Commentary

Debating Tiger's tactics for change

Updated: February 3, 2011, 3:55 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

Each week, golf writer Bob Harig will take your questions and answer a few select ones on ESPN.com. Below are this week's selections.


In the wake of Tiger Woods' worst-ever performance at Torrey Pines, several missives to the mailbag focus on his decision to make changes to his swing under the direction of Sean Foley, and whether or not that was a wise move. A sampling.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesTiger Woods struggled over the final two rounds at Torrey Pines. He went 74-75 on the weekend at the Farmers Insurance Open to finish tied for 44th.

What is your position regarding Tiger's new swing coach? I think he should suck it up, eat a little crow and go back to Butch Harmon.
-- William Potter

Looking at Tiger mainly, but also the other top golfers, you hear a lot about swing coaches, or coaches in general. I was wondering, did Jack Nicklaus, or Gary Player, or the other big names from the '20s to the '70s, ever employ coaches?
-- Paul Schroeder

I keep wondering why a guy like Tiger who has had almost unparalleled success has to keep "relearning" his swing every few years. I can understand physical changes like his knee issues can cause a lack of flexibility which might require some small alteration, but that doesn't explain this seeming need to start all over. Wasn't his swing in 2000 good enough? What about all those other years when he was the dominant and most feared golfer on the planet; can he really re-tool his swing to get better than that?
-- Rick Jones

Have you ever known the top player in the world to make complete swing makeovers like this? I believe this is the third time Tiger's done this. I don't recall anything like this before, not Palmer, Nicklaus, Watson, Snead, Hogan.
-- Gary B. Sack

Harig: The likes of Nicklaus, Watson and Palmer did not have swing gurus in the manner of today. Jack Nicklaus, for example, would visit with Jack Grout for tuneups. The Golden Bear has often said that Grout didn't do much other than get him going in the right direction to give him confidence. Mostly back then, players figured it out on their own.

In Woods' case, the feeling here is it is too soon to judge his latest change. Twice in his career -- when it didn't seem to be a prudent move at the time -- he made swing changes, first under Butch Harmon and then under Hank Haney, and came out better each time.

I was among those who wondered why he was having issues with Haney when he had won six majors under his guidance and became incredibly consistent, with a slew of top-10 finishes on Haney's watch.

But something was clearly amiss when Woods came back to competitive golf last year, and whether that was something wrong with Haney's teachings or not, if Woods lacked confidence in the direction he was going, it was up to him to figure it out.

Now he's moved on to Foley, and showed signs of putting things together late last year. Torrey Pines was undoubtedly a disappointment. To compare him to 2000 is unfair, really. When do we ever compare an athlete to 10 years prior? Just getting back to 2009 levels is fair, however. Woods won six times that year on the PGA Tour and seven times overall. He had 14 top-10s in 17 tournaments. Can he get back to that level?


The NBA still hasn't really recovered from Michael Jordan's inevitable retirement (which ended a string of NBA greats -- Dr. J and Kareem, Magic and Bird), as no similar larger-than-life figure appeared in the NBA to replace him, or them. Has the PGA brain trust figured out a way to more effectively market the tour if Tiger doesn't return to dominance? And even if he does, he's only going to have another 4-5 years, most likely, at the top of his skills. Are they banking on another young lion, or are we likely looking at another period of doldrums as we did post-Jack and pre-Tiger?
-- Jim Trageser

Harig: I'm not sure what the tour is supposed to do. It does market its young stars. It does try to promote other players. That has never waned. In golf, it seems, fans latch onto those who win. They like dominant players. It is not a sport that typically roots for the underdog. So the best thing that could happen is for some of these young players, such as Rickie Fowler, Anthony Kim, Rory McIlroy (even though he is not a member at the moment), Martin Kaymer (same) and others, to become consistent winners. There is no better promotion than that. One thing to remember, golf was doing just fine before Tiger. He simply led to an explosion of attention.


Do you have a problem with pros taking off for stupid reasons? EX: Furyk for the Super Bowl, Johnson for his dating issues, BCS national championship games?
-- Eric Artz

Harig: That is the beauty of being an exempt pro golfer. You can set your schedule as you choose. I'm not sure I would say taking a week off to enjoy the Super Bowl is stupid. Good for Furyk. I'm guessing there are a lot of people around the country who are juggling their own personal schedules to fit the Super Bowl in. Perhaps not to attend, but to watch.


How can a player go from being one of the best in the world (i.e. Duval, DiMarco, V. Taylor, B. Wetterich) making Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup teams and then fall off the radar completely? Is it purely injury or is there more to it?
-- Matt Davis

Harig: The simple answer is that is golf. A fickle game. Injuries certainly played a role for Duval and Wetterich. DiMarco also suffered an injury while skiing that led to bad habits and difficulty getting his game back. There can be equipment issues and confidence issues. It kind of puts in perspective how good the ones are who consistently win.


I've followed Bill Haas' career since seeing him play a round with his father at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock. What type of career do the experts expect him to have? Will he be like his father -- making a good living, winning some, contending at a few majors, but never winning -- or will it be better than that -- a major winner, consistently top-25 player, lots of Ryder Cups? I know it is impossible to predict whether he is an Ernie Els or a Kenny Perry, but where do you see his talent level?
-- David Troyan

Harig: It would be no shame for Bill Haas to have a similar career to the one his dad, Jay, had on the PGA Tour. Jay Haas won nine times and played on three U.S. Ryder Cup teams as well as the Presidents Cup, for which he will be an assistant captain to Fred Couples again this year. Bill already has two victories. Can he surpass his dad? Hard to say. He seems to have the game to be around for a long time. Obviously winning a major would push him beyond what Jay accomplished.


Tiger plays in relatively few tournaments. Always has. He took a self-imposed exile from golf between 11/09 and 05/10 and then few tournaments after that. During the period since 11/09 he seldom has played four rounds under 70 in a tournament. I'm thinking instead of concentrating on swing mechanics on the range with his "coach du jour" he needs more competitive rounds for a whole host of reasons.

By concentrating on the majors and a few other tournaments that seem to 'fit' his game, he may be inadvertently raising the pressure to perform in the few that he has chosen to play. It would be interesting to compare the metrics of his schedule of tournaments with some of the legends at various stages of his/their careers. It seems to me he has played in far fewer tournaments (as a % of the total PGA/USGA events) than folks like Trevino, Palmer, Watson.
-- Charley Molloy

Harig: Players of previous eras played more tournaments as a percentage of total simply because the total number of tournaments was lower than it is today. It is interesting to note that starting in 1970, Jack Nicklaus never played more than 19 PGA Tour events in a season. He clearly adhered to the "less is more" philosophy and that has worked well for Woods.

And yet, given his current situation, it seems clear Tiger could use a few more tournaments. Woods said over the weekend at Torrey Pines that he's had difficulty bringing his game from the range to tournament golf.

Have a question? Send it to Bob Harig's mailbag at BobHESPN@gmail.com to see if it gets used next week.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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