Will Tiger Woods Ever Play Golf again?


It’s hard to believe looking at the picture below of Tiger Woods’s vehicle after his crash that anyone would survive that let alone be able to walk ever again. And yet, this is Tiger Woods we are talking about. He has defied the odds over and over throughout his life. While we have not seen much of Tiger since his crash there have been a few pictures that have trickled through showing his progress- first walking with crutches and then with a brace, and just recently taking a golf swing. But taking a golf swing and being able to play competitive golf are two completely different things. Will the now 45-year-old be able to overcome his greatest challenge yet and be able to play golf again just 9 months after such a horrific crash?

The Crash

On February 23 2021 Tiger was traveling 84 mph on a 45 mph road in Ranchos Palos Verdes in California and rolled his car. The wreck was a single occupant collision with no one else injured. Tiger was driving a Genesis GV80 SUV which was packed with safety features and very well could have saved Tiger’s life. Tiger was taken to Harbor-UCLA medical center where he received surgery for non-life-threatening injuries.

Injuries Sustained

While the information released by the hospital and which has been disclosed by Tiger’s team is limited know that there were breaks in the tibia and fibula just below the knee (proximal) and also closer to the ankle (distal). These breaks are known as comminuted fracture which means that the bone penetrated the skin. As if this wasn’t bad enough he also sustained multiple fractures in the foot and ankle including the Talus. The talus is a crucial bone in the foot/ankle which is integral in supporting the weight of the entire body via its attachment to the tibia/fibula. The talus also lacks a good blood supply which makes healing more difficult. A titanium rod was placed in Tigers tibia which is a common surgical procedure for tibia fractures. Tiger will likely have the rod in his tibia for the rest of his life. He also had significant swelling in his leg which required a surgical release.

Impact on golf

It is amazing that we are even talking about Tiger returning to golf and that he can swing a golf club just 9 months after sustaining very significant injuries. Granted Tiger has had access to the best medical professionals in the country and has no financial or the typical worries that a normal person would have, what he has been able to recover from is truly remarkable. Now let’s talk about how the injuries listed above will impact his golf swing.

While the injuries Tiger sustained are connected and will impact each other it will help to separate the injuries and talk about them individually. While the tibia and fibula fractures were the most severe at the time of the accident and were life-threatening if Tiger did not have the immediate help he received they will likely have less of an impact on his golf swing compared to the ankle and foot injuries. For reference, studies have shown that up to 92% of athletes can recover and return to sports following a tibia fracture with a time frame of up to 40 weeks. The tibia and fibula which connect to both the knee joint as well as the ankle joint do not directly contribute to much mobility or ROM as the ankle does which is involved in plantarflexion(push-off), dorsiflexion (lifting the front of the foot up), eversion, and inversion. In Tiger’s case this is a good thing and what also helps is that Tiger is returning to a non-impact sport. If we were talking about a football player returning to the field this would be a different story.

So what can he do?

When one part of the body is not working properly or has been injured the rest of the body will need to take up some of the slack. Due to the severity of his injuries, it is unlikely that he will return to prior levels of ankle mobility and strength that he previously had. His push off on the right leg during the downswing leading into follow-through will be much less which is a critical component in how the body produces power and ultimately clubhead speed. He will likely have too much pain to be pushing hard off the right side anyway but if he does try and put too much pressure on the RLE he could very well re-injure the ankle/foot. While Tiger doesn’t have many areas of his body left to turn to that haven’t been injured his upper body has been relatively unscathed through his golf career. I believe that Tiger will have to place increased emphasis on his upper body strength to take some stress off of his upper body. In addition to muscles of the upper body- Pectoralis major, deltoids, latissimus dorsi to name a few that are active in the golf swing- Tiger can also look to take some pressure off his legs through increased strength in his core mainly the external and internal obliques. 5 main muscles make up the abdominals with the most well-known being the rectus abdominus which are the (6 pack) muscles. The function of the rectus abdominus is to keep the body stable, keep the organs in place, and also is involved in flexing the trunk. While it is important in the golf swing for stability it is not a primary mover. The external and internal obliques however are involved in twisting and turning the trunk which is crucial in the golf swing. Tiger can also target his large gluteal muscles, quadriceps, and hamstrings to even further provide stability and take pressure off the ankle. He likely is unable to adequately train the quadriceps yet or at least not in a muscle-building phase as it will have been indirectly impacted by the tibia/fibula fractures and is still in the rehab phase. If Tiger can make these changes while also maintaining as much upper body, trunk, and hip mobility as possible then he may be able to compensate for the lack of ankle/foot mobility.

The X Factor that is Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods with Focused stare

If there is anyone who could recover from this horrific injury it is Tiger Woods. Raised by a military Dad and started on the path to being a competitive golfer at a very young age Tiger was instilled with discipline at a very young age. While there is still debate and discussion as to who the best golfer of all time is between Jack Nicklaus and Tiger I don’t think anyone comes close to Tiger in how disciplined and competitive he is. This very well may be the X factor that allows Tiger to once again defy the odds and return to being a competitor on tour.

Will he ever be competitive?

While I think we all need to count our blessings and just be happy that Tiger survived that terrible crash on the 23rd of February I know this is the ultimate question that many people in the golf world are wondering. Will Tiger ever be competitive and win another tournament? With the recent video of Tiger swinging a golf club looking extremely positive, I do believe he has a chance. It will not be easy and we are looking at many more months possibly longer before he can play in a tournament, I believe that Tiger can once again be competitive and play on the PGA Tour. Will he ever be able to win again? That I have no idea on and I don’t think anyone else does either. One thing is for sure, however- if Tiger wants to return to being a competitive golfer on the PGA tour he will have to be just about perfect in his recovery. There will be no room for lapses in his nutrition, training, rehabilitation, or his mindset. If he can stay focused and make some changes that take the pressure off his right leg he just might surprise us all once again and make the greatest comeback of his career.

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Disclaimer

Although I am a Doctor of Physical Therapy by profession, I am not your Physical Therapist nor am I a Medical Doctor. All content and information on this website are for informational purposes only, do not constitute medical advice, and do not establish any kind of patient-client relationship by your use of this website. A patient-client relationship with you is only formed after we have expressly entered into a written agreement with you that you have signed including our terms to represent you in a specific manner. Although we strive to provide accurate general information, the information presented here is not a substitute for any kind of professional advice, and you should not rely solely on this information. Always consult a professional in the area for your particular needs and circumstances prior to making any professional, legal, medical and financial, or tax-related decisions.

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