He began working with Foley late last season as part of a wholesale personal and professional reorganization, after finalizing his difficult divorce and firing Haney by text message following a second-to-last-place finish at the Bridgestone Invitational. Foley is enjoying a vogue on the PGA Tour. He’s apparently a highly analytical sort who deconstructs biomechanics digitally, taking what Justin Rose once described as a “scientific” approach.
According to golf writer Robert Lusetich, the author of “Unplayable,” a chronicle of Woods’s 2009 struggles, one of Foley’s techniques with Woods was to have him hit balls for two hours in his bare feet. It was Foley’s way of deprogramming Woods, trying to correct what he felt were some bad swing habits.
Foley told Lusetich that he wanted to cure Woods of some excessive movement, and give him a steeper swing as opposed to the flatter one we saw the last few years under Haney. “We’re going to find his Tiger Woods swing again,” Foley told Lusetich. Initially, the fresh start seemed to help him. “It’s exciting to hit the ball flush like this again,” Woods said this fall.
But then came Torrey Pines, where he was so confused that he mis-hit 100-yard wedges. Woods insists that it was all part of a “process” to transfer the swing changes to competition, and that he is committed to Foley. His hope is that the results will come in time for the Masters. We will simply have to wait to judge whether he’s rationalizing, or whether the latest experiment is a failure.
The trouble is, while Woods is rebuilding, all those kids in their 20s are gaining on him, in experience and confidence. When Woods does recover his championship form — and surely he will — he will have to deal with a field that has gotten much younger and deeper since he won his last Grand Slam title in 2008. Last year, players in their 20s claimed 13 PGA Tour titles. It was a striking fact that in the PGA Championship five of the top six players entering the final round were Nick Watney (29), Dustin Johnson (26), Rory McIlroy (21), Jason Day (23), and winner Martin Kaymer (26). And now along comes Vegas, too.
It will be interesting to see if Woods, in his work with Foley, can really recover the swing of his own youth. Do yourself a favor and pull up some old footage of Woods, back when he was a collegiate player and U.S. Amateur champion. It’s a joy to watch. That kid, all elbows and knees, thwacked at the ball with such unconscious, unthinking pleasure. Now pull up modern footage, and you’ll be struck by the difference, how much stiffer he seems, how much he’s fighting his own body.
At this point, Woods’s swing looks over-taught, and over-thought. Through the years, Woods has gotten steadily more mechanical, as well as visibly stronger and more muscular. Woods’s perfectionism has been his greatest strength, but you have to wonder if all that seeking of improvement, his constant preoccupation with the technical, always serves him so well. Maybe the greatest player in the world overperfected his swing. It would be nice to see a more natural Woods.