Commentary

Change is the only constant for Woods

Originally Published: February 10, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

Hank Haney, who still is at a loss for words when considering what his high-profile client accomplished at last year's U.S. Open, wonders what all the fuss is about.

And given what he knew last spring -- doctors told Tiger Woods not to play in the U.S. Open, then witnessing him win it with a bad knee and a leg that nobody realized was broken -- perhaps it would be difficult for the man who works so closely with the world's No. 1 player to comprehend why everyone else is so curious about how Woods will perform upon his return.

"I think that everyone wants to make way too much out of Tiger's knee," Haney said in an e-mail. "After all, he did win the U.S. Open with a torn ACL and a broken leg ...

"Tiger now has a stable left leg to hit against and he hasn't had that for a long time. This should be a very positive thing. But it is different for him and may take a little period of adjustment, just because it is different. Tiger was very cautious with his workouts and his practice and it has paid off. His leg is stable."

Still, we are talking about a guy who has not played in a golf tournament for eight months, did not take full golf swings -- he says -- for six months after reconstructive knee surgery on June 24 and will return to the PGA Tour sometime in the coming weeks with all eyes upon him.

How much, if at all, will having a replaced anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee affect Tiger's swing and game?

Tiger Woods
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesTiger Woods grimaced in pain at last year's U.S. Open. But after defeating Rocco Mediate in a playoff, Woods was all smiles.

"I think he will be able to be more consistent now after the surgery with the way he moves into the ball with his left knee," said ESPN golf analyst Andy North, a two-time U.S. Open winner who had surgery on his left knee five times for various things including cartilage damage and bone spurs.

"When you've got problems, you're always sort of skeptical there will be an issue. Now that it's been taken care of, I suspect that he is going to be able to swing at the ball the way he wants to swing at it instead of trying to manipulate the golf swing. And that's very important, because you are torquing your body onto your left knee. All your weight is exploding onto your left knee. It is the worst knee for a right-handed golfer to have problems with.

"The fact that he performed so well the last couple of years without a sound knee is astounding. It's truly amazing. I would suspect he'll get more confidence in his golf swing and it could be a scary Tiger Woods that comes back."

Woods has said that he worked to alleviate pressure placed on his left knee before the surgery because he would snap his leg as he swung through the ball. Lee Trevino is among those who have noted that straightening of the leg is where Woods' immense power comes from.

"Tiger is coming back stronger than ever, but he's going to have to change something," Trevino, a six-time major winner, said in a Golf Channel interview. "People don't understand about how Tiger swings a golf club. The reason that Tiger hits the ball so far is because Tiger learned to hit the ball by straightening his left knee. And when you straighten your left knee, your left hip is faster which allows your right hip to go faster. And that's why Tiger swings the club so fast.

"When Tiger swings at 130 miles an hour, and that leg straightens up, something's got to stop and slow down the upper body. And what stops it? The left thigh and the knee. Now when Tiger comes back he's either going to have to learn to play by actually bowing the knee, not straightening it, but actually having a little bow into it. Or he's going to have to slow his swing down."

Bud Ferrante, a Carmel, Calif., physical therapist who has worked with pro and amateur golfers -- including those rehabilitating from knee surgery -- said because the left leg is loaded at impact, there is a significant amount of force.

The fact that he performed so well the last couple of years without a sound knee is astounding. It's truly amazing. I would suspect he'll get more confidence in his golf swing and it could be a scary Tiger Woods that comes back.

-- ESPN golf analyst Andy North

"There is a lot of tension there," he said, equating it to 4½ times a person's body weight at impact and through the follow-through.

"I have to think that his golf coach and his therapist and his trainer are working very carefully as he has such a powerful swing," Ferrante said.

Woods began this process with Haney several years ago, but as his knee problem worsened, the attempt to keep from snapping his left leg became futile.

"I kept telling [Haney] over the years that I can't stop doing that," Woods said in December at the Chevron World Challenge; Woods has been working with Haney since 2004. "My leg won't -- I can't hold it. And eventually over the last year, I couldn't do it. I would snap the leg to try and get off of it, and back out my hips, which you don't want to do.

"I did a lot of things to compensate for this leg, and just in the last couple of weeks to be able to hit fuller shots, it's stable. It was like, hey, this is what people actually play with; it's kind of nice. And I'm looking forward to having that kind of stability in my leg.

"We've been trying to play with a softer left leg, but [couldn't]. There was nothing there. I remember in 2002 when they went in there to clean it out, and they found out I only had about 20 percent of my ACL left. The fact that I made it this far was amazing without it rupturing, and when it finally did, I played well, but I didn't play the way I wanted to play technique-wise."

The question remains: What kind of an adjustment period lies ahead? The long layoff, added to getting used to swinging with a fully functional knee, plus the lack of competition would seem to suggest it might take a bit of time for Woods to return as the Woods we know.

Then again, this is a player who has continually gone beyond what was expected. Even change is unlikely to keep him down for long.

"As for the changes in Tiger's swing, he is always trying to get better and has been as long as he has played the game," Haney said. "Any change is difficult to a certain degree, but Tiger adapts to change as good as any player I have ever seen. I don't think change to him is a big deal. He would rather change than stay the same.

"Staying the same is not something that Tiger is interested in. He wants to improve and he doesn't really worry whether a change is easy or hard. He just worries about whether or not it will make him a better player in the long run."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com