For all of you out there with knee injuries listen up, or more appropriately, listen to your body. It is hard to believe that Tiger Woods played five days of U.S. Open golf in enormous pain. But you can learn some important lessons from the decisions Tiger made after the tournament. He stepped up and took time off to take care of his injury. This is not only important if he wants to continue to compete at the highest level, but also for his future health.
Nearly 20 years ago, I had the same ligament reconstruction that Tiger just had, except I had waited too long to have it done. Tiger was going to wait a season, but I had waited years and years. As a result, the surgery was very painful, and my rehab and recovery took longer.
Then this June, at age 50, I had my knee replaced. The lesson: Don't treat your injury with pain management, it will only prolong the problem.
When people experience chronic pain, they compensate in their swing. You can dodge the pain with compensations, but then your golf swing starts to break down. When I was watching Tiger play at Torrey Pines, I noticed he wasn't really compensating at all, because his injury hadn't been so prolonged. He was just dealing with the pain. But if Tiger had tried to play though the season, those compensations would have crept into his swing eventually.
Does an unstable knee affect your golf swing? Without a doubt. For the past two years my game has continued to deteriorate. I've always been a very good iron player, and I started hitting several inches behind the ball. I was compensating for my bad knee by tilting back, which caused my ball flight to balloon. I had never stuck the club in the ground like that. And I was losing 15 to 20 yards off the tee. So that week I decided to have the surgery.
I have talked to several golfers near my home in Charlotte, N.C., who underwent total knee replacement, and they all said the same thing: my distance and my game would come back after surgery. They all agreed that they had waited too long and they wished they would have done it sooner.
Be like Tiger - take the time off sooner rather than later, and before the injury interferes with the game of golf and life in a more permanent way. And though having the surgery will keep you off the course for a while, you can still work on your game. Read some books to improve your mental game and get a plan in place to have a qualified instructor help you with your limitations and rid your swing of those compensations that have become bad habits.
(Photo: Robert Beck/SI)