Tom Whitney sees success after offseason swing changes
The self-taught Whitney hired a swing coach for the first time in his career
April 02, 2021
By Nick Parker, PGATOUR.COM
- April 02, 2021
- Tom Whitney has two top-10 finishes on the Korn Ferry Tour this seaosn. (Ben Jared/PGA TOUR)
Long frustrated with the occasional fat miss with his long irons and woods, Tom Whitney, the self-taught former Nuclear Missile Operator in the Air Force, hired the first swing coach of his career this offseason.
The 31-year-old, who admits his swing is “far from textbook,” spent the entire four months of the Korn Ferry Tour offseason reworking the weight shift and takeaway in his swing to get the low point of his swing further past the ball, spending six weeks with his new coach, Casey Barbee, working every day on drills and slow-motion swings before ever hitting a golf ball.
“As I started to have these mishits, me, in my limited knowledge, I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just move the ball back in my stance.’ Well, the more I push it back, the more it causes me to lean back, which pushes my weight to my right side, which causes even more of the symptom that I’m trying to get rid of,” Whitney said. “So, there was some counterintuitive stuff of move the ball more forward in my stance, getting my weight feeling more on my left side that I wouldn’t have come up with on my own.”
Knowing the gravity of the changes, Whitney, who owns a win on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica, feared progress could fail to manifest for half a season and was OK with going backwards before he went forwards. In his first round actually playing with the new swing in the offseason, he expected it to be a disaster. Instead, he shot 9-under-par in 25 mile per hour winds.
“That was the first real exciting moment where I got actual feedback versus watching ball flight on the range,” he said.
The gamble has paid off in competition, too, as well with a career-best third-place finish on the Korn Ferry Tour in only the second event of 2021 at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open presented by MISTRAs. Although he missed the cut in his last start in Savannah at the Club Car Championship at The Landings Club, the solo third helped him breathe a sigh of relief.
“It relieves a lot of pressure as we are starting out this second year of this long season,” Whitney said. “Entering at 92nd where I started and hoping that I can crawl my way into the top 75 and feel some breathing room, and then to do that in one event is definitely a load off my shoulders.”
With the top-three, Whitney is currently No. 68 after entering 2021 at No. 92, creating a new goal of top 25 by the end of the Regular Season.
“Top 75 is in the rearview mirror now [as a goal]” Whitney said. “I think that’s just the rational way of thinking, and it’s time to put together a couple more really solid weeks and aside from those really solid weeks, let’s put together a bunch of consistent weeks. I think if I do that, I’ll find myself in the top 25 at the end of the season.”
The weekend closing rounds in Louisiana of 65-63 were particularly reenforcing going forward because of the quality of his ball-striking. In the final round, he hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation with two of the three misses being just on the fringe. For the 36 holes, he didn’t make a bogey. It’s the type of consistency he struggled to find with the more timing-based move he’d used in the past.
“I made one mistake, one bad swing, in 36 holes. Other than that, I was never out of position and never in jeopardy of making a bogey,” Whitney said. “So, yeah, looking back on that and saying I spent two days in that zone is pretty cool.”
In a similar search for more consistency, Whitney also made a drastic offseason putting change. After putting crosshanded for 20 years, he switched to the more traditional right-hand low and added five inches in length and a counterbalance to his putter. He’s also using an unconventional grip, turning one of the Super Stroke Fatso putter grips 90 degrees from standard so the fat, flat part of the grip faces towards the hole. He largely found it by accident, spinning the grip around as the solvent dried until he found a way to grip it that felt the most comfortable in his hands.
“I honestly figured that the inconsistency can’t get any worse with me tinkering, so I might as well try something,” Whitney said.