It’s the Swing, Tiger!

Screen shot Fred Vuich.SptsIllus

Photo by Fred Vuich, Sports Illustrated

Word that Tiger Woods is going to miss the Masters tournament after having back surgery was a big surprise to a lot of people, but not to devotees of the Mike Austin swing. In fact, Austin himself predicted it.

Austin is the subject of my recently published e-book, Perfect Swing, Imperfect Lies: The Legacy of Golf’s Longest Hitter. In 1974, he hit a shot still exceeds anything on the PGA Tour by 40 yards, and although he died in ’05 without getting the recognition he craved, Austin has a cult following on the Internet.

As for Tiger Woods, here’s an except from the book:

“The only thing I personally question about Tiger is how a guy with such athletic talent, such intelligence, and such work ethic . . . could not figure out a proper golf swing that wouldn’t nearly cripple him by the time he was 40,” wrote Canadian blogger D.J. Watts. “Each swing he developed after his ‘97 Masters win has been increasingly unsound mechanically, and I can’t figure it out. I’m completely mystified.”

Steve Pratt, a teaching pro from California who apprenticed in the early 1990s with Austin, trotted out a list of Woods’ injuries and blamed the modern swing.

“Right Achilles, left Achilles, left tibia fracture, left knee ACL tear, inflamed neck facet, sprained wrist, four knee surgeries,” he wrote. “Mike Austin saw Tiger swing once and said, ‘He’s headed for trouble.’

“Unfortunately,” Pratt added, “I don’t think he’s done with injuries. After all the left knee and heel problems he’s had, and using a technique that I feel is higher risk on his lower spine than necessary . . . it is just a matter of time before he develops disc and lower back issues….”

Tiger’s issues were just part of the story. Another excerpt:

In 2008, a report published by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine cited a two-year study which found that 60 percent of golf professionals and 40 percent of amateurs sustained “either a traumatic or overuse injury while golfing.” Low back pain was the most common injury by far, followed by those to the elbow, shoulder and wrist. The society also cited a PGA study which found that one out of three golfers had low back problems that lasted for at least two weeks.

In August 2011, the PGA Tour posted an article on its website by Sean Cochran, who was identified as an expert in golf fitness. Cochran begins this way: “Statistics indicate one out of every two golfers will incur a lower back injury at some point in their playing careers.

After describing the “axial rotations” and “angular velocities” that affect the spine and pelvis, Cochran wrote: “Every time golfers swing, they are subjecting their lower spine to eight times their body weight.”

No wonder, then, that injuries have reached epidemic proportions, although it has somehow eluded the notice of the media. I put together a list of Tour pros with significant injuries based on comments on telecasts or in the media, and came up with 30. It ranges from older golfers like Fred Couples and Retief Goosen (backs) to young ones like Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler (also backs).

The problem is the modern swing which winds the upper body against the stationary lower body to create all that torque.

The alternative is Austin’s lyrical, old school swing which allows the front heel to rise and fall with the weight shifts, taking pressure off the spine and pelvis. The proof of its effectiveness is that Austin was hitting 300-yard drives well into his 70s without injury. When he stopped, it was because he had a stroke.

The Golf Channel’s Martin Hall featured Austin on his School of Golf show in April 2013, saying Austin was “years ahead of his time.” He added, “Anything you can find on Mike Austin is going to help you hit the fall farther, no doubt.”

A golfer named Cyd posted the following comment on the network’s website:

“I’ve had three back surgeries and I find the Mike Austin swing to be easy on my back. I can go out and hit hundreds of balls and suffer no back pain. With a conventional swing and the torque that is placed on my back, I cannot hit 100 balls and play a round in the same day. Not to mention that after hitting 100 balls using a conventional swing I can barely walk for a day. With the Mike Austin swing, I can practice and play. No problems!”

Austin made some choices that cost him the recognition he wanted so badly, but he was right about Tiger. It would be ironic — and redemptive — if during his rehabilitation Tiger used Austin’s powerful and effortless old-school swing to protect his body and revive his career.


Perfect Swing, Imperfect Lies: The Legacy of Golf’s Longest Hitter is available on Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Smashwords and other e-book retailers.

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