The wild backstory of Tiger Woods’ 2017 spinal fusion surgery

Given how every step of his career has been covered, it’s difficult to find any new, unheard of information regarding the life of Tiger Woods. Yet longtime golf writer Bob Harig was able to do just that while researching for his latest book “Drive: The Lasting Legacy of Tiger Woods.”

Harig joined us on this week’s episode of The Loop podcast to preview the upcoming book, which is set to release later this month on March 26. We asked him if there was anything he found in his research that readers might be surprised by or hadn’t yet learned about Woods. Harig instantly brought up a chapter from the book called “The Doctor,” which is devoted to his famous spinal fusion surgery that took place in April of 2017 and helped Woods climb all the way back to the mountaintop in April of 2019 at the Masters.

“I talked to the doctor [who did Woods’ surgery],” said Harig, referring to Dr. Richard Guyer. “He wasn’t able to talk about personal things. Like, he didn’t say ‘it was really hard to go into this part of his back.’ He couldn’t do that due to privacy things. But he was able to speak to me just generally about how amazed he is that Tiger came back from this. I talked to his practice partner about the doctor, who had done thousands of spinal fusions over the years. He’s an expert. And they picked him for a reason, and I do the backstory of that.”

Part of that backstory is the 2017 Masters Champions Dinner, where Woods was in immense pain. So much so that, according to three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo, Woods whispered “I’m done” to another Masters champ that evening.

“Up until the week before [the Champions dinner], remember, Tiger had not played since Dubai that year,” Harig said. “He tried to come back to play Torrey Pines, he missed the cut. Then he went all the way to Dubai and withdrew after one round. All along, his people talked like he might come back at Riviera. He might come back at Bay Hill. He might come back at the Masters. He was never ruling himself out for the year.

“There was this hope, and I think he thought he would try, but obviously he didn’t make it. But when he went to the Champions Dinner, he was in distress, he was in a lot of pain. He talked later about needing nerve-killing — nerve-numbing drugs to make it through that night. He was really hobbling. They had made plans to go to London overnight to meet with consultants the next day, and they had some testing done there that isn’t done in the U.S. They ran these X-rays, they saw how bad it was.”

Later that month, Woods was at a promotional event in Branson, Mo., for a new course he was designing, Payne’s Valley. He received a number of questions that day about when he might play next and how his health was. In typical Woods fashion, he said he wasn’t sure. The very next day, he had the spinal fusion surgery.

Gideon Canice

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