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Tom Landers
By Tom Landers
Published on 02/17/2005

A Candid Conversation with Tiger about his Swing and Equipment Changes
While Tiger Woods was mired in what some may call a slump Ė while still winning millions of dollars mind you Ė fans and the media alike wondered what had happened to the greatest player in the game. He managed just one win on the PGA TOUR and he lost his five-year stranglehold on the worldís number one ranking to a red hot Vijay Singh.

Even Masters champion Phil Mickelson tried to deliver a backhanded compliment, saying that Tiger was very good because he still played well despite ďinferior equipment.Ē

Phil might have been on the right track. He didnít think the equipment that Tiger was playing was bad, it was just that Woods had not taken advantage of all of the new technology available to todayís golfers, including some of the advances that Nike has made.

Tiger continued to play with a smaller headed driver and a stainless steel shaft. Could that have been the reason why the gameís greatest player was slumping? Was Phil onto something?

Tiger Woods looks to be back. He won overseas late last year and he has already pocketed his first winnerís check in 2005 when he emerged victorious at the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines. Whatís the difference? Well, Tiger has finally come around and embraced some new technology. After his victory, he spoke to Pub Links Golfer Magazine about making the change.

PLGM: It wasnít that long ago the top pros wouldnít even consider a very large head 280, 320. Why has the 460 worked for you and could you point to anything in development that convinced you that hey, I should try this?

TW: Yeah, I think for me personally going from the 410 to the 460 was huge. Iíd always miss the golf ball off the heel. I havenít hit one on the toe since probably single digits in age. So, itís been a while. I went out there and tried it and Iíve picked up about 8 to 10 yards with my miss hits and they go straighter. So that was a huge combo for me, so all of the sudden my sweet spot got larger. When that started happening, I started hitting more fairways and my confidence grew and consequentially, my game has become better because of it.

PLGM: You also switched from a steel shaft to graphite, explain that process.
TW:  Well, I think that going with a 460 head and using the same length shaft, which for me would be 43 Ĺ inches, would just be just too big. It was a massive size, so I had to back away from it a little bit. And then when I started backing off from it and then going to 44 Ĺ or 45 inches with steel, it would be just too heavy of a golf club. So I had to try to get into graphite. And I tried a bunch of shafts to try to find one that matched my swing and what I like to feel. I found one that I could hit, I could trust and I felt stable and it doesnít have a whole lot of torque. It feels similar to my steel shaft, and the only difference is itís a lot lighter. That was something I had to get used to, but once I got used to it I started hitting it further and straighter.

 PLGM: Why did it take you so long to switch to graphite in your driver ?

TW: Itís a double edge sword. When everybody started going to longer shafts with graphite, and hotter balls, were they hitting it better? Yeah. Everyone was hitting it further. Were they missing more fairways? Everyoneís percentages on the fairways went down. The further you hit it, the fewer fairways youíre probably going to hit. Thatís the trade off. When I was going through all of my swing changes, I had a hard enough time hitting fairways. Why would I want to hit the ball 20 yards further when I canít hit a ball on the face as it is? I had to feel comfortable with my technique before I could hit the ball 20 yards further. Once I did, Iíve gone to a longer graphite, went to a hotter driver and Iím hitting it further and also my techniques more sound so I can capitalize on it.  You know, itís kind of funny - when I first came on tour, I was one of the longest hitters besides John Daly and we could maybe carry it 300 yards, now there must be 20 guys that can carry it over 300 yards with these conditions out here. So itís changed quite a bit and you can look at a lot of our fairway stats that have gone down because of it.  But our scoring became better, because weíre closer to the greens, so itís kind of a trade off and I wasnít prepared for that trade off yet, but at the end of last year I started to feel more comfortable.

PLGM: You are referred to as an equipment geek. Have you always been that way?

TW:  Well, itís basically because I donít change very often. Iíve used the same length, the same loft, the same weight, the same swing weight and my wedges since I was 14 years old.  So, I played with the same stuff. So when you give me something different, because Iíve had a constant for all these years, I will know.  Iím not one of those guys who changes all the time. Itís been fun to try to experiment with a different product, but I keep going back to the same things - same loft, same length, same stiffness and shafts. The only thing I really have changed and used a lot lately is my driver.

PLGM: Why havenít you made some of these changes earlier?

TW: Well, I felt that I was not ready. The only thing that I felt I could change, from the equipment side, would be the ball. I asked Nike if they could make me a ball that will gain some distance off the tee without me sacrificing, trying to change, adapt to something completely new, completely foreign. Iíve been playing a 43 Ĺ inch driver since I was 13 years old. From 13 until 28 years old, Iíve played the exact length driver. Iíve never changed. So, for me to change and go to graphite, which Iíve never done before, add length to it. These are foreign to me. To play 15 years one way, I wasnít ready for it. So I always encourage them to change the golf ball and provide a golf ball that would go further.

PLGM: How much does the change in your swing help with the new equipment?

TW: I sometimes try to draw the ball with my driver, however when I do I could take off too much spin and potentially not keep the ball in the air. The ball comes off so fast now that you donít have time to draw it, you donít have time feel the ball stick to the face and kind of sling it out. It comes out too fast. If you look at most of the guys on TOUR now, if they are drawing it, but itís not the old draw, where you used to start the ball way out to the right and come back. Itís more of a pull draw now and itís a different shape, because the ball is spinning less, the ball is not able to curve as much. So guys that want to draw the golf ball will generally drop down to a 3 wood. And thatís what Iíve had to do. Itís an adaptation you have to make with the newer equipment, thatís just the way it is.

PLGM: Was your swing change a result of new equipment or the other way around?

TW: I needed to make those changes for me and then I could take advantage of the equipment.

PLGM: Why the 460 driver?

TW: I went with the 460 just because of where I missed the ball in the face, and the numbers and the feel of experience proved that itís a better driver for me. Otherwise, if it didnít show that, I wouldnít have changed. But itís been a much better driver, for me, with my swing characteristics.

Has it affected the way you hit the ball?
TW: It hasnít. My ball flight is still the same, but my tee height has had to change. I had to learn how to tee it up higher. That has been one of the most difficult tasks, trying to tee the golf ball up higher and stay, and not want to help it up, because the face is so deep as it is, you just make a normal swing. Just being able to trust that was quite a task, because Iíd played one way for so long.  

You made the big leap to the driver, is there a possibility you would find a place in your bag for a hybrid?

TW:  Iíve tested them and you know one of the things that Iíve found for me with hybrids is that I had a harder time controlling my height. When I get a little under the gun, that 2 iron is going to be hitting knee high. I like hitting it really flat and really low. The hybrids are designed to hit the ball up and I donít want to hit the ball up. You know I have enough speed for now. I can hit high with long irons, but there will come a time when I put a utility wood or a hybrid iron in my bag. Because I just donít have the speed anymore. As of right now, I still have the speed and I have no problem lofting a 2 iron up in the air.

PLGM: Whatís your personal goal this year?

TW: WinÖsimple. To be honest with you, itís winning tournaments and winning them consistently and frequently. Thatís the goal. Thatís how I got to number one, thatís how I stayed at number one for all these years. The only way you can get there and stay there, is to win golf tournaments. Winning takes care of all that. It takes care of world rankings, player of the year, and all of those other awards. Itís just getting out there and winning championships at the end and holding that trophy up. Itís a wonderful feeling.