Last week Tiger Woods announced that he was parting ways with instructor Sean Foley. I wanted to examine Tiger’s game over the course of his professional career to get a better understanding of what was going on and what may have caused him to change swing coaches over the years.

Please bear with me as many of the key metrics listed below were not available during these years. Nonetheless, we can still get a pretty good idea of Tiger’s game during the Butch Harmon years.

Butch Harmon years

For starters, he was one of the longest golfers on Tour. This was despite using a steel-shafted driver when most of the Tour had switched to drivers with lighter graphite shafts. The pinnacle of Woods’ success was in 2000; he won nine times including the U.S. Open, The Open Championship and PGA Championship. He ranked second in Driving Distance that season and 54th in Driving Accuracy, which is flat-out incredible.

We also see with his driving that his misses were fairly even. As I researched in a previous column I wrote (http://www.golfwrx.com/115076/the-myth-behind-the-one-way-miss/), there is a large myth about a one-way miss being preferable. Instead, the best drivers on Tour typically do not miss their tee shots in one direction. And the golfers on Tour who do miss heavily to one side are usually struggling with a problem shot they have yet to resolve. For Tiger, there is no imbalance of his missed tee shots.

For the years we have the data, Tiger was a very good iron player. The “Zone play” data is only on shots from the fairway because that is where we had the most complete information for Tiger over the years. This is fine because from a statistical standpoint, shots from the fairway give us the best indicator of a golfer’s iron play. But, we do see that hitting shots from the rough was a large issue for Tiger as he ranked near the bottom on Tour.

The putting data is scarce during this timeframe, but he appeared to putt fairly well in 2003. While ballstriking has a larger influence to success on Tour than putting, every piece of data I’ve researched about the game points to Tiger putting extremely well in 2000.

Hank Haney years

The Haney years are best depicted as a large regression in Tiger’s driving mixed with a tremendous progression with his iron play. There also seemed to be an improvement with his putting.

Tiger was still fairly long off the tee and was generating as much as 124.6 mph of club head speed. While we do not have any hard data on his club head speed under Butch Harmon, it was reported to be around 125 mph during that timeframe. In the Haney years, however, we start to see major issues with Tiger’s accuracy off the tee.

In 2000, Tiger was 54th in fairway percentage and in 2004 he fell to 177th and then 193rd in 2005. He also started to develop a very pronounced right miss bias, which at its worst was at 24 percent of misses to the right rough versus 10 percent to the left rough in 2008.

Furthermore, we start to see not only a dip in Tiger’s club head speed in 2009 and 2010, but we start to see Tiger become more conservative off the tee. The biggest indication is the difference in Tiger’s Driving Distance (measured drives) ranking versus his Driving Distance in all drives measured by a laser. When the “all drives” ranking is noticeably lower than the “measured drives” ranking, it is an indication that the golfer is laying up off the tee more often.

I don’t think any of this is revelatory, as those who watched Tiger during the Haney years saw the issues he had with hitting blocked shots off the tee. And then he played very conservatively off the tee by hitting a lot of 3 woods and 2 irons in order to keep the ball in play. Remember the 2009 PGA Championship, where Tiger lost to Y.E. Yang? Tiger almost never hit driver off the tee in the final round.

Y.E. Yang

Tiger’s iron play during the Haney era is a different story. We can see by his rankings how incredible Tiger was, however, that doesn’t quite give the entire picture. The key area for iron play on Tour are shots from the “Red Zone,” which is 175-to-225 away from the hole. Not only did Tiger rank 1st in 5 out of his 7 years in the Red Zone under Haney, but he often ranked well ahead of the 2nd ranked player.

In 2006, the 2nd-ranked player from the Red Zone was Kenny Perry. Tiger was hitting it 9 percent closer to the hole from the Red Zone than Kenny Perry did that season. In 2007, Ernie Els was the 2nd-ranked player from the Red Zone. Tiger was hitting it 5 percent closer to the cup on average than Els from the Red Zone.

And not only was Tiger becoming an incredible iron player from the fairway, but his play from the rough greatly improved. The numbers and the victories dictate that had to happen because he was finding the rough much more often. Therefore, he had to improve his shots from the rough in order keep winning.

Lastly, we see a very telling and interesting trait of Tiger’s game in his putting metrics. He was generally a good to spectacular putter from 3-to-5 feet, however, he was incredible at making putts from 15-to-25 feet. Typically, Tour players do not rank high or low with any consistency on putts more than 15 feet long. A Tour player who putts poorly from longer than 15 feet one season is likely to progress towards the mean the next season. Conversely, a Tour player who putts well from longer than 15 feet one season is more likely to regress towards the mean the next season.

Tiger, on the other hand, putted fantastic from 15-to-25 feet five seasons in a row: from 2004 to 2008. He slipped in 2009, but countered that by putting superbly on putts longer than 25 feet. This shows that Tiger is at the top of his game when he is making putts from 3-to-5 feet and from 15-to-25 feet. He was very wild off the tee and then became conservative off the tee in the Haney era. So, that will mean more birdie putts from 15-to-25 feet and more par saves from 3-to-5 feet. So when Tiger had his putter working from those distances, he was very difficult to beat.

Sean Foley years

In the Foley years, we see that Tiger’s club head speed decreased, however, we also saw that decrease in club head speed in the 2009 and 2010 seasons when Tiger was still working with Haney. I think it is safe to say that the knee injury certainly took a toll on his club head speed. After the 2011 season, we see that Tiger started to not miss the right all of the time. And his fairway percentage improved nicely to 66th in 2012.

What I find interesting is that Tiger had a very nice season driving the ball in 2012. He was not laying up much off the tee, as his Driving Distance rank on measured drives versus all drives was virtually the same. But, after that successful 2012 season, Tiger started to become incredibly conservative off the tee and was laying up off the tee quite often. His iron play regressed, but it essentially became more human from the incredible iron play during the Haney years. His troubles from the rough also started to come back.

Lastly, Tiger’s putting was good but not elite like it was in many of the seasons under Haney. He still made a lot of 15-to-25 foot putts. In fact, after he won his 4th event of 2013 (The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass), he was ranked No. 1 on putts from 15-to-25 feet, well ahead everybody else. He needed to putt that well from 15-to-25 feet, however, because he was becoming so conservative off the tee that he would leave himself with longer birdie putts than Tour players who were hitting driver off the tee and thus and hitting their approach shots closer to the hole. And since his play from the rough regressed, that required him to make more putts from 3-to-5 feet to save par and he simply could not get that done under Foley.

In summation, Tiger had some incredible parts to his game under Harmon and Haney. His driving under Harmon was at times incredible. His iron play and putting from 15-to-25 feet under Haney was off the charts. The injuries have taken their toll and it has greatly hurt his club head speed. He has further exasperated the matter by becoming extremely conservative off the tee, even when his accuracy greatly improved under Foley.

At this point, Tiger will either need to find a way to rejuvenate himself and regain his club head speed or he will have to change the way he plays the game at 115-to-116 mph club head speed. The numbers already show the effect that his injuries have had on his game. So, any further injuries will just amplify the issues.

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18 COMMENTS

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  1. So… All of them got ‘fired’ following a bad season…
    I could care less who he picks, just hope he gets to enjoy the game again cause all I’ve seen lately is a miserable Tiger

  2. Tiger has won 79 PGA tournaments(106 total)and 14 majors.
    For the record, in 2013 tigers stats:
    5 WINS…thats 5 in one year including the players
    PGA Player of the Year
    PGA Tour Player of the Year
    Vardon Trophy
    Money List Winner
    ………..
    I would say that is pretty impressive and bodes well for his future…
    He is currently recovering a major back surgery so it is expected that he will not be up to form for a minimum of 6 months from his surgery…probably more like a year

  3. Lovely article Rich. And yes, there are people who care (unlike the comment made by ‘Booger’).

    In my view, Tiger has lost his ‘energy power’ as a result of the reduction in his range of motion due to his heavy dependency on weight training. This loss of energy has reduced his club head speed. And to make up for the loss of his club head speed and hence distance, he lifts heavy weights. More scar tissue is formed and the cycle continues.

    His accuracy, or lack thereof, off the Tee and with his Irons under Sean is a direct consequence of his improper ‘firing’ sequence and his his improper spine alignment at impact (both down-the-line and frontal).

    The issues above are easy to resolve at any age. He just needs to stop heavy weight training and to remove all scar tissue by visiting a professional who specializes in microfiber reduction. He can do it! He is Tiger Woods.

  4. Really great read. I know we don’t have all the metrics from the Harmon era but it interesting to see that Tiger was not necessarily the complete package that we all seem to think he was during that time (myself included). I would love to be able to see his stats for the red, yellow and green zones during the Harmon era.

  5. This is probably going to strike some as an inappropriate comment, but there’s a real basis for my hypothesis. I think Tiger’s club head speed and accuracy both fell of when he lost the ability to perform the favored “core strengthening regimen” of athletes and men since the beginning of time. The scandal of ’10 cost him in many ways, the least reported of which is he couldn’t possibly have had the same Wilt-Chamberlain like prolific pace with the ladies. It may make some blush, but there’s not much better for core strength, and core strength is great for golf.

  6. Thanks for that, Rich. In Haney’s book he said that Woods had trouble adapting to the new less spinny balls when they came out and shots which previously had drawn back to the middle of the fairway with his driver stopped doing it with new balls. He had to exaggerate the path/face relationship to get it to come back and became less accurate.

  7. One particular thing I’ve noticed since Tiger started with Foley is that he doesn’t seem to have the artistry/arsenal of shots he used to have. I realize a new swing will take time to develop these shots but I remember when Tiger would spray the ball all over the park off the tee and then hit some ridiculous recovery shot that made your jaw hit the ground. He seems to be very limited with his options now and unless he’s in the short grass he’s having to lay up and scramble for par.

  8. I learned a little… But I certainly reaffirmed that Tiger Woods with an iron in his hand is the greatest of all time. He’s got Hogan’s low ones, he’s got Nicklaus’s high ones, and everything in between. Loved watching him hit all nine shots under Haney, what a joy. Hope he goes back to being an artist, like that.

    • Most of the other great players of Tiger’s generation have played their best golf at this age.. Ernie was great in 2010 and won the Open in ’12. Furyk continues to be on the leaderboard every week. Vijay was unreal at 40. Phil won an Open and contended in countless other majors.
      But I will admit… this horse (or cat, if you will) has a ton of miles on it.

      • Driving/Iron play declines quickly for guys from the late 30s, especially into the 40s. Check the 3rd/5th graphs here (http://golfanalytics.wordpress.com/2014/05/14/aging-curves-for-scrambling-and-driving-distance/).

        And I strongly disagree that most of his contemporaries have had their best years in their 40s. Phil isn’t the overall player he was in the mid 2000s (when he was ~35). He’s won a major after 40, but his overall game has declined from top five to more like top 20. Same with Ernie. He was top five in the world in his 30s; he’s declined to a shell of that guy since. Lee Westwood’s not anything like the guy he was in his late 30s. Retief Goosen was great in his late 30s, now he’s anonymous. Padraig Harrington hasn’t been the same since he turned 40. Robert Allenby, a hugely underrated ball-striker, has been awful since turning 40. Greg Norman was completely cooked by age 42-43. etc, etc, etc.

        The list of contemporaries who genuinely have played their best golf after 40 is Stricker and Vijay. Furyk has managed to stay about the same.

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