Tiger Woods: His injury, recovery and return in his own words

Tiger Woods is returning to active duty with a new sponsor for his tournament at Congressional County Club in Bethesda, Maryland, the Quicken Loans National.

He has been through quite an ordeal with a progressive back issue that would allow him to play one day, but not the next, and then the next day just fine. But then it progressed to bringing him to his knees in the Barclay’s last year and ultimately to struggling just to get out of bed. And after an ordeal he shares in fascinating detail below, he’s back.

“It’s been an interesting road. You know, this has been quite a tedious little process, but been one where I got to a point where I can play competitive golf again, and it’s pretty exciting.”

What follows are his verbatim rather than editorialized answers to a hungry media’s questions about what happened, how long it was going on, what his options were, the surgery itself and most interesting, his post-surgery restrictions, the team he had working with him, and how the rehab progressed from there to here: 

“Yeah, if you look back on it, it was probably around [the Barclay’s at Bethpage] when it started happening, but as I said, the symptoms would just go away. Then I was back to hitting practice balls all day, chipping and putting and playing golf all day. I had no issues. And then it would spring up again. I didn’t know why. My physio would treat and get me right back to where I needed to be, and off I go again. But the frequency it started happening, started happening at a rate that it forced me to do what I had to do.”

“I was not able to practice. I was not able to spend the time out there. I was not able to do the work that I’m accustomed to doing. I would always much rather practice than go out and play 36 holes with my buddies and things of that nature. I like to do a lot of work.”

“I tried to spend a lot of time chipping and putting, but actually that was the worst thing for me to do because I was more bent over there. The least problem I had was actually driving the golf ball. I remember Freddie [Couples] when he was at Sherwood and he would warm up with his 5-wood, it was his first club he would warm up with because he couldn’t bend over and hit a sand wedge yet.”

“I got to that point, where I would much rather just tee up drivers and hit drivers and work my way back down the bag the other way. But that’s not the case now. So I’m back to my normal warm-up routines, normal practice routines and no issues.”

“Well, this procedure — let me go back. Pre-procedure, right before I went in, as I explained to you guys before, I wasn’t able to function. I couldn’t get out of bed. I just couldn’t do any normal activities. When I blew out my knee and even had my Achilles problems, I could still do things. I would still be able to function. This was different.”

“Anyone’s that’s had any kind of nerve impingement, it’s no joke. That part was relieved as soon as I got out of the surgery. That nerve impingement, that pain that I was feeling going down my leg was gone. I’ve heard numerous people talk about it, and I’ve had people come up to me and say they had the same procedure and got their life back and that’s basically how I felt. I was able to do things, and do things that I normally took for granted.”

“It’s been a very, very long time [since I’ve felt this good]. Probably a good two years since I’ve felt this way, because I had the Achilles, and that went away, and then I started getting this back thing. But the thing is, initially with my back, it was week-to-week. You know, I have good weeks where I felt fantastic, and those were the weeks I actually played well last year.”

“I won five times last year. And then there were weeks where I just couldn’t move; what is going on here. And then it started progressively deteriorating from there and it got to a point where I had to pull out of an event and struggle through the last round I played in.”

“I think with that old adage, with age comes wisdom, and I have certainly become much more patient. I think especially with having two little ones, that has definitely taught me a lot of patience, and it has carried over into my golf on the golf course and as well as off.”

“That part of me has certainly changed over the years. I just remember all the early years on Tour when I used to run 30 miles a week and just push it, no matter how hurt I was, I would just go out there, still logging all the miles and do all the different things and still play tournament golf and I was winning, but I didn’t realize how much damage I was doing to my body at the time.”

“I have to now pick my spots when I can and can’t push. Before, when you’re young, I just pushed it all the time. But now I’ve got to listen to my body, listen to my therapist and then get treatment. When I was younger, I didn’t need it. So my knee ached a little bit; so what. I’ll just run more miles and it will magically go away and just get the endorphins going but that’s no longer the case.”

The whole [rehab] progression was putting first. Anybody who has had this procedure done, you can putt the next day. You can hop right out of the recovery room and literally you’re okay to putt. But I didn’t — I wasn’t allowed to bend over and pick the balls out of the holes.”

“So what we did is I kind of had a little creative idea is that we had normal-size holes in my back yards, and I sand-filled them. So I knew if the putt went in or not, but I never had to bend over and get balls out of the hole. We did that for a couple of months.”

“Then it was chipping and pitching. And then we added, basically about ten yards every day to two days depending on how I felt, how much inflammation was in the area. As I said, my physios and surgeon were in lock step with one another and open communication. Some days, we’ll stay here for a couple of days and other days, you can go ahead and progress the next day.”

“That’s how it went to the point where I was out there hitting drivers a couple weeks ago, and then started playing golf. I wanted to knock off a little bit of rust on the range before I actually went out there and tried not to embarrass myself on the golf course, and I was able to do that, got some holes in. Started feeling comfortable doing that.”

“I think anyone who has had this procedure knows that probably the worst thing you can do is sit, and sitting in a golf cart wasn’t the most ideal circumstance. So sometimes I would ride on the back of a court like Freddie does sometimes, you see Freddie on the back of a cart standing up. I was able to do that a few times, and I was able to get in more holes because of that.”

“[The short game] I feel very sharp with to a certain extent. Living in Florida, we don’t have ryegrass rough. So at least not this time of year. I had bermuda growing in my backyard and I was practicing on that, but that’s totally different than chipping out of this stuff [at Congressional]. My shots off of tight lies are fine. My putting feels good. I have just got to get used to chipping out of this type of grass and the techniques that I’ve used in the past.”

“Well, I think [whether I’ve come back too soon] always depends on obviously the person’s healing capabilities as well as the physios that they are involved in as well as the surgeons. I have great trainers, great physios, and they have been lock-step with my surgeon the entire time, and we have done all the protocols week-after-week. We are always on calls, chatting with one another to see what the next step is going to be. As I alluded to when I first came here for the press conference [a few weeks ago], that we were — I was only chipping and putting, but that was going to be expanded. We had a game plan for how we were going to do that, and we did it, and I’ve been able to play and hit balls and hit drivers and go out there and do whatever I wanted to do.”

Listening to my body, that’s one thing that I have learned, stubbornly, over the years, that I have to do this. And particularly with this injury, this is very different than pushing through my knee injuries in the past. I could play through it. I just couldn’t play through this. Nerve impingement, as I said, it’s no joke, and as I said, there were days when I would go out and practice, and it’s just not quite right; let’s just ice it, let’s just get away from it and let’s get treated, reevaluate, come back the next day and see where we are.”

“Next day, felt great; can we go back another ten yards and hit it ten yards further. Yeah, we can. Perfect. But if I wouldn’t have listened to my body, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. And as you know, in the past, I probably would have pushed through it and set myself back and then kept pushing harder and harder and harder until stuff breaks.”

“[Sean Foley and I] made a few [accommodating] tweaks [to my swing] here and there but nothing major. Nothing that probably you would observe with the physical eye. We look at it on video, and what I’m feeling I’m doing, it looks the same as it did before. I may not — I probably may not go at it as hard on all shots. I was joking with [John Cook] — Cookie just became back from breaking his back, and he was actually hitting it further than I was. So that’s not good (laughter).”

“So I’m out there pumping 8-irons 135 and that’s all I had; that was frustrating there for a little while. But things have turned around and I’ve got my [normal yardages] back, and this week especially, since it’s going to be warm all week, I won’t have any problem staying loose.”

“I still haven’t gotten my explosiveness back, not to where that I’m — not to the level that I’m used to; not to the level that I’m used to being that explosive. That’s going to come in time. We haven’t done any explosive lifts that I’m used to doing, so that will happen over time.”

“[As to playing in the British Open in three weeks], I’m actually probably ahead of schedule than — well, everyone thought I would be at. We all thought that it was going to be — the British Open would be my first event back. But I healed fast. As I said, I’ve had great trainers and great physios help me every day with soft tissue work; the cold baths which was no fun but you’ve got to do it. When you get treatment all the time, it’s amazing what you can do.”

“And also, nutritionally, making sure I eat perfect. Anti-inflammatory meals, all the different things I needed to do to get back. People take — it’s a normality in other sports. If you play football or hockey or any other sport, this is just common.”

“But I think in the golfing world, looking at most of the physiques, it’s not really that common. But having friends who are in other sports, it does help what they went through and what they have done and what their protocols are for their teams. You know, here we are.”

[Were it not that this tournament benefits my] foundation and our impact that we can have with kids, I probably would not [have played here]. As I said, our goal was the British Open. I healed extremely fast, thanks to my physios and all my nutrition and all the different things that we did and the protocols; and the MRIs and all the different steps that we have done along the way have allowed me to get to this point.”

“Also, you know, you have to do all these tedious strengthening exercises. I remember some of the guys who have had the procedure done that had it in other sports, said how important it is to have strong glutes and strong abs — a strong core going into the procedure, because obviously muscle has memory. That’s one of the reasons I was able to bounce back fast.”

“I told you guys when I was here for the last press conference here, when they went in, I had zero arthritic changes in my lower back, and that is not what’s shocking to me but the doctors as well. All the strengthening exercises I’ve done throughout the years have paid off and have allowed me to get back quicker and to get back to this point.”

“Obviously I’m going to get stronger as time goes on. But the risk [of re-injury] is minimal, and just like it is with every round we play, we can hit behind a tree root and damage something, awkward lies; the little knickknack things that have happened to us that have played at this level. I’m no different in that regard.”

[As to the young generation of players coming up] I feel old (smiling). I’m sorry, but the name escapes me, the Chinese kid who qualified for the Masters last year; he was born after I won the tournament. That’s just not cool, you know. (Laughter).”

“That’s what’s coming, the next generation. And they are taller, bigger, they are more physical, just like in all sports across the board, and golf is no exception. You look at these kids in college, all the long hitters are 6-2 to 6-4. They are just big guys and they can move it out there.”

“But the difference is, you know, as you age and as I’ve aged, I can’t play the way I used to. I was No. 2 in driving distance for a number of years, only behind John Daly. Now if you average over 300 yards, I don’t think you’re in the Top-10. It’s changed dramatically.”

“But, just like [Michael Jordan], I’ve got a fadeaway now. I’ve had to rely on different parts of my game and strategy and understand how course management skills are improved; where to miss it, how to miss it, and obviously the amount of shots that I’ve learned over the years, not just from my own trial and error but from older players that I’ve talked to, it’s allowed me to be as consistent as I have over the course of my career.”

“[As to my winning this week] expectations don’t change. That’s the ultimate goal. It’s just that it’s going to be a little bit harder this time. I just haven’t had the amount of prep and reps that I would like, but I’m good enough to play, and I’m going to give it a go.”

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