The three total makeovers of his golf swing that Tiger Woods, the greatest player of his generation, has done over the last two decades have defied logic to all in the know about the professional game. Yet, as you can read in this article by Scott Eden in ESPN The Magazine called “Stroke of Madness”, the athleticism that Tiger was born with has allowed him to venture where few golfers have gone before. The motivation for this madness, according to Tiger, is “only two players have ever truly owned their swings: Moe Norman and Ben Hogan. I want to own mine”.
In 1997 after having won three U.S. Amateurs, five tour events (including a major), and being ranked #2 in the world, Tiger and Butch Harmon set about tearing down and rebuilding his golf swing to eliminate a flaw, getting stuck on the downswing, that Tiger had successfully managed from his earliest days of swinging a golf club. In 1999 he claimed to his teacher that he “got it” and went on a tear of professional wins, including four majors in a row, that stunned the golfing world and vindicated his decision to mess with his swing. Butch, when asked at this point if there was anything Tiger should change replied, “The only thing I’d change right now if I were Tiger is the route I took to the bank”.
Yet in 2004 Tiger’s perfectionist mind was unsettled again in search of a motivating challenge and true ownership of his swing. Version 3.0 was fashioned over the next five years under the watchful eye of Hank Haney as he rounded and flattened his swing, laying the club off at the top in an effort to improve his driving accuracy and eliminate his age old problem of getting stuck on the downswing. Another impressive run of victories followed, and since the Haney swing change, he had won 31 more tour events, including 6 more majors and held the #1 spot on the World Golf Rankings for what seemed like an eternity.
By 2010 inject a knee reconstruction and incalculable mental baggage from the fallout of the fire hydrant incident in 2009 and Tiger was playing the worst golf of his professional career and searching once again for a swing makeover to take him back to the pinnacle of the professional game. The unlikely choice to help him get there was the heady Canadian instructor Sean Foley, who preached a wonky version of the Stack & Tilt method. This may have been the most radical change yet for Tiger and it clearly brought about the most vitriolic criticism. Tiger was now preaching the value of TrackMan technology and it’s resultant data to corroborate improvements in spin rates, ball speeds, swing angles, and resultant trajectory from his latest technique. A feel player most of his life he seemed to have traveled to the dark side accepting these “numbers” as the true metric of the state of his game.
The jury is still out on Version 4.0 as Tiger has made steady improvement the last two years but inconsistency in short iron distance control and putting in the big events have denied him from adding to his major victory totals in pursuit of the ultimate record, Jack’s 18 career major wins.
In this article, Eden concludes that Tiger’s quest is not over. He says the flaw appeared for Tiger at age 3 in “the earliest footage of Tiger Woods’ earliest swing, a Zapruder film for golfing Nerds” from The Mike Douglas Show. It still haunts him to this day. Because of the obsessive nature of his perfectionist personality, Tiger seems destined to hounding a swing flaw he could “spend his entire career striving to erase”.
ESPN The Magazine
You can also view some great time phase photographs of Tiger’s swing development from 1992 to 2011 by viewing the moegolf posting called “Time Phase Tiger” based on a Golf Digest article from 2011.