Some of you may be curious about the recent resurgence in Tom Kite's golf game and the string of good finishes on the Champions tour after a couple of years of less than typical "Kite golf". A first round 65 at the U.S. Senior Open, which included a 28 on the front nine and set a record for USGA events, drew the attention of a lot of people. A solid finish of T22 in the British Senior Open and then a T7 at the 3M Championship in Minnesota confirms that he is playing better.
I have had the pleasure of watching Kite practice quite a bit in recent weeks. I must confess I enjoy listening to the sound of shot after shot being struck solidily, seeing shallow, square divots and watching the ball flight repeat it's desirable tragetory and line. So what is behind these recent improvements?
First of all, he is healthy again. After nearly 60 years of playing golf, that included marathon sessions on the practice tee, he suffered a major shoulder injury two seasons ago. After playing hurt in 2009 he went under the knife of noted orthopedic surgeon Dr James Andrews. The surgery was a success but regaining strength and flexibility took time and a lot of hard work. Entering the 2012 season he was in top shape physically but through those three years Kite had developed some uncharistic swing mechanics.
So, it was back to the range and more work with his teacher Chuck Cook to regain his form. He also received some help from friends Peter Jacobson and Olin Brown at a couple tournaments on the Champions Tour. Slowly he put the pieces together and his recent good play indicates he is returning to form. In the swing sequences below, it's easy to see why he's playing better.
Note: These swing sequences are video files that may take a few seconds to load so be patient. They were taken on Tuesday August 14th, at Austin Country Club in Austin, Texas
In terms of swing mechanics, Kite says he is doing a lot of things better. Because of his shoulder issues he had developed a habit of moving too laterally in the backswing, more sliding than turning. This resulted in a lifting of the arms and a swing that "felt disconnected". He is now staying more centered over the ball during the backswing and making a bigger, sharper turn. The club is being taken back on the proper path with plenty of width in the backswing, a more vertical shoulder turn and a flatter arm swing. Arriving at the top of the backswing, the arm swing is shorter, by design, but it is coupled with a full shoulder turn. Note the solid stable lower body at the top of the backswing. The down swing is being initiated with a shifting of weight to the left side followed by rotation of the hips. There is plenty of lag in the downswing which creates full extention through the impact area and plenty of rotation to a finish position with a long right arm and perfect balance. It's a thing of beauty to watch and, as mentioned above, the contact with the ball has a distinctive sound of a well struck shot.
Equally impressive over the last couple of years has been watching Kite struggle through his difficulties and handle them with a professionalism and quality of character that speaks well of the man. When asked what kept him going through all these difficulties when he could obviously have retired after a successful career that included 19 wins, a U.S. Open title and great Ryder Cup record, he simply said "Quitting is no fun".
It will be interesting to watch his progress during the rest of the season and we wish him the best of luck.