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THE BIG BANG TEXTBOOK TECHNIQUE IS ONLY PART OF THE REASON TIGER WOODS, THOUGH SLIGHT, PACKS SUCH POWER

Dec. 23, 1996
Dec. 23, 1996

Table of Contents
Dec. 23, 1996

Faces In The Crowd
Sportsman Of The Year

THE BIG BANG TEXTBOOK TECHNIQUE IS ONLY PART OF THE REASON TIGER WOODS, THOUGH SLIGHT, PACKS SUCH POWER

It might seem incongruous that 158-pound Tiger Woods can hit a
golf ball so far, and part of the phenomenon is unexplainable,
particularly in light of the fact that Woods hasn't taken
advantage of the most recent innovations in equipment. Although
Woods is the first PGA Tour player to average more than 300
yards (302.8) after 30 rounds, he uses clubs that are geared for
accuracy, not distance. His driver has a stainless-steel head
and a conventional steel shaft, not one of the lighter titanium
heads or graphite shafts that many players have turned to for
more distance. Tiger's driver is also only 43 inches long, an
inch shorter than what most Tour pros use, which cuts down on
the potential for club-head speed. And while some players have
gained distance by switching to a harder two-piece ball, Woods
plays a softer-covered three-piece ball that spins more and
rolls less. It's fair to say that if Woods used a longer driver
with a graphite shaft and a two-piece ball, his driving average
would be several yards higher.

This is an article from the Dec. 23, 1996 issue Original Layout

Nor does Woods swing for the fences. At the suggestion of his
coach, Butch Harmon, Woods strives to use no more than an 80%
effort on most tee shots, a level of force that keeps him in
balance, makes his swing more repeatable, enhances his timing
and promotes accuracy.

Then how can the 20-year-old Woods--a 6'2" string bean with a
backswing too short to reach a position parallel with the
ground--hit drives that frequently travel more than 350 yards?
Woods's single most valuable asset is a near-perfect swing. "The
most fundamentally sound [swing] I've ever seen," says Jack
Nicklaus, whose tremendous power was also rooted in superior
technique. Woods has an excellent grip, ideal posture and no
quirky moves in his backswing. Incorporating a tenet of modern
swing theory, he is able to store remarkable energy on his
backswing by making a massive shoulder turn of nearly 120
degrees while limiting his hip turn to less than 30 degrees.
When Woods starts his downswing, the torque he produces is clean
and uncomplicated, and it's unleashed as swiftly as an arrow
from a bow. "Tiger's move is so solid and simple it's like
watching an Iron Byron hitting machine," says Mark Calcavecchia.

Such a machine needs an engine, and Woods has a good one. Tiger
might not be a big man compared with former long-drive kings
like George Bayer and Jim Dent, both of whom weighed well over
220 pounds, but his slender frame is tightly wrapped with dense
muscle. He has broad shoulders, powerful thighs, a 35-inch
sleeve length and an exercise-hardened, 28-inch waist, all of
which explains the speed with which Woods rotates his torso and
hips on the downswing--"the fastest I've ever seen," says swing
coach Rick Smith.

Woods has been a long hitter since his early teens but has
gotten longer as he has filled out and added muscle. During his
two years at Stanford he was a regular in the weight room, where
he focused on developing overall strength. "Tiger's lean body
type allows him to handle a lot of resistance without getting
too bulky or losing flexibility," says Karen Branick, the
assistant strength coach who oversaw his workouts. According to
Gary Wiren, a PGA of America master professional with a Ph.D. in
sports science, Woods's physical development contributes to his
length off the tee. "Strength is an advantage in golf," Wiren
says, "because it lets a player swing easily without a lot of
tension or quick moves. That improves timing, which helps
produce distance."

Slender yet explosive athletes are nothing new to stick-and-ball
sports, in which coordination, leverage and timing are
paramount. Baseball's Henry Aaron and Ernie Banks and tennis's
Arthur Ashe and Pete Sampras are classic examples. Golf, as much
as any sport, has always been populated by wiry little guys who
could kill the ball. Ben Hogan and Chi Chi Rodriguez, who each
weighed less than 135 pounds in their prime, are two notable
examples.

But none of those athletes were ever considered the most
powerful player in his sport, which Woods is. And that brings us
to the unexplainable part. What makes Woods unique is his
ability to put the club head on the ball as near to perfectly as
has ever been measured. Not only does Woods make contact in the
dead center of the club face with amazing regularity, according
to tests conducted by Titleist, but he also comes closer to
achieving optimum launch conditions--a combination of swing
speed and angle of impact--than any of the more than 300 touring
pros the company has tested over the last 20 years. With his
driver, Woods sweeps his club head into the ball on a shallow
rather than a steep angle and makes contact slightly on the
upswing. His drives are thus launched with a minimum of backspin
and at what is generally considered the ideal angle, nine degrees.

Although Fred Couples, John Daly and Davis Love III produce
almost as much club-head speed as Woods when swinging
hard--about 122 mph--it's Tiger's ability to achieve pure
contact that makes him the longest hitter in the group. "Tiger
imparts the lowest ball spin of anyone we've ever tested who
produces ball speed of more than 165 miles per hour, which is
what you need to hit a drive 280 yards or more," says Wally
Uihlein, the president of Titleist. "His ball bores through the
air instead of ballooning, and it hits the ground hot. He
optimizes the efficiency relationship between speed, launch and
spin."

Woods's genius probably comes from having swung a club
efficiently since he was a toddler. That, and being the kind of
student of golf that Ted Williams was of hitting. "It was never
one person," Woods says when asked if he modeled his game after
Nicklaus or another player. "I've tried to pick 50 players and
take the best out of them and make one super player."

For a work in progress, he's awfully close to becoming his own
model. "Here's the deal," says Art Sellinger, a two-time
national long-drive champion. "Tiger is technically perfect, and
he's so grooved, so repeatable, that he can go full metal jacket
and still be consistent. I've said for a while that somebody was
going to come along with the ability to hit it as long as we do
and get it in the fairway, and that guy is going to rewrite the
books. Guess what? He's here."

COLOR PHOTO: JACQUELINE DUVOISIN [Tiger Woods swinging golf club]COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN Like Aaron in his heyday, Sampras is slender but generates explosive power from a combination of leverage and speed. [Pete Sampras playing tennis]COLOR PHOTO: FRED KAPLAN [See caption above--Henry (Hank) Aaron]