over the planet. This is why Vijay has to spend so much time at the practice range. Players with stable Spine Angles can make good ball contact without pounding hundreds of balls every day. One of the best amateur players we worked with, a +2 player, had a Spine Angle of 30 degrees at address, the top of his backswing, and at impact. Because of his busy work schedule (which required a lot of trans-Atlantic travel) he was never able to play more than every other week. He was rarely at the practice range.

Alignment (the angle of your spine from the front and down the line) in the golf swing produces accuracy. The more stable your alignment during your swing, the more accurately you will hit the ball. Singh was 92nd on tour in accuracy off the tee in 2007. Correcting his Spine Angle and Front Spine Angle would greatly improve his accuracy and increase his chances of 'challenging' Tiger Woods.

The Yips

There is another troubling aspect to Vijay's swing, and that is his tendency to maintain his Wrist Angle, the angle between his forearm and club during his swing, as seen from down the line. Here is Vijay's Wrist Angle at address and impact.

Five years of research conducted for The Efficient Golfer revealed that well-known golfers who suffered from the yips (Snead, Hogan, and Trevino) compensated for centrifugal force on the downswing by gripping their driver and woods so hard that they did not allow the 100+ lbs. of centrifugal force generated by their club to extend their arms and club at impact.

Sam Snead

Ben Hogan

Lee Trevino

This strategy allows for better ball striking as the club returns close to the same position at impact as it was at address, and the golfer does not have to change his Spine Angle to compensate for the 6-7" increase in distance between the clubhead and shoulders that takes place when the golfer goes 'ballistic' and lets everything extend, as you see in the photos of Jack Nicklaus below. Nicklaus played for decades without ever developing the yips. He did not over-grip his driver, but rather let it extend at impact. He was able to compensate for the change in his Spine Angle with superior hand-eye co-ordination. The photos below show Nicklaus at address and impact up the line.

The fact that Vijay is not letting his driver extend, that he is fighting centrifugal force in much the same way as Snead and Hogan (by hyper-contracting his forearm muscles), leads us to believe that this is the reason he has switched to the long putter.

Why does fighting centrifugal force cause yips?

Whenever you overuse your muscles (and certainly fighting 100+ lbs. of centrifugal force with your small forearm muscles 100's of times every day on the practice range constitutes overuse), you tear hundreds of the small fibers that make up each muscle. Part of the healing process is the formation of scar tissue in the muscles and in the connective tissues surrounding the muscles. This scar tissue, called "microfibrosis", does not go away once the muscles have healed. In fact, these microfibers tend to accumulate over time, making golfers stiffer as they get older.

We have also found that these microfibers bind tension into place, the tension that was necessary to fight the centrifugal force. When the golfer then has to very lightly grasp the putter, the forearm muscles spasm, and the golfer yips his putt.

Contemporary golfers who suffered from the yips, such as Bernhard Langer, have found that going to the long putter has enabled them to continue to play, although not very well. Using the long putter allows you to use muscles slightly different from the ones which you use to grasp the driver. Our microfibrosis theory of the yips also explains why the 'claw' grip helps yipping putters. Again, the golfer uses muscles that are different, less tense and less torn than the ones used to grip the driver

Even with the long putter, Vijay was 65th in putts per round in 2007, a ranking that makes it difficult for him to 'challenge' Tiger.

What Can Vijay Do to Improve His Ballstriking?

Apart from releasing the microfibers that have already formed in his forearms, what can Vijay do to improve his chance of winning on tour?

A simple solution is one recommended in The Efficient Golfer. Just bring the hands up to the swing plane at address. This would have two beneficial effects. The first is that Vijay could let the club go 'ballistic' at impact, reduce the stress on his forearms, and prevent further microfibers from disposing him to the yips. This would improve his putting.

The second benefit is that he would have less need to change his Spine Angle during his swing. This would improve his accuracy off the tee.

These drawings from The Efficient Golfer show what Vijay's swing would look like with his hands at address and a constant Spine Angle.

Vijay also needs to reduce the change in his Front Spine Angle. He can do this by simply moving the ball back in his stance and keeping his Front Spine Angle vertical. His position at address and impact would look something like this:

When his hands and club always on his swing plane, his spine angles are constant, and his forearms are free of microfibers, it will be very hard for anyone to beat Vijay Singh.