Tiger Woods is credited with being the driving force behind turning golfers into well-muscled athletes. However, there is a different reason why his upper body looks even more buff these days.
Remarkably, in a sport where 100 per cent well-oiled knees and hips are paramount to swinging properly and generating speed, Woods is doing something not many golfers do—use his arms, shoulders and torque from a fused spine to achieve astonishing ball speeds of 175 miles per hour. On Saturday, he smoked it to 364 yards off the second tee.
The golfing world is singing paeans of the 15-time Major champion’s mental strength and the hard work he has put in to be able to come out of life-threatening injuries from his February 2021 car crash in Los Angeles. At one point, it was unthinkable that Woods would ever play again, leave alone compete at the Masters and make the cut.
It’s irrelevant where the former world No 1 eventually finishes. His 78 in the third round on a bitterly cold Saturday—it was the worst round in 93 competitive outings at the Augusta National for the five-time Masters champion—was an aberration. Temperatures felt like 3-4 degrees in the wind chill, which were definitely not ideal for his patched-up body.
India’s Arjun Atwal, who has been a close friend of Woods for years, said only ardent golf followers will be able to appreciate how much of an effort it takes to make the kind of swing change to compensate for the physical restrictions caused by his injuries. “I know Tiger has worked extremely hard to be able to play this week. Despite all his pains and aches, he has not missed a single day of practice,” said the 49-year-old Atwal, the only Indian to win on the PGA Tour.
“Hitting golf shots is just one part of it. That is in addition to everything he and his team needed to do with his body every day to make sure he is ready to hit those shots, and then more hours after the range session to ensure he’d be ready for the next day.”
Atwal said one of the reasons Woods is looking like a top heavyweight boxer is because he is using his upper body to generate power. Golfers use the force generated through pushing their legs against the ground, and an explosive turn of hips, to get the speed required to send the ball into stratosphere. In Woods’ case, both have become difficult.
“I have been pulling his leg and telling him not to wear shirts that are two sizes too small,” said Atwal, who played all his practice rounds with Woods when he made it to the Masters in 2011, including one where they flew into Augusta two weeks before the tournament.
“Since he can’t push off his right foot, he has really emphasised the ‘pull’ (type of golf shot where the ball turns left of the intended target) muscles. The only way for him to do that is by using his upper body to pull and rotate.
“And he has always shaped shots with his hands, which is even more important now. His left lat (back muscles) has to do a lot of work now to get that speed and rotation.”
Even the minutest swing change by professional golfers takes plenty of time and hard work to get into groove. Atwal said it was unbelievable how quickly Woods adopted his new swing.
“He really is swinging it well with the new swing. That gives you an indication of how much he had to work to get this done,” added Atwal, who has suffered from a bad back for the past several years and made swing changes a couple of years ago after advise from Woods.
“And he is still shaping his shots so well. That shaping of shots is all in his hands, which is hard to explain to mere mortals. No one in the history of the game has had the kind of feel he has.
“He really is a huge motivation for all of us. The things he can do, especially after everyone tells him that he won’t be able to, are inspirational.”