I feel fortunate to have had several memorable experiences with Tiger Woods and Hank Haney but this one that I am about to share made it to the top of my list . To observe one of the best golfers that ever lived working with one of the best golf instructors in the world during the 2006 PGA Championship week at Medinah CC was both surreal and enlightening.
It was a practice round and Hank Haney was gracious enough to take the time to introduce Tiger Woods when I stepped up to the tee box. It felt like the time I met him with my golf team members. We were at an airport waiting for our golf bags and Tiger was nice enough to walk up to us, introduce himself and say, "You girls are really good!". That was the time he played on the Stanford Golf Team and it was a Golf World Championship where the top NCAA women's & men's golf team travelled to the same location to compete. Taking the time away from his practice round to shake my hand and flash his big smile reminded me of that time at the airport where he really didn't have to come over and say that to us and he really didn't have to stop and talk during the practice round of a major championship but he has and he did. I laughed inside when he shook my hand and said, "Hi I am Tiger Woods, nice to meet you." It's always funny to hear a super star athlete, whom everyone knows and try to introduce himself like a normal person. Had the same experience when Michael Jordan did the same thing and I just wanted to say, "Yea, I know who you are!"
After Tiger introduced himself, talked and shared some laughs, it was amazing to watch him refocus and hit his drive pure down the middle of the fairway. I was a few feet away from him and I literally felt the ground shake beneath my feet. The sound of his clubface impacting the golf ball and launching it into the quiet sky is something I will never forget. His swing velocity had somewhat of a super-human quality. A talented person combined with a technically sound golf swing generating centrifugal force created by physics exudes massive power. His presence on the course was physical, mental and metaphysical. This may seem exaggerated to you but I feel like I have downplayed the experience. It has something to do with not having a crowd to silence or block his presence. To not have people yell, clap or walk seconds after impact made his swing and shots more vivid. It was quiet that day and hardly anyone around. I had the best seat in the house which was several feet from Tiger Woods, Hank Haney and Steve Williams (his caddie). At times, I would hear Hank whispering about what Tiger is working on and how he is preparing for the tournament and at the same time I would see in my vision those purposeful intentions in his golf swing.
I learned so much that day and it carries over to how I play and teach golf; however, their was one practice that Tiger Woods did to improve his skills and prepare for a major that I would like to share in this blog. Tiger played some holes with his usual ground shaking club head speed with drives over 300 yds. He produced speeds that he would use in tournament golf but some of the other holes, he played with a completely different swing speed. The tempo was a combination of watching yoga, tai chi and a turtle. I call it, "Turtle Speed" in my lessons and my students are all too familiar with it. Tiger would take his driver, set up to his shot and if his regular swing is a 10 on a scale of 1-10, he would swing it with a speed of 3. The entire swing from takeaway to impact to follow-through would have a consistent smooth slow flow which would launch his drives 150 yds or so. He would proceed to the next shot and take the same deliberate approach which hit the ball nearly half the distance of the club he chose to hit. This is a practice that Ben Hogan did in his prime to improve his swing.
Ironically when you take the approach learning in a slow manner, the progress speeds up. Keep in mind that this is different from the contagious golf tips that are out there to slow your actual swing down. Raise your hand if someone has once or several times in your golf life told you to slow your swing down when you miss hit a shot. Ok…you can put your hand down now. Keep in mind that I am not advocating a slow swing. When the swing is technically sound, you should maximize your club head speed. Remember that a bad shot is usually never created by a fast tempo. Slow down a bad swing and it's still a slow bad swing. So now that we got that clear, let's talk about the effectiveness of slowing down your swing just for practice purposes to accelerate your progress.
When learning a skill, practice should be deliberate. This unhurried approach will prevent you from skipping important steps and understanding the flow of the golf swing. When I ask my students to slow down their swing, they can slow it down a notch no problem. When I ask them to go even slower, they resist it physically. When I ask them to go as slow as they can, they resist both physically and mentally. I have seen grown men pout over this. Kids are much better at embracing this request because they are open to new ideas.
The body resists when fundamentals are not implemented and understood and the mind resists because human nature crave instant gratification. The mind and body is so used to chasing the next golf tip after another in this hurried approach of finding that one tip that will take them over the edge that when true fundamentals are taught, the concept of actually applying and taking the time to absorb, chew and digest seems so mundane. Well for most golfers who have had that same 2 digit handicap for a lifetime, prove that looking for that quick fix is taking a lifetime to find and that method usually never works. I have witnessed students who have resisted this way of slow practice at first. The resistance quickly subsides as they start understanding the movements of what they are being taught and discover the flow. They start feeling the momentum of this practice ritual and discover that movement is not only purposeful but their actual swing ironically speeds up. This is when it gets fun. I start to see during a session that when a student gets de-focused and lose site of what they were doing, they take their swing down to Turtle Speed without my request.
"Whenever I'm working on something, I always do it in slow motion. That way I can monitor what I'm doing." Ben Hogan
Most golf touring pros take their swing to a slower rhythm when learning a technique but usually do it during their practice swings. Tiger took it to another level and actually played a practice round with hitting some shots on the course in slow motion. He went off to win the PGA Championship that week. Learn to take his approach by taking the learning process slowly to create momentum to improve faster and to make breakthroughs in your game. I am so grateful to this day to have had such an amazing experience with Tiger & Hank.