There’s an AP story circulating in the golf media aether today regarding a few comments Arnold Palmer made about Tiger and swing changes. Here’s the heart of the article:
“I really did not make any swing changes in my career,” Palmer said Wednesday. “I started with a pattern when I started playing the tour, and I stuck with it until today. And I will go with it today in the pro-am, and hope to hell I can hit it in the fairway, and hope I can hit it longer than what I’ve been hitting it.”
These are different times, indeed.
Jack Nicklaus used to have his longtime mentor, Jack Grout, take a look at his swing at the start of a season and rarely called him the rest of the year. Palmer’s only coach was his father, Deacon.
“I saw him at least once a year for about 70 years,” Palmer said. “And he never changed anything. He watched me for five minutes and went home. He put my grip on the club and my hands on the golf club when I was 6 years old and he said, ‘Boy, don’t you ever change it.’ Well, I haven’t changed it.”
Palmer said he was surprised that Woods is changing his swing again, although he doesn’t know what he’s trying to do with it. Palmer recalls the first time he played with Woods, at the Masters during a practice round when Woods was an amateur, and he thought Woods was doing everything just right.
Palmer and Nicklaus figured that Woods might win as many green jackets as both of them combined – 10. Woods has four.
“So changing? Well, that’s up to Tiger,” Palmer said. “I don’t want to inject anything into something I don’t really know enough about to talk about.”
Much of the commentary seems to agree with Palmer—that Tiger has done more harm than good with his constant tinkering. But for once, I’m going to side with Woods.
In staying with a single swing throughout his career, Palmer won seven majors between 1958 and 1964. His last major came at age 35. He also won 2/3 of his 62 regular Tour victories by that age. In other words, his career as a major golfing force essentially was over by age 35.
Nicklaus, on the other hand, DID make swing changes (in spite of what the AP article implies). This is from a 2010 article on Nicklaus’ site:
My swing, did I make changes? I made changes constantly in my swing. That’s how you get better. If you don’t make changes, you don’t improve. I don’t care who you are, because your body continually changes. I mean, my body at age 46 was certainly a lot different than it was at age 25, and/or at 35. And as is Tiger’s body a lot different at age 30 is he 35 now than it was at age 25.
So does the swing change? Not really. He’s got a beautiful golf swing. He’s always had a beautiful golf swing. But you always continually tweak things that you do within that golf swing to try to improve it. Sometimes you’re successful and sometimes you’re not.
But the biggest swing change that I made in my career was in 1980. In ‘79, I had the worst year I ever had, it’s the only year I didn’t win a tournament, after 17 straight years or something like that, whatever it was. I got very vertical in my golf swing. You wouldn’t have noticed it to look at it. But I noticed it. And from August 3 until the first of the year, I touched a golf club three times. I wanted to get rid of all of my bad habits.
My guess is that Tiger wants to be more like Nicklaus than Palmer, and that he feels it necessary to evolve as he ages. And in that, he’s making the correct decision. For me, the only questionable part is in his choice of teachers/philosophies. Right now, Sean Foley is not looking like the best choice. But only time will tell.