Peter Kostis: Tiger and Phil’s Power Failure

October 1, 2015

When Troy Merritt won the Quicken Loans National in August, he became the PGA Tour’s 10th first-time winner in 2015. Merritt is one of 20 players under 30 to win on Tour this year. Those are impressive statistics that say a lot about the health and depth of our game’s young talent. It also sends a message to veterans like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson: Winning will only get more difficult as you age.

Let’s imagine, say, a 22-year-old Major League Baseball phenom with a 98 mph fastball. He can have a few great seasons with that one weapon alone, but raw power doesn’t last forever. Within a few years, the pitcher’s fastball will max out at 95 mph, then 92. To have a great career that spans many years, the flamethrower will have to develop a broader repertoire. He’ll need a changeup, a curveball and a slider. Otherwise, he’ll disappear from the big leagues.

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So it is with Tour players. When Tiger burst onto the professional scene in 1997, he revolutionized the sport with his power. But nearly two decades later, rather than focusing on the finer points of, say, his short game—pitching, chipping and putting—he’s forced to try and regain his 98 mph heater, because the tournaments he really wants to win demand distance. Given Tiger’s injury history, straining for more yards is the last thing he should worry about! When older players like Woods and Mickelson obsess over clinging to their length off the tee, they become more susceptible to injuries to the hips, shoulders, lower back and ribs, as well as the hands and wrists.

The dearth of older winners on Tour should also be a wake-up call for the Tour’s leadership, who oversee the way tournament courses are set up. Many Tour venues are played at more than 7,400 yards. As long as those setups continue to demand—and reward—extreme power and length, players will do whatever it takes (including swinging hard and risking injury) to remain competitive. Instead, Tiger should steal a page from the playbooks of Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson—two well-rounded players who keep performing at a high level not with muscle, but with precision wedge play and superb putting. Of course, that’s not really the style of golf Tiger grew up playing.

As for you, here’s how to ensure that you’ll keep swinging with little risk of injury: Don’t overemphasize any one part of the swing. For example, don’t try to “fire your hips through impact.” That’s nonsense—the swing is much more than one part of your body, and no one part should feel strained. This principle will help you hone an injury-free swing that lasts a lifetime.