'Trust your hands'
In a revealing interview, Tiger Woods talks club testing, equipment specs, his fellow TaylorMade pros -- and why he'd like to play with 14 drivers
January 23, 2018
By Jonathan Wall, PGATOUR.COM
In a revealing interview, Tiger Woods talks club testing, equipment specs, his fellow TaylorMade pros -- and why he'd like to play with 14 drivers
A year ago, Tiger Woods signed an endorsement deal with TaylorMade after spending the majority of his professional career using Nike equipment. In the ensuing 12 months, Woods was mostly sidelined due to continued back issues and rehab, but an encouraging performance at last month’s Hero World Challenge has golf fans fired up for his return to the PGA TOUR at this week’s Farmers Insurance Open.
PGATOUR.COM Equipment Insider Jonathan Wall recently had an extended one-on-one interview with Woods during a TaylorMade testing session near Woods’ home in Jupiter, Florida. The conversation ranged from his testing process to his evolution in equipment to his club specs to his unique response when asked about golf without a governing body.
On how his testing process changed since 1996 when he turned pro:
TIGER WOODS: “When I first turned pro, it was hosel, no adjustable weights. It was just glued hosels and go ahead and hit it. It was a different era, it was a different time, but now TrackMan allows us to cut down on our testing, cut down on our practice sessions, and we're not beating ourselves into the ground that way. For me, it validated feel, and so when I would feel something and then look at the numbers, it would validate it. Sometimes engineers may not always believe what I'm feeling or what a player is feeling and saying, but then the numbers can definitely validate it.”
On his preparation for a club testing:
WOODS: “I always test. I've never had a problem testing. I've always tested, though, when I'm actually hitting well. I don't want to test when I'm hitting poorly because then I think you can find a club that's going to Band‑Aid it, and you really don't know what truly is going to happen when your game turns around. And so I would push off testings until I worked on my game. Generally I'd do two or three days of practice sessions prior to a testing.”
On determining whether to make a club switch:
WOODS: “First of all, it has to be better than what I'm playing, and the only way … is not only to hit it on the range and to see good results, but I've got to go out on the golf course and hit shot after shot after shot. Specific shots -- bunker here, you have water here, you have wind blowing here, and you've got to hit this shot, and just do it day after day after day after day. There's no magic one day of ‘Oh, this club is in.’ It's OK, that's good hitting it that way, [but] let's try and do something different, different wind conditions, let's see what happens.
“One of the things I think I've really done over the years is that I've been pretty ardent about playing a product that is better than what I'm using, and all of the companies I've been with, they all know that. I will give it my best efforts to try and put it in, but it's going to take a little time sometimes.”
On taking the testing process from the range to the course:
WOODS: “First things first, it has to look good in the playing position. If it doesn't look good, I'm already looking at stuff I don't want to look at, and how am I supposed to hit the most beautiful golf shot with something I don't like? OK, that's out. The next one is how does it feel when I waggle it? My hands are the only thing that are touching the golf club, and I've been trained to trust my hands, and so as I waggle it -- ooh, that feels good, or ooh, that's a little toe-heavy, or ooh, that weight is way far back. So I get a sense of that, and then hit shots, normally just throw out a couple and then you fire a couple and then you kind of tweak them a little bit. And then either that day or the next day, I'll go out and hit some balls on the golf course.”
On using the waggle as his starting point:
WOODS: “I've always done that. My dad was a big believer of trusting your hands, let the hands guide you in the golf swing. So that's what I've always done. For as long as I can remember, I've always waggled the club and tried to get a feel for it.”
“Quite frankly it's easier now to feel it because don't forget we had these little bitty club heads [early in his career]. The golf ball and the head were like the same size. Well, there's not a lot of weight distribution that's left in there. Now they're [460cc driver heads]. So it's easier to feel when it's off a little bit or a little bit different. I've always tried to have a baseline, so the baseline is the club that I have in the golf bag because I know they work. Now, I work off of that baseline."
On how much input he gives TrackMan numbers:
WOODS: “I'm probably 80/20. Eighty percent feel and hitting shots and 20 percent TrackMan. Yeah, it's nice to see numbers. I like to do it for swing path a lot of times. I like to see what my path is doing but also when I get up to the longer stuff, I like to see what my spin rate is, and so that's something where for me that's what I focus on. I know a lot of guys focus on numbers, how far are they hitting it. I've already got my clubs pretty dialed into numbers, how far I'm hitting it. I've got a whole golf course in the backyard (laughs). So my wedge game is pretty much dialed in in that way. TrackMan is for hitting specific numbers on wedge shots, which a lot of guys use that for. I have that in my backyard."
On getting his driver dialed in:
WOODS: “It doesn't need to be bang‑on because I'm not going to hit every shot perfect. But once it's in the ballpark — what I like is I will actually try and mis‑hit a couple shots and see what it does, what my tendencies are, especially under the gun. I like to hit these little low bleeding fades out there, and my miss has always been off the heel, so what does it look like when I hit it off the heel a little bit?”
On matching up new clubs with a new ball:
WOODS: “The golf ball was the first and foremost. That's where I started from. I started from the green back. … Most of the golf balls are very hard. I like to have a softer golf ball, a little bit more spin. Once I found that, that part of it was nice. Now, as far as working my way through the bag, I had a hard time with that because at the time I was still hurt, and so my testing was very limited in that regard, which was frustrating. My irons didn't change, so the only thing that changed were my woods, and my speed had come down dramatically, and so we were looking at more loft, a little more help in the shaft at the bottom, a little more kick, all these things I found very frustrating, but it was very real at the same time.”
On the importance of sound and feel with irons:
WOODS: “Oh, the feel, absolutely. It's got to perform through the turf. That's the feedback. That's what goes into my hands and the forearms and I get a good sense of what's going on. I've always been a person that couldn't stand some of the new technology in irons because if I hit one flush, it should go on the absolute number, that's it. Can't go any further. Sometimes you may catch a jumper now with these new irons, a little bit hotter faces, they'll jump if you hit it flush. For me, the worst thing I could possibly happen is if I mis‑hit it [and] then it goes the proper distance. I'm like, Uh‑oh, did I hit that bad? I want it to go short because where's all the trouble. You can't get up‑and‑down from long. You can always get up‑and‑down from short. So I'd much rather hit a bad shot and be, whatever, come up five yards short generally. That's OK. I don't want to have any surprises long.”
On his initial thoughts of TaylorMade’s M3 and M4 lines:
WOODS: “When they first introduced the Twist Face and what that looks like, obviously the beginning model, it was like this is crazy. It looks like a [Ruffles] potato chip, you know? It looked awful. But in the playing position, you don't even see it, it's so subtle. Obviously, the mockup that they gave me is just to exemplify what they're actually doing. But in the playing position, you don't even notice it. I would try and hit a couple shots off the heel because that's where I always miss it. I miss everything on the heel, and I grew up in an era where it was Balata balls and persimmon. I was probably the last kind of generation that probably grew up with that. So I was always taught to hit the ball on the heel as your miss, stay in the air and hit a cut and get it in play. Total quick hook with persimmon was awful. Because of that, I've always missed it on the heel.
“I like the Twist Face because I'm hitting that spot, that shot with a little bit more oomph to it. It doesn't quite bleed out like it used to do. So that to me is already promising, but I've still got to do a lot of testing on the range and then obviously bring it to the golf course and put a lot of work in on it.”
On providing design feedback such as on TaylorMade’s prototype 6-iron:
WOODS: “I am very simple when it comes to my blades. I like them a certain length. I've played blades basically since I was 16 years old, and so I've traditionally liked a longer-size blade. Not the Hogan PCs or Apex, which are basically the little bitty ones. Mine are a little bit longer. You know, I remember playing old Daiwa Advisors that Ian Baker‑Finch used to play, David Graham played, and so I liked that little longer head. And I like the top line a little bit on the thinner side. But as I told these guys, I said, hey, you can put a dancing monkey on the back of a club, I don't care. I don't care what it's stamped like. Just so it looks good in playing the position, which I like. This one looked great, and it's in the window that I'm looking for.”
On his transition to adjustable hosels:
WOODS: “I found it frustrating at the beginning, but also I've found it pretty awesome in the sense that because I was hurt at the time trying to do all these testings, I couldn't afford to hit a bunch of different clubs, and so I decided to tweak with this head, the shaft, this weight on more heel bias, more toe bias, just trying to figure it all out. It became a lot easier on my body, so that part was nice. And then because of that, I gravitated towards that, and that made me think that, you know what, hey, I've got to learn all this stuff. There's like over a thousand different settings. OK, so I've got to go to school, so teach me what is all this stuff, and teach me the physics, teach me the geometry. Once I started to understand what was going on, I could assert myself more in a conversation about what I needed from a club, and I think that really helped me be able to put together my set, and one of the reasons why I drove it so well [at the Hero World Challenge], why I hit the 3‑wood so well and why the 2‑iron is really working because I finally understood it.”
On his club specs:
WOODS: “I'm stock spec from say the 60s. The only thing that would be weird is I have a 60‑degree sand wedge. I didn't have a 60 until probably late high school, just 56 and open and whatever you want to do. I had a 1‑iron and a 2‑iron. But yeah, my pitching wedge is 50 degrees, my 9‑iron is 45 and a half. I see some of these guys with pitching wedges that are 45 or 44. This whole four‑wedge system I don't understand; just why don't you take something off? I just don't understand that part. In the Bahamas I had 89 yards out and 95 yards out and pulled out pitching wedge. To me that's what I've been able to do. Let's also don't forget I play a softer, spinnier ball, so those little shots are easier for me to hit.”
On shaft-length and spec changes from Nike to TaylorMade:
WOODS: “I went from 45 [inches], sometimes 44-3/4ths down to 44-1/2. I picked up more distance when I went down to that length. Because I'm still accustomed to playing a 43-1/2 for so many years, and when I went to 45, I'd just lose it in space. When I went down to 44-1/2, I felt great. 44-1/4, I feel it even better, but the problem is I lose too much distance in it. I don't have enough oomph, so I settled on 44-1/2.
“3‑wood is the same, stock. My loft of my 3‑wood is 15 degrees. I've generally played 14 and a half to 15 degrees in my 3‑wood since I was 20. All of my irons are — all my irons since I was 16 years old have been the same loft. Now, they've been different lies based on my coaches that I was using at the time, they'd go upright to flat or wherever they may be, but the lofts are all the same.”
On his grind preference with his wedges:
WOODS: “My bounce generally has been towards the leading edge. I have a relief right next to the leading edge so I'm able to hit it on hard‑packed ground, able to get the leading edge down. But I also have enough relief on the back so I can slide it underneath on the heel side. But you know, traditionally my soles have been pretty much standard in width, a little more rounded than some guys, just because I like to use different parts of the bounce, depending on what shot I'm going to use. But it really hasn't changed that much in like 15 years or so. It's been pretty much the same.”
On whether he considered become a free agent after Nike exited the equipment industry:
WOODS: “I was going the free agent route. I did, and then looked at my house -- it was a warehouse. A lot of manufacturers were sending me stuff. Tell me how this looks, tell me how that looks. Let me narrow it down here. And then I didn't have to go anywhere, I could just test right here on my simulator, so I tested on my simulator, tried to see what it would feel like. Ooh, that felt not so good. That felt pretty good. TaylorMade's were feeling consistently good across the board. So I thought, I've got to take this stuff outside and see what it does. And I did it, and I was just blown away how stable the club was and how far I was able to hit it.”
On why he was drawn to TaylorMade:
WOODS: “Don't forget -- I played TaylorMade in my amateur days and a little bit in my collegiate stuff, and on top of that, one of my best friends was Mark O'Meara. He was with TaylorMade forever. So I was always privy to all this new stuff from the Burner Plus to the Bubble shaft that came out, and he won two major championships that year in '98. So I've been privy to a lot of the tech that was coming out with TaylorMade just because of being around with Mark. I knew the quality, but then again, I've won with Nike, I've put all my efforts into that business. It didn't turn out, but now I'm here to be able to put all my efforts into TaylorMade.”
On the importance of working with club builder Mike Taylor, who was also part of Tiger’s team at Nike:
WOODS: “Mikey T is the best. He trained with [Ben] Hogan. He'd been through it. And he's got such a unique ability to grind and have me tell him what I want and have him create it. Just our communication is just fantastic.
“What I just said, it has to perform through the dirt. With his southern accent, man, he's talking about, 'Man, perform through the dirt.' So him talking like that and his gyrations that he gets into — but he's a master craftsman. He really is. He's got a great feel and a great eye. Our rapport has been fantastic, but also I have a lot of trust in Mike. He's been able to produce what I want, and since he's been on board, I've had some pretty darned good years.”
On getting feedback from other TaylorMade staff players:
WOODS: “I do a lot with the TaylorMade guys now, whether it's Rory [McIlroy], Jason [Day] or [Dustin Johnson], [Justin Rose]. It's just because I'm so far behind the curve; I haven't been with TaylorMade that long. And then while I've been with TaylorMade I've been hurt. And so I'm kind of out to date on a lot of information that they've been prevalent to, and also what they've been feeling in tournaments. Normally I can see what they're doing in the tournaments, I can see the shots they hit and all that stuff. That gives me an idea of what's going on. I haven't just been watching TV.
‘It's nice to talk with those guys, and especially why they put this in play, and like DJ, he's got a 4 wood in there. I said, ‘How far do you hit that club? it's like 17 degrees.’ He's like, ‘Well, I hit it about 280, 285.’ He said, ‘Yeah, if I go down to 15 it goes too far, like 290, 300.’ I'm like, ‘Dude, stop. Enough. Enough. I'm not asking you anymore.’ (laughs)”
On working with TaylorMade Tour rep Keith Sbarbaro:
WOODS: “We haven't worked together that many times. As I said, unfortunately, my health was a big deterrent in a lot of that stuff. But I've been on TOUR when I was playing, and he was working with DJ or playing practice rounds with him. Even caddied for DJ a couple times. Also he worked with Jason [Day], and Jason I pick his brains all the time on clubs and shots and all that stuff. And so I've known Keith for quite some time, and I've seen what he's done for guys, and he's incredible. He's very talented, very good at what he does, and he's honest. He's not going to blow smoke up your butt. He's very straightforward. He's going to say, that club is not good for you, that club's good for you. Or you didn't hit that right. Yeah, I did. No, you didn't, that kind of thing. He's straightforward, and that's what you want out of a person in your camp. You want someone to tell you just like it is, whether or not you agree.”
On how equipment would be different without a governing body:
WOODS: “Well, no governing body, I think that you would have to carry 14 drivers. What I mean by that is have somebody in the stands or gallery, whatever, come along with you, like a Keith [Sbarbaro], because you can have it as thin as possible, you can tee it as high as you possibly can, and you're going to hit this thing, crack the face, but it's going to knuckle and fly forever. Yeah, that's what I would foresee that every player would be doing. Why not, if you can, because you can replace a club if you break it. In the motion of playing, not in anger but hitting off the tee. But yeah, hit it off the face and let's go.”
On his stance about the golf ball:
WOODS: “I am of the opinion that we should bifurcate. The line of demarcation, in my opinion, should be professional and amateur. That's it. If you play in a pro member, the pro has got to play this other ball, the pro ball. If you're an amateur, you can play the most juiced up golf ball, just go hit and go find it. I think that amateur golf, we can actually push the limits with everything if not get rid of the limits, right. Let them go have fun. Let them enjoy it. Let them — we're trying to bring more people into the game of golf. Let them go ahead and enjoy hitting it further and straighter.
“But professional ranks, it's like a different deal. It's like going from aluminum in little league and college to when you turn pro and go into A, AA and AAA and obviously the bigs, it's all wood. That's just the way it is. The rules are bifurcated for them. There's no reason why we can't do it for us. Now, then that goes back to do you standardize the golf ball at the pro level, and this is where it's kind of tricky because each manufacturer is going to say, no, you can't, because they want to produce their own golf ball. But you can probably change dimple patterns to make them a little bit deeper, a little bit smaller. You can soften up the cover, obviously soften of the core, make it slower, and you can bring the ball back.”