We shall cover three topics in this newsletter. The first was stimulated by a Dear Dr. Putt letter, and the second two from a number of inquiries as to why Dr. Putt has not spoken about Tiger Woods' performance of late.
1. What You See Depends On Where You Stand
1. What You See Depends On Where You Stand
Dr. Putt recently had a letter from a reader asking why the line seemed to change from when he was placing the ball on the green to when he was standing over the putt. He was using a straight line drawn on the ball to aim it along the line he intended to start his putt, as do most players today. However, when he positioned himself over the putt, he perceived that the ball was no longer aimed where he thought it should be aimed.
The key word here is perceived. What you see depends on where you stand, or more precisely, where your eyes are relative to the ball. Your best position for aiming is from behind the ball. Hence, that is why most players aim the ball using that line while getting as low as possible crouching behind the ball. Consider this analogous to sighting a rifle. However, if your eyes (BOTH of them) are not directly over that line when you assume your stance, you will think that the line on the ball points in a different direction. Ideally your eyes should be slightly behind the ball and over that line extended back so that you get a little of that rear perspective you had when crouching behind the ball.
How can you tell if your eyes are correctly positioned? Assume your stance and then hold a second ball between your eyes and drop it. It should land just behind the ball you intend to putt. Of course, to work in a little plug for the EOB device, using it on your putter tells you that your eyes are correctly positioned without doing this test.
One last point. When you look up for that last look at the line and the hole, make sure you rotate your head sideways so that both your eyes remain over the line. For a right handed player, at a ninety degree turn of the head (which is more than we need to see the line and hole), the left eye would be directly above the right eye. Do not turn your head so that you are looking at the hole with your eyes straddling the line.
2. Tiger and Records
More has been written about Tiger's golf than perhaps any other player in history at this point in their career. He is doing some remarkable things. And though Dr. Putt yearns for someone to come forward to challenge Tiger in a consistent way, Dr. Putt considers watching Tiger's exploits as they happen a lucky accident of history.
A few weeks ago Dr. Putt went back and reviewed the record of Tiger's performances in major events. While Tiger has been a factor in many major tournaments over his career, one can see a striking trend for the last four years, the years following his swing change. Not counting the PGA in 2006 just after his father's death when Tiger missed the cut, his average finish has been 2.5. When he did not win he was almost always in contention, usually up until the last several holes. No one has been that good that consistently. Clearly his swing change has reduced the variation in his performance.
We often hear about the fact that Tiger has never won a major by coming from behind on the last day. And the corollary, that he never loses when ahead on the last day. Both of these go together and have a logical explanation. When Tiger has his "A" game, his level of play is so much better than anyone else, including those who are playing their own rare A+ games, that Tiger gets ahead by the second or third round and wins without any great strain. When he is at his own A+ level, the margin is just larger.
On the other hand, when his game is at his B level, he is still as good as everyone else's A level, but not quite as good as someone who is having their rare A+ game, so he contends but loses. Because that someone is almost always someone different, it really is Tiger against the random someone who is playing at their personal peak.
Some day Tiger will find his A+ game on the last day and come from behind. And some day he will falter to his B game on the last day as someone soars to new personal heights. And father time will eventually beat even Tiger, unless he achieves his own personal goals and stops while on top. All that will be more history to enjoy. Dr. Putt would humbly suggest all of us to be happy we are alive right now to witness Tiger's feats.
3. Tiger and Tempo
Can Tiger Woods get even better? Yes. As he becomes more comfortable with the changes he has made and reduces the variation that takes place from day to day, his performance can still improve.
One area that seems to have a lot of variation is Tiger's swing tempo. He is most likely to get in trouble when he swings fast and hard, especially with the driver. On the other hand, when he is at the top of his game and leading in a tournament, nearly all his swings are at the same even tempo, at about 80 percent effort.
A consistent and smooth tempo at about the 80 percent level is all he needs for nearly all holes. His distance with the 2 iron at this level of effort, his famous stinger, is somewhere around 275 yards. So unless a par four is over 475 yards, he has 200 or less to the green, which he easily reaches with about a seven iron. His 300 yard three wood shots place him close to where the average drive is for other players. He should rarely hit the driver. You may have noticed that as his overall consistency has improved he has hit his driver less often.
An interesting question is whether his all-out swing is a cause or effect. Perhaps Tiger is pressing his luck to get the extra yardage by using his driver at maximum power when he is off in some other area of his game and feels he must take chances to compensate. Swinging harder and faster when one is just a little bit off significantly increases the chance of disaster. Of course we love him when he takes chances and lets one loose, even if it finds the rough and trees -- perhaps ESPECIALLY when it finds the tall stuff. His strength from long grass and shot making from tight places are a part of his appeal. That is what we loved about Seve in his prime. The "Perils of Tiger" is far more alluring than "Eldridge Plays it Safe."
Part of Dr. Putt wants Tiger to become the golf machine with near perfection and win or come close to winning every time he tees it up. Dr. Putt feels Tiger can come close to that if he focuses more on maintaining an even tempo at about 80 percent power nearly all the time. But the other part of Dr. Putt wants Tiger try to overpower courses and try to be the first to break 60 in a major. He could well do it, and how exciting the effort would be.
Of course Tiger will keep his own counsel. Dr. Putt suspects that most of the time we will see the new more cautious Tiger, especially when he is ahead, but with just enough attacks on the golf course to keep us all interested -- and perhaps to keep Tiger interested.
The lesson in this for most of us mere mortals is that if we want more consistency, we should emulate the tempo of the cautious Tiger or some other player with a really consistent tempo, like A.J. Choi or Steve Stricker. Dr. Putt strongly suspects, however, that given the human desire for power and dominance (especially among males of the species), most of us will continue to thrash away whether the situation warrants or not.