Young Tiger Woods & Setup Issues

Just as the 3 most important things in real estate or property are Location, Location & Location, you will always hear my belief that the 3 most important parts of the golf swing are Setup, Setup and Setup.

Here is a driver swing from a young Tiger Woods, if you’ll allow me to point out things that would have concerned me at the time.

It was taken August 25th, 1993, which would have made TW going on 18 years old, so a pretty thin and pliable T-dub here:


At a glance, you may not think there’s anything there to adjust, would you?

The devil is in the details, and I can tell you why this clip was showing him getting some technical help with the “lead arm behind the ball” drill.

First, let’s slow things down a little and let me just highlight his driver ball position on the slowed-down action:


You’ll notice two things if you haven’t yet when I point them out:

  • TW’s method of making sure his left shoulder is “behind the ball” is to make a lean to his right as he takes the club back and,
  • watch that little left foot jump and twist action through the ball

All of these things are related to his setup, and the 3 most noticeable are:

  • The driver ball position is at his armpit, far too inside the stance although it’s at his left heel because
  • The stance is too narrow for a driver swing.  This is a mid-long iron stance and
  • He’s leaning to his left with a near-vertical spine

So, I don’t know what his misses were but I’d wager he dead pushed or snap-hooked his drives when he did miss big, because of that ball position.  I could be wrong, but let’s look at what these stance issues caused.


First, the drill and the lean to the right on the back swing – ball position.  Hard to get inside that ball when it’s so far inside you, if you catch my meaning.

Next, his planted-heel pivot is keeping his lower body in place so there isn’t a full weight shift to the right foot.  See top diagram 2, his hip is still touching the ball line.  This is the move that likely caused the left knee issues from his college days on – even here at 17, you can see him slightly rolling that leading foot inward to get more left knee swing.

That weight not getting to the right will come back at impact, because you leverage the club with a weight shift back to the leading foot, which also creates natural hip rotation.

That planted left foot now begins dragging him back left in the lower body as soon as he starts his down swing – left shoulder already well past the ball in the 3rd top frame.

In frame 4 (first on the lower frames), can you imagine trying to hit a ball with your driver with your hands already nearly over the ball and your left shoulder already well past but the club shaft at the 3 o’clock position in the down swing?

How do you even make contact?

You see how in frame 5 – a big straightening of the left leg and yanking that left shoulder up and back (very popular move these days), and you get badly-needed rotation with the hopping and twist of the left foot right at impact.


And that twisting foot through impact means that he had to anchor the right foot into the ground to get enough weight on it at impact to be able to lift the left foot to begin with.

Look at that hang-back post-impact as well… that lean to the right, in my estimation, was a dual-purpose one – to get behind the ball, yes, but also to get enough upper body weight to the right in order to perform the left-foot jump-and-twist… my back is aching just watching that.

No reverse-C only because of the left bias, and that’s a good thing at least.

All of that leaning left in the setup and with the planted-heel pivot – you end up with a finish position with your entire body past the driver ball position (try this with a mirror and a proper driver stance and you won’t be able to do it).

The ball position and left-bias are bad enough, but throw in a too-narrow stance (likely a result of having to narrow it to get a full shoulder turn with a planted-heel pivot) and you’re seriously robbing yourself of shifting space to generate natural leverage.

So, the best amateur player in the world at the time, but imagine he’d been taught a Classic Golf Swing pivot… with his natural athleticism and talent… egads, it would have been game-over for the entire Tour for 20 years – he would have out-Nelsoned Lord Byron, I would think.

One might ask where someone like yours truly gets off critiquing one of the best players of all time – I’m not critiquing his play, just observing his setup and motion and pointing out things anyone would agree are not optimal for a high-speed swing.

When looking at a swing, you look only at the motion – the result of the swing doesn’t matter.  Anyone can groove a flawed swing with enough repetition and keeping one’s cool under pressure.

At the end of the day, most swing issues can be found at the setup, because your swing motion is simply a reaction to that setup.

Change the setup, you’ll change the motion naturally and properly rather than having to tinker with manipulated compensations in the course of the swing.

Submitted humbly for consideration.

8 thoughts on “Young Tiger Woods & Setup Issues

  1. Mark

    Good stuff. I’d forgotten his very amateur setup. And yes, with that swing he was bound to get stuck inside and blow it right or sense doom and flip the hands for a juicy pull. Just another example to prove that competitive golf is about playing the game to get the ball in the hole the quickest. There are a gazillion guys you never heard of that can make a nice swing, but they can’t score. But if you combine a great swing with a great player–look out!

    Heck, Larry Bird is my all-time favorite bball player and Steff Curry is, Steff Curry… but if I had a kid and wanted him to study a player’s shooting release to imitate, I’d show him JJ Redick. Bird was great, despite his unorthodox technique, because he was a 6’9″ genius player. Redick was servicable because his technique was sufficiently flawless to overcome his otherwise average natural abilities. imho

    Reply
    1. DJ Watts Post author

      All good points, Mark. And yeah, the 80’s and 90’s were something NBA-wise, weren’t they?

      The Larry-Magic, Larry-Isiah contests were special.

      You get it regarding technique vs talent and how a good combo of the two are unbeatable.

      Tiger is the exception proving the rule – with his swing, he still managed to join the pantheon of greats with much more mechanically sound swings. We won’t see another like him.

      Reply
  2. peterallenby2013

    I see where Justin Thomas gets his swing set up. His motion differs only in that he jumps to move his left foot out of the way on the downswing to avoid blowing up his left knee….Tortuous contortionist!!

    Reply
  3. BM

    DJ, wow. I guess he got away with it because of his other skills. And when his tempo was as good as in that video, he probably did fine. Do you offer the service of looking at one of your blog readers swings and giving it the once over?

    Reply
    1. DJ Watts Post author

      Talent and hard work go a long way, BM! Add the factor that he was as cool as Jack under pressure, he could get away with some swing issues on the links but in the end not with the harm done to his body.

      All of his physical issues minus the wreck- related are the end result of incremental damage that began the minute he started swinging hard enough. The first ones necessitated swing changes, the changes caused more issues… rinse and repeat.

      I am not currently doing consultations in person nor by video analysis but I would be sure to let Wax Nation know if and when that changes.

      Reply
  4. Mr. McJohn

    Tiger was a great iron player, but a terrible driver. You can swing this way taking yardage off a shot, which good iron play dictates, but with any kind of a full swing it’s awful. Mind you, it’s awful anyhow, but you can get away with it with less than full swings simply because iron play is about controlling distance, not getting distance. I figure either way, it’s still bad technique. I mean, if I were to throw a punch around my body (a heaving punch) it 1. Lacks power and 2. Takes more time to perform. If I punch straight forward and simply turn my shoulder into it, it’s much simpler for twice the impact. “Technique, not strength” is the phrase.

    Reply
    1. DJ Watts Post author

      Bad driver, great iron player- this swing clip even in his teens explains why – I said in my analysis that his driver stance was a mid-long iron stance. Leading shoulder past the ball on the down swing, hands leading the club head sharply pre-impact… you can even see in the sequence pics as a result of videotape artifact that his driver reached swing bottom well past the teed ball position… great for irons, death for driver.

      Also explains his “stinger” success. When you can hit long irons and woods as far as he did, the driver problem was manageable as it was for him for years, until it wasn’t.

      Reply

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