Tiger Woods: Back In The Crosshairs

I recently spent some time with swing coach Butch Harmon at his studio at Rio Secco in Nevada, where I had the opportunity to view a great collection of old Tiger Woods footage. At his best, I donʼt think you would ever find a swing that possessed a more beautiful combination of power, balance and rhythm. It was a far cry from Tiger’s performance at this past week’s PGA Championship, one of his worst ever in a major. Was it so long ago that Tiger looked like a sure bet to best Jack Nicklausʼ record 18 Major Championship victories? With the steady ascension of Rory McIlory, a clear power shift is occurring in the world of golf. We knew Rory was a special talent, however, no one expected Tiger Woods to make the rise appear so easy. Even Jack Nicklaus himself has turned his attention to McIlroy saying he believes Rory can claim “As many as 15-20 Majors!”

Watching Rory’s confident swagger as he marched down the 17th fairway certainly makes it look like he can’t be stopped. His impressive ball striking and chiseled body reminds us of an earlier version of Woods himself. It also reminds us, that when it comes to performance, looking great and “feeling” great are two very different things. Real fitness, is when your body supports your ability to go out and effectively do the things you love. In the case of Woods or a recreational golfer, there’s nothing more frustrating than when you can’t express your true talent because of limitations within your physicality. You might ask how a human cyborg with a 30 inch waist and shoulders like John Elway is constantly hurt playing a game that can be enjoyed by any beer guzzling weekend warrior?

You might ask how a human cyborg with a 30 inch waist and shoulders like John Elway is constantly hurt playing a game that can be enjoyed by any beer guzzling weekend warrior?

The fact is, Tiger has a long history of setbacks dating to his days at Stanford. His list of ailments reads like an NFL injury report. Surgeries to remove benign tumors, scar tissue and cysts, ruptured ACL, torn achilles, multiple stress fractures, elbow strain, neck pain, back spasms and now multiple times under the knife on the back as well. The man heʼs chasing, Jack Nicklaus, never had any injuries during his career. Oh, he did have minor knee surgery at the age of 44 from a tweak suffered playing tennis, but then won the Skinʼs Game just seventeen days following the procedure. Two years later he claimed his final Major winning the Masters at the age of 46. Whether you’re chasing a record, or simply hoping to consistently have fun with the game, the secret to success seems to be all about longevity.

So what gives with Woods? Golf Fitness Professional, Don Imamura, who owns Functional Integrated Training in Carmel, says “Once an injury takes place a pattern of compensation often follows.” According to Imamura, “The body is always looking to alleviate pain. While it protects one area, another area can become compromised creating an entirely different issue.” Following Tigerʼs missed cut at the PGA Championship, he remarked that he needed to get back in the gym and get stronger. Imamura agrees. “Tigerʼs not referencing the kind of power-based strength most people are thinking about. With a back injury such as his, he needs to strengthen the glutes, while working to maximize hip mobility.”

So what about swing technique? Some critics think a change in coaching and swinging   style are in order. Perhaps a move back to Harmon who coached a little more lateral freedom in Woodsʼ previous form would provide his body with some relief. This past week I reviewed some recent footage that showed Tigerʼs shoulders unreasonably closed at impact, while his hips were rotated well open to the left. This stark difference in upper and lower body rotation, coupled with right side bending under speed and pressure can put tremendous strain on the lower back.

Does Foley have the answer? Will Woods migrate back to the future? Only time will tell, but the clock is ticking on history and Tiger knows it. So what can you do if your back is keeping you on ice? According to Imamura, “80% of people experience back pain at some point in life, and not all back pain is the same. “The best thing to do is get screened by a qualified professional and then devise a strategy that builds increased strength and mobility for sustainable pain free living on and off the course.”

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