The first round of the 2014 Hyundai Tournament of Champions begins Friday (with a Monday finish) on the Plantation Course at the Kapalua Resort in Maui, Hawaii. And once again we have a stable of thoroughbreds chomping at the bit to get started. In the field of 30, probably none more so than Jordan Spieth.
Last year was an incredible year for Spieth who parlayed sponsor exemptions into good finishes, a rising pile of cash that begat more exemptions and ultimately his first win at the John Deere just before the British Open. That was pretty quick. In the remaining months, he managed to get into the Playoffs and got all the way to the Tour Championship finishing T2. And, demonstrating that he was not some one trick pony, became an obvious Captain’s pick to the United States’ Presidents Cup team.
So you would think that he would have a pretty good handle on his swing. He did when he was on his run because he pretty much let it alone and just went with it. It was a great choice.
But now, with that amazing year under his belt, he’s taken the time to tweak things a bit. And the catalyst for that was his access to his complete PGA Tour stats compiled through the ShotLink system at each tournament. (Click here for a terrific nine-minute video on how ShotLink works.)
But he didn’t get too deep in the weeds, he let his coach do all the analytical work with the data:
Yeah, it’s great. I didn’t look too much into it. My instructor likes to look at that and then he kind of makes it a little more basic. He doesn’t want me digging too much into it in a sense. I agree with him.
So we’ve singled out certain areas that I wanted to improve this off‑season, certain places to spend more time.
But the work began just after the Presidents Cup while he was still actually playing the post-season events:
He also had some ideas once I got a few weeks off and even though I was playing a couple tournaments, I was still working on a couple things, so I had a couple months here where we tweaked my swing a little bit and it seemed to peak about a week ago and started to really come into shape. I played in China, in Tiger’s event and both weeks, I was kind of all over the place in my longer clubs and that was almost expected going in. I was rusty and working on those things.
So I’m not [tinkering] this week, so I have no excuses and I’m ready to play here.
Which is excellent because you really don’t want to be working on your swing when you’re trying to play. You want to be just looking at targets, imagining the shot you want to hit to them, and then making a thoughtless swing that matches reality to the vision.
But what was interesting was what he had been working on; really basic stuff like his grip and really esoteric stuff like loading his weight on his backswing:
We worked a little on my grip and a little on my load on the backswing to kind of flatten the plane down on my downswing, so I was able to hit more draws now. Throughout the season, I worked a little more for whatever reason, playing week‑in and week‑out, I started coming a little more over the top of it and then just playing fades and I wanted to get my natural draw back and so I kind of have both ball flights now instead of being one‑sided [the hallmark of a comprehensive golf game].
He thinks that the subtle over the top flaw came about because of the ardor of playing Tour golf as opposed to college golf where you go weeks between tournaments. And even then there aren’t as many events.
But the trick is to put the swing changes in and then get enough reps in so that you “own” it and don’t have to think about it when you play:
I think so. It was just that many events, your body just wants to do certain things, certain weeks get tired or you’re playing in heavy winds one week and the next week you’re trying to launch it out. You try to do so many different things — or I try to do so many different things yet. I still don’t own my swing yet. I’m not quite to that stage.
The good news is I’m able to make it work if things aren’t going well. But we’re back to a really good point right now where if I get a lot of reps in the beginning of the season, the way that I’ve been practicing the past couple months, should be at a good point in my swing.
And finally, he expanded on what he meant by owning his swing:
I don’t feel that I completely own my swing yet because it does get off in certain areas, the same areas time to time, versus a lot of guys when things get off, it’s something really minor.
Sometimes throughout a season, if my swing can literally look quite a bit different at the end of the season versus the beginning, I don’t feel like I truly own it yet.
So take heart and keep at it. A great natural player like Jordan Spieth loses track of his swing sometimes too. It will be interesting to watch him to see if he’s able to play with that tradelmark freedom that took him so very far last year.