Tiger Woods announcement of a new swing ‘consultant’ on twitter resulted in a flurry of journalist activity and reportage. Lacking however was any real insight into Tiger’s decision making process or a provisional analysis of the changes he may make to his game. Lets delve a little deeper.
WHO IS CHRIS COMO
At 37 years of age Como is the first coach Tiger has had, who is younger than him. Part of a new generation of teachers singled out by Golf Digest as the future of golf instruction in their annual list of ‘Top Teachers’, Como interestingly spent time in the Hank Haney coaching setup, located in Dallas, Texas. As well as this post he spent significant time as an intern in the David Leadbetter Academy and interestingly went through the controversial Mac O’Grady MORAD programme.
Currently he is nearing completion of a biomechanics masters degree under Dr. Young-Hoo Kwon in Texas. Kwon is an acclaimed biomechanics expert, with his work also focussing on ‘sport injury mechanism’. This can be defined as the study of what is the root cause of sport injury. He has also pioneered a three dimensional analysis tool for instructors that highlights and details or measures a golfers movement in the swing. (Read Dr Kwoon’s biography here)
Como’s study under Dr Kwon is noteworthy on two counts. First of all it shows an enthusiasm and seriousness for the game that few possess. A degree of any sort is a massive undertaking but a masters degree requires utter dedication and immersion in the chosen subject. Success in gaining a masters qualification requires some original, real life application – it is not just the regurgitation of learned theory. The ability and knowledge he will garner during his study places him above the majority of his peers in proven knowledge or theoretical ability.
Secondly it hints at the future of golf instruction. Golf is a sport very very reluctant in embracing the developments that have been made in other sports. It is interesting to note the controversy that still surrounds the widespread use of Trackman and its data. It has fundamentally altered our understanding of the ball flight laws yet many coaches of the older generation disapprove of its use entirely. Many think that ‘flying time’ on the range is the only ingredient required to become a successful coach.
In a recent interview, Chris Como was asked to further define his approach to coaching beyond the biomechanics background. He subscribes to no swing methodology in particular, instead seeking to ‘solve problems’ as effectively and efficiently as possible.
He doesn’t feel that he is attempting to re-invent the wheel, just discover what makes and what made, great players great. Although he places value on ‘flying hours’, experience and intuition cannot combat science alone. In his opinion if you are not using all the tools at your disposal, you are not maximizing your problem solving skills on behalf of the pupil.
Como also works with Aaron Baddeley, Trevor Immelman and Jamie Lovemark. Notably all three players have endured extreme highs and lows in the game. Jamie Lovemark is an ex-Sean Foley student and burst onto the PGA Tour scene only to suffer with injury. Since his acrimonious split with Foley, he was has been very critical of Foley’s methods on twitter. Aaron Baddeley was a former poster boy for the ‘Stack n Tilt’ method, controversial in its requirement for an interpretation of a centred pivot in the swing. His move to Como hints at the search for a scientific, factual approach to what is happening in his swing.
Trevor Immelman is the highest profile of his current students, a former Masters winner who has always received high praise for his technical form. A long term relationship with Leadbetter and serious injury has led him to Como’s door seeking answers. There has been a common thread of injury and the seeking of evidence between his current pupils – it would be fair to place Tiger in this category.
Chris Como (left) with Dr Young-Hoo Kwon
WHY CHOOSE CHRIS COMO
Woods underwent microdiscectomy surgery in March to alleviate a pinched nerve in his back, suffered another back issue in August 2014 and has had four knee procedures during his career. With an injury resume this serious and complex it looks like a smart move to employ or consult a swing coach with no premeditated agenda or bias with technique, one whose qualification lies in injury prevention. Como’s number one priority will be to ensure Tiger is a healthy golfer.
“I was introduced to Chris this summer by Notah [Begay] and subsequently we had several good conversations about the golf swing,” Woods said. “I’ve worked with him about a month since I started practicing. Chris will consult and work with me during the year.”
As for working with a rock star like Tiger, Como admitted to being nervous when they started working together three weeks ago. “I would say once we got in the mode of talking golf swing, that’s my Zen, that’s my world. When I’m into that world, on the range, teaching, talking golf swings, that’s sort of what I do.”
In an interview, Tiger’s Stanford team-mate Notah Begay, hinted that a post PGA (Tiger missed the cut in his return from injury) heart to heart saw him recommend Como. According to Begay the intention is for Tiger to return to some of the techniques he used to such great effect in conquering the golfing world. The biomechanical principles that he utilised from youth to winning the grand slam – a return to his most dominant habits and feels.
WHY WAS IT TIME FOR A NEW COACH?
Golf is a complex game but our understanding of peak performance is ever increasing. The scientific developments and detail in which things are analysed, calls for a great deal of specialisation throughout sport.
In golf we have physiotherapists, chiropractors, fitness trainers, physiologists, psychologists, motivational speakers, strategy and statistics coaches, caddies, swing coaches, short game coaches, putting coaches, performance coaches, nutritionists, sport scientists, agents (responsible for tournament choice) training partners, biomechanics experts, equipment experts, trackman experts and practice experts.
Some may argue that the skill of generalisation has passed, that a mastery of your subject is essential. What is clear from the above detail is that hiring a specialist for each of the above topics is not practical. Even aside from the cost, the drain on time and organisation makes it a non starter. Clearly you must choose the most relevant help available to you.
Sean Foley has become one of the most famous coaches in the world due to his three year association with Tiger. What made him such a talking point initially was his abrasive confident delivery. His style bordered on that of the typical motivational speaker, talking with an assurance rarely seen in golf. His awareness of all the various roles within golf was impressive, biomechanics and psychology a constant feature of his persuasive discussion on the golf swing. Although labelled arrogant by many, Foley was not afraid to utilise other specialists in helping his players.
We can only speculate on the various reasons for his breakup with Tiger Woods. It could be as simple as a lack of form in the majors when the pressure is greatest. Maybe there was lingering doubt as to the effectiveness of the swing they had built under pressure. Tiger has stated his great sense of achievement in winning multiple times post scandal and injury when many people had completely wrote him off.
Perhaps the style of Foley, the outspoken and the directness of his approach becoming a little too much over time. Perhaps his lack of further qualifications hindered the ability to take a different approach or answer all of Tiger’s questions?
What we can say for sure is that watching Adam Scott and Rory Mcilroy dominate the golf world with such flair and command over their ball can’t have been an easy pill to swallow for the most competitive sportsman in history. Since working with Foley, commentators and ex- players have voiced concerns over the technical and mechanical look to Tiger’s game. Even to the least qualified golfer, Mcilroy and Scott play with a poise, balance and effortlessness Tiger doesn’t currently possess. Perhaps he is looking to Como to rediscover the keys to his physical performance that were so impressive when he dominated the game. Rather than re-hiring Butch Harmon as many have suggested, Tiger will be aware that his body has changed, (he is almost 40) and cannot simply copy his old swing. Como will be tasked with discovering the instinctiveness and effortlessness with which he won his major championships.
Tiger’s swing, August 2014 on return from injury
HANEY AND FOLEY WEIGH IN
It is worth highlighting that in his statement, Tiger defined the role of Chris Como as a swing ‘consultant’ – this suggests a different relationship than those of Harmon, Haney and Foley. Perhaps he is looking to become more independent, achieve self mastery and become his own best problem solver. Many of the worlds best fear any more than a little change or adaption to the game that got them there. They do not want to tinker with the successful ‘recipe’ and befall a loss of form that has blighted the careers of major winners such as David Duval. Tiger clearly has none of this fear in his search for perfection – his next step in the journey will be fascinating.
According to Hank Haney it boils down to two things: “Did he find a swing that’s easier on his body? And does he find a cure for that driver? If you’re going to return to No. 1 in the world, you’re going to have to hit that driver – and that’s the big question mark.”
“The hard thing with Tiger is that he’s not your average student. You may have great, great information, but to deal with somebody like Tiger, I think experience helps you, too. That’s something we’ve seen. I had a lot of experience and Butch had a lot of experience, and both of us were really successful. It remains to be seen whether someone with great knowledge and information but less experience can get through to someone like Tiger Woods.”
“You’re going to go through some good times and bad times,” explained Sean Foley. “That’s par for the course with everybody. He’s a good guy and great to work for, always very grateful. Chris will get to see what I saw, which is much different than how he’s been painted. He’s very classy to work for, never puts the blame on anyone but himself. He’s very much a professional and it shows on his record.”
WHAT THEY COULD CHANGE?
Lets start with a great quote from Chris Como that a provides a little insight to his methods; “Repeatability does not necessarily come from just trying to be more repeatable. Learn to solve similar ‘problems’ in a variety of ways.”
This hints that changes are made through task orientated goal setting. Foley and Haney had very specific and clear ideas as to every position in the swing they were working towards with Tiger. We know that Sean Foley introduced and prescribed heavy use of Trackman to Tiger. Perhaps his use of it as an essential practice tool (rather than a before or after measurement tool) focussed too much of Tiger’s attention away from the creative element of his game that made him so effective in rounds where he was struggling. Respected coach, Brian Manzella suggests that Tiger has perhaps chased perfect numbers without appreciating the context of his whole performance. Como may try to attain change without the specificity of style or form insisted by others. He will likely rely functionality through biomechanic testing.
Their joint goals for improvement will no doubt remain shrouded in secrecy but we can analyse the biomechanics of the golf swing a little further to see how Tiger’s game has changed over the years and put the coaching of Haney, Harmon and Foley in context.
Como’s main asset, what he really offers Tiger is his biomechanic knowledge and understanding. We will explore the subtlities of different biomechanic concepts in our next published blog but for now lets focus on Tiger.
A recent Golf Digest article utililised images from biomechanic data that summaries Tiger’s change in technique over the years. The main difference is the amount of lean towards the target he creates with his club-shaft.
The image is an approximation, a 3d rendering based on video analysis but it shows a stark difference. Statistically and visually Tiger’s iron game has been excellent in the last couple years. His shaft lean may be slighly more than before but the tour average is an attack angle of 4.3 downwards. It is with the driver, with it’s greater speed and force, its longer arc that Tiger loses out against his competition. With driver, a significant downward angle of attack creates a three dimensional swing path to the right (this understanding is termed D-Plane), which makes hooks and blocks likely. More importantly it reduces the optimisation or opportunity for distance or a high launching shot, both previous strengths of Tigers. These two attributes are widely lauded in Mcilroy’s game. The image below highlights their current differences.
So will Tiger be spending more time looking like Mcilroy below? Biomechanic testing is the future of the game – taking the evidence and factual analysis to a step beyond Trackman about what is really happening in the swing. It will be fascinating to watch Tiger attempt to regain his great form of old and overcome the nemesis of aging sportsmen – injury.
Rory Mcilroy undergoing biomechanic testing
CHRIS COMO’S BEST TIPS
(courtesy of Golf Digest and Golf.com)
I like to study the golf swing in biomechanical terms, but for you it’s better to have an athletic feel. Consider boxing: You want to swing with a tight uppercut motion (above, right), not a looping hook (left).
Players who slice throw their hands out and around on the downswing and leave their hips and lower body behind. Instead, thrust your belt buckle up and toward the target through impact–as your right shoulder turns through lower than your left–like an uppercut to the chin. Your upper back will tilt slightly away from the target at the finish. You might top a few shots at first because you’re changing your swing shape, but you’ll learn to hit a draw in no time.