There’s one way to get a tiger out in the open and that’s to bait him with delicacies he can’t resist.
In the case of the Tiger, all you have to do is get him to one of his tournaments that raises money for his foundation for children. There he seems to have infinite patience for his media obligations as the tournament host.
And so, he spent quite a bit of time talking about the details of his new sponsor for his World Challenge, Hero MotoCorp based in India. They are the largest manufacturer of motorcycles and scooters in the world. There were some niceties early on with its CEO, Pawan Mujal, about their sponsorship and endorsement deal with Tiger, but everyone was politely waiting for the golf stuff. And Tiger didn’t disappoint.
He went on at some length about how he finally decided to change the direction he was going with his swing and how his good friend Notah Begay was instrumental in that:
“Having a person that I have always had a lot of trust and have had a deep friendship with, being Notah Begay; Notah and I go back to the time I was — we’ve known each other almost 30 years now. I really value his opinion, and he came to me with some information about my stats, and really had a — we had a pretty long conversation about where I was, where I need to go and where I’m at now.”
“He suggested he might know a guy named Chris Como; do you really — if you’re up to it, I can arrange a meeting with him and we can talk about swing philosophies and the whole deal. I said, yeah, at the time, not really, not yet. But eventually I came around to it.”
“I was very surprised and very excited to see what [Chris] felt my swing should look like and should look like going forward, because that was very similar to the vision I had. So that’s where we’re at right now.”
Tiger had been looking at old videos of his swing dating back to his amateur days and he was seeing things in them that were missing in his modern swing. And so he decided on his own that it was time to explore what brought him his early phenomenal success:
“Well, it is new, but it’s old. When I say that — because I haven’t done it in a very long time. We looked at a lot of video from when I was a junior, in junior and amateur golf, way before ‑‑ even when I came out there and had some really nice years where I hit the ball really well. We went back to some of those old videos and really looked at it.”
“And it was quite interesting to see where my swing was then and how much force I could generate with a very skinny frame. How did I do that? How do I generate that much power? That’s kind of what we are getting back into it.”
But what exactly was it that precipitated this kind of dramatic reversal from what he’d been working on with Sean Foley over the last four years?
“Well, I think that physically, I just wasn’t able to do some of the things that we wanted to do in the golf swing. That’s one of the neat things about our transition out of a working relationship is that we are still very good friends and we still needle each other quite a bit on texting. So that part has been fantastic but on a professional level, I think I needed to go a different direction.”
“When I did, I just sat back and basically during my rehab process and didn’t really have to do anything. I wasn’t going to play for a while, and just wanted to kind of soak everything in and really have a clear plan of where I wanted to go.”
“And also, do I really want to change my golf swing again, and how much do I want to change it and where am I going to go with it. These are all questions that I just sat back and took a few months away from it and started developing that answer and ways to go about it.”
So just how is his back after his disc surgery? Is he capable of going full out with his swing yet?
“No. It feels great. It feels fantastic. I’ve done the proper rehab. I’ve gotten stronger. I’ve gotten more explosive. I’ve gotten faster.”
“All of the things — I just now need to hit more balls, but the body is good. It’s nice to have — I don’t have the sharp pain like I used to at the beginning of the year. I don’t have that anymore. I still have some aches and pains, just like anybody else who is my age and older — you (laughter).”
“But I don’t have to do — I’m past the rehab portion of it, and now I’m in the strength development of it, and I don’t have to do those tedious little rehab exercises. I can basically play with my kids and do whatever I want. We’ve been playing a ton of soccer in the backyard [3½ acre golf practice facility] just about every day.”
He’s been working on this “back-to-the-future” approach with Como for a month or so. Just how significant are these changes going to be?
“Like I said, it’s new but old. The reason why I said it that way is I just haven’t done it in a long time but my body is remembering it. The motor patterns, you develop all these different motor patterns in one’s career. It’s familiar, so it has not taken me that long to implement it.”
“I just need to, as I said, I need to hit more balls and get more reps, especially under competition, I want to see where it’s at. I’m very pleased with my speed and the freedom I have and what I’ve been doing with the golf ball.”
So could he compare his optimism now with where it was when he tried to come back for his tournament at Congressional?
“Well, I just had hit driver for the first time the Thursday before I committed. I committed the very next day. I was going to — well, this is how I put it: I was going to hit less drivers in a tournament round than I would in practice, so I might as well give it a go, and I did.”
“And unfortunately, I wasn’t ready. I didn’t play very well, and it showed. My scores were awful. Missed the cut there and I played poorly at the British. Played poorly at Akron and played poorly at the PGA. Nothing was very good.”
“So having the next few months off, being able to get my body stronger, but also as I said earlier, trying to really understand where I want to go with my golf swing. And having an old motor pattern that I know has made the transition so much easier.”
And at last there’s clarity on just what the relationship with Como will be. He referred to him as a “consultant” when he announced the relationship and how his work with him will be different than with his previous coaches. The good news in his answer is that it does not appear that Como will be installing another modern day, biomechanical swing. They are going down the traditional road together:
‘Yes, because I wanted to, I had this plan in my head of where I wanted to go and what I want my swing to look like and what I want to get out of my body and out of my game.”
“I just needed to align myself with a person that felt the same way. Chris fits that for sure.”
Does he think that he’d gotten too technical with his swing over these last few years?
“Well, I think that I got into — just like I think a lot of people in this generation, the new information of TrackMan [the radar-based golf ball tracking device], and trying to get the numbers [ball spin rate, launch angle, etc.] to jive and trying to get the motions to match. And I think that that’s been extremely informative because it’s helped me during this process, but it’s not the only thing I’m going to do.”
“Still retain the feel in my hands and how I hit golf shots; but also I have an understanding that if I do something, these numbers should be like this. Because I didn’t have that understanding and I didn’t have that basis when I worked — when I was going into working with Sean.”
“So that was very new. That’s something that I think that is very helpful but can’t be the end of all things.”
In responding to a question about how long this transition was going to take, Tiger gave us a pretty good feel for the things he’ll be looking for in order to know. He also fleetingly offers up the possibility that he might not be able to do this at all, a chink we have not seen in his armor:
“I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m curious to find that out myself, too. It’s going to be nice playing a tournament this week and getting a feel for being under the heat and see where my swing is, see what shots — where my misses are; not necessarily my good ones.”
“I know my good ones are good. But where are the misses are going to be? Am I able to rectify them right away, or is it going to take a shot or two, or a hole or two? Or maybe I might not be able to do it at all and that might not be a good thing.”
“But I think I have a good understanding going into Thursday what I need to do to hit certain shots and see what happens.”
What was it that stood between him and his ability to fully realized the changes that Foley was trying to help him with?
“Looking back on it, it was not a fun situation. I was still playing in — it wasn’t the same type of pain that I had earlier in the year, because the surgery had fixed it, but my body just wasn’t able to hold my joints in place.”
“So I just didn’t have the muscle structure yet. And so any time I would do something a little bit odd, jumping into a bunker like on 2 at Firestone, things like that shouldn’t dislodge things, but it did. I just wasn’t able physically to hold it.”
“Now I’m able physically to hold things in position, and I haven’t had any of those type of pains. As I said, I’ve been playing soccer just about every day with the kids and moving around great.”
Does he have any fear that there will be a recurrence of his back issues? He shares just what it took for his team to get him ready to play each day:
“No. The reason why I say no and so emphatically, the surgeon did a fantastic job. That’s all healed.”
“Now, do I have — as I was saying to Mark, do I have the muscle structure to hold everything in place so nothing slips. That’s one thing I didn’t have at the time.”
“Yeah, I could practice all I want but certain movements would throw things out and I couldn’t get it back, and I shouldn’t have been able to throw things out. Just didn’t have the development yet. Wasn’t at the point yet day‑in, day‑out where it was going to hold.”
“So finally I got to that point now and I’m strong enough and things are settled, and it’s nice to wake up each and every day. I might have a little soreness here and there from training or doing stuff, but I just don’t have things slipping out of place. Haven’t had to have the physio and the chiropractor treatments on a daily basis like I did then just to get me to play. It was a tough time.”
Is he excited about reverting to the old Tiger swing?
“I think it’s — I know my body feels excited about it, because it’s an old motor pattern that I know. And I’m able to generate speed and I have the range of motion and it’s interesting to see how — I don’t feel like I’m hitting it very hard, but it’s coming off the face faster. That part was exciting, to start feeling that again.”
He was asked to go into the details of his back injury rehab and he went into remarkable detail:
“I didn’t really do much for the first couple months. I basically just went to my kids’ games and just hung around the house, and did rehab probably once or twice a day, but it was just little tedious stuff.”
“I would putt and chip here and there just to keep a feel of having a club in my hand, but it wasn’t anything serious. Because again, I was still — I had not gone through that process yet. I explained earlier, I had not gone through that process, the direction I wanted to go yet. And until I decided on that and what direction I was going to go, then I would start to practice it.”
“It aligned with Chris, and over the last probably month and a half, I’ve been hitting more balls, playing a little bit. Am I game ready? Probably not quite as I would like to be. I would like to — well, I haven’t played a tournament round since August. That’s a long time.”
“It will be interesting to go out there on Thursday; and how long does it take for me to get my feel back for game shots; feel for my numbers; feel for my yardages; hitting the ball a certain trajectory; what’s the wind doing; all the little things, hearing things; and making adjustments on my downswing. All these different little things that we have to do: How long does it take me to get back into the flow of a round; sometimes it takes me a shot, sometimes it takes me three or four holes after a long layoff. I don’t know. We’ll see on Thursday.”
That, of course, is what we’re all waiting for.