Tiger Woods screwed himself by screwing with his swing, says Johnny Miller

Ross Kinnaird

Tiger Woods’s golf swing is, as always, the subject of much debate as the world No. 1 looks to shake off the rust and perfume of his Torrey Pines stinker.

Tiger Woods’ swing changes have come under CSI-like scrutiny from all corners since he hooked up with Sean Foley in 2010, and Johnny Miller, for one, believes the world No. 1 would have more wins on his resume had he stuck with his "natural swing."

"Tiger, I really believe if he would have stuck to the swing that won the [1997] Masters by 12 shots, which was his natural swing, not groomed, it was Tiger's swing, I actually believe he would have had a better record than he did," Miller, lead analyst for NBC/Golf Channel, said during a Monday teleconference with reporters. "He hit it nine miles that way. Maybe he needed to learn to knock the irons down a little, the short irons, but that was his natural swing."

What would a PGA Tour competition with Woods as the headliner be without Brandel Chamblee and would-be Tiger tutor Miller, among others, ripping his ball-striking motion?

While Woods’ swing has taken him into his sixth season without winning a grand slam event, it was decent enough to earn him five victories and his 11th Player of the Year nod last year. Tiger has come out of the gate this year, however, with more of a mew than a roar, what with his tanking at Torrey Pines and lackluster turn in Dubai, which, naturally, has put Woods’ game under the microscope.

With Woods’ issues framing the discussion, Miller and his broadcasting buddies, Frank Nobilo and Notah Begay, offered words of caution for other top professionals in the midst of their own swing overhauls.

The general consensus: Don’t fix what ain’t broke.

"I think it’s a Pandora’s box," said Begay, a four-time tour winner and Tiger’s former Stanford teammate, about tour players opening themselves up to all sorts of woes by trying to do more than tweak the skills that have worked well for them.

"Players got to this level for a reason, because they can do certain things better than most golfers," Begay said. "When players sort of bark up that tree [making mechanical changes], they're asking for a lot of trouble ... and I don't know that they've adequately assessed whether the gain is going to outweigh the risks."

To Nobilo, a successful golf swing was hardly rocket science.

"As a player, you’re not Einstein," the winner of six PGA and European Tour contests observed, noting that athletes at the top of their games took for granted everything they did right and focused only on what they believed was missing in their relentless quests to be the best.

"At that particular time, there's never a thought on what you might hurt in the process," Nobilo said. "It's really simple."

Keegan Bradley could become a poster child for the swing-overhaul naysayers, according to both Nobilo and Begay. The 2011 PGA champion, who went winless last year after earning two tour Ws in his breakout Rookie of the Year season and one in 2012, left long-time instructor Jim McLean for Jason Dufner’s teacher prior to the start of 2014.

"I've been around Chuck Cook for a few years now, playing practice rounds with Dufner," Bradley told Back9Network’s Ahmad Rashad in December. "I'm excited to get working with Chuck and get another opinion of how he thinks I can improve my golf game. He's been around for a long time and I know he has several ways he can help me win."

Nobilo was not so keen on Bradley jumping on the bandwagon of his good friend, whom he beat in a playoff to cadge his PGA Championship title and who rebounded from that disappointment to win the same tourney two years later.

"Keegan has played a lot of practice rounds with Dufner, and he sees Dufner being far better from 160 yards in," said Nobilo, noting that the distance was not a particular strength for Bradley, currently ranked 160th in greens in regulation from 150-175 yards out.

"That's a weakness to Keegan, [who must believe] like, ‘well, if I can do that, I can win major No. 2 and keep going, keep getting better,’" Nobilo conjectured. "Then, all of a sudden you do that and you try and sort of copy a little bit of someone's game and you don't actually realize that you might hurt your strengths.

"But it's very simple," Nobilo added, "you just want what you don't have."

Miller harkened back to golfers of his era to compare the Billy Caspers, Bruce Lietzkes, Craig Stadlers, and Lanny Wadkins of the world -- who had "no interest in changing their swing" -- to someone like Charles Howell, ranked 73rd in the world.

"They're changing, they're checking everything out, videoing and every time changing every little move." Miller said. "I really believe if you can go play the game and your brain says here's how you get the ball to the hole, instead of trying to make the ball technically get to the hole, it's a really fine line there."

And, as it always does, the conversation wound back to Woods.

"It's a tough thing to stay on top and keep your game going," Miller opined. "Some guys are always changing, and when you change, I don't think you're going to be the player you could be if you just kept what you had and just refined it."

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