Earl's Recent Past Golf Blog's
February 18, 2023
Tiger Woods Latest Comeback
The country western song lyrics that goes, "I ain't as good as I once was, but I'm as good once, as I ever was" seems to best describe Tiger Woods at this stage in his career. I walked around Riviera on Thursday during the Genesis Open to see firsthand if this edition of Tiger Woods latest comeback could live up to the hype. Believe it or not, it did!
Playing alongside Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, he more than showed he can compete and hold his own against two of the best players in the world. He regularly stayed up with Rory on tee shots and his iron shots were crisp and penetrating. Any shot that was required; he was able to perform at a first class level or better. I've probably watched Tiger in person about forty times over the past 20 plus years and the swing and game he showed during the first round at Riviera is more than enough to win again on the PGA Tour and even win a Major. Now the question is, "Can he walk and keep his stamina up for 72 holes?"
With all of the operations on his knees, back, and now his leg and ankle, there has had to be a change after each surgery to his swing to accommodate the new restrictions that his body is able to do. There have been many instances where a good player had a similar operation and never regained his swing or form and wasn't heard of since. Tiger had to make adjustments after each surgery and came back better that ever. Each time he had to figure out a new way to accomplish the task and he did. This achievement might be overlooked in assessing Tiger's greatness, but it is a testament to his tenacity, intelligence, and commitment to greatness.
The swing that was on display at the Genesis Open is completely different than the healthy 2000 and 2001 swing that he used to win all four Majors in a row. It also is entirely different than the swing used before the severe damage done to his right leg and ankle in February of 2021. In reality, Tiger had to find a new way to swing the club to generate clubhead speed. In his recovery, he had to learn how to play golf again from the ground up. This makes what I saw on Thursday that more impressive.
The typical touring pro generates 115 mph clubhead speed with 171 mph ball speed coming off their drivers. The average age of a PGA Tour pro is 30 years old and most of the higher ball speeds come from players under the age of 30. Tiger is 47 years old, with multiple restrictive surgeries, and yet he is averaging in the upper 170's in ball speed with a few in the 180's. How is he accomplishing this speed?
Power is generated by clubhead speed, weight shift, and the turning motion of the shoulders and hips (torque), plus ground force. Professionals spend a great deal of time working and strengthening their legs to provide quickness, stability and firepower as they spring off their trail foot moving up and over to their front foot. This was a staple of the earlier Tiger swings. Now with the weakening of his right leg and ankle that support the power from ground force, that element is no longer there. Tiger had to find a new way to create clubhead speed. His solution was core power, generated by his shoulders and hips. Sounds like an easy transition, but after you have relied on your legs for support and power your whole golfing life, the change is big. Timing is very different and if not in sync, it can cause problems with the back, which in Tiger's case can be dangerous. Tiger hasn't said, but the time and energy that this took to get back to this point must have been monumental. I'm not sure even Tiger thought he could come this far.
What I saw two days ago was a swing and shotmaking that is world-class. I saw him walk without him noticeably favoring his leg, but it definitely showed some fatigue towards the end of the round. He will not be playing a full schedule of events, which is good, but if he is to win, the leg has to be sound for four full days. Only time will tell if it can hold up. Getting to this point has been inspiring. Going further and winning again will only add to the magical legacy of Tiger Woods.
January 26, 2023
No Question - Take the Pin Out!
Last week's American Express PGA tournament in La Quinta, California should put to rest the discussion of whether to leave the pin in or out when putting. Davis Thompson was trailing Jon Rahm by one stroke as he putted on the 71st hole from 48 feet away. The putt was rolled beautifully and was tracking to the near center of the cup at a speed that, had the flagstick not been in, would have dropped for a birdie. However, the ball hit the pin in just the right way and bounced out. This unfortunate break cost him a chance at winning his first PGA Tour title. The flagstick should have been attended by his caddy, so the putt would have had every chance to go in.
Scientific studies have shown that the flagstick is no advantage in 99,9% putts hit. That 0.1% advantage only comes on a putt that is hit way too hard and hits the pin preventing the ball from going well past the cup. If the pin were out in those cases, it would be going too fast to be holed. So why do some professionals continue to putt with the flagstick in, when they have statistical evidence that tell them it is a disadvantage? Bryson DeChambeau did it for a period of time, while Adam Scott and Matt Fitzpatrick are two of the better players to continue to putt with the pin in.
I believe Scott and Fitzpatrick know the risk of the flagstick causing a ball to pop out on a properly hit putt. But they believe the pin helps with their alignment and distance control. It may be a psychological thing, but they are willing to forego the small percentage of times the pin is a deterrent to their perception that it helps with aiming and distance judgement. The group I play with always leaves the pin in. It's easy and speeds the game up. Over the past three years, since the rule change, I personally have had at least 30 balls, or about 10 a year, that have hit the pin at the correct speed and not gone in. So it doesn't happen very often, but when I play in a tournament the pin definitely is out or attended on all putts. As yet I have not had an instance that the pin has helped me. I would think a professional golfer would not want to give up any strokes like this, because that means big money to them. In Davis Thompson's case, it was worth almost $600,000.
Scientifically the flagstick is no advantage, but conversely it is not a big disadvantage also. That infrequent occurrence that happened at The American Express is rare, but you still want to guard against it. Whenever I see someone putting in a professional tournament with the pin in, I'm afraid the pin will knock it out. You usually don't think it will happen from long distances, but obviously it can and did happen. I think everyone on all professional tours took note and you will see more caddies attending the flagstick for long putts in the future.