One of the most common questions I have been getting . . . will Tiger be able to play golf again? Will he be able to even walk?
Let’s review what we know about his injuries:
“Comminuted open fractures to his tibia and fibula”
This just means that the fractures broke in a lot of different pieces and the skin was broken, indicating the bone was exposed to air. An open fracture has an increased risk of infection and slow bone healing (delayed union). This is essentially what made NFL quarterback Alex Smith’s recovery so long and the need for multiple surgeries.
“Severe injuries to his ankle and foot”
This could mean a lot of different things. There are rumors he sustained a talus fracture. The talus bone makes up the bottom part of the ankle joint. It is almost completely cartilage and receives its blood supply from several small arteries.
When the talus is fractured, it can mean that the blood supply is affected and can result in what is called avascular necrosis, or AVN. This results in the loss of appropriate nutrition to the bone, and as a result, the bone and cartilage basically crumble away, developing a rapid onset of arthritis.
The more serious the fracture, the more likely it is for AVN to set in. Obviously, this will play a huge part in how his recovery goes. Loss of cartilage and the subsequent arthritis can be extremely limiting and painful. It can be difficult to walk, much less play golf at an elite level.
“Trauma to the soft tissue causing swelling to the point of needing fascial releases”
This is a condition called compartment syndrome. The bleeding and swelling from the trauma create such high pressure in the leg that it can cut off blood supply to the leg. Failure to open the compartments to relieve the pressure can cause permanent, long-term damage.
It is probable that Tiger had this done out of an abundance of caution as swelling was likely to dramatically increase after surgery. Provided the muscles and nerves remain viable, it is unlikely that a compartment release will limit his return to walking and golfing.
So, will Tiger play again? It is way too early to say. Based on the information, I believe there are two huge hurdles: 1) He has to avoid any infections, and the bone has to heal. 2) The severity of the injuries of the foot and ankle.
If the fractures heal well and the blood supply and cartilage aren’t severely affected, I believe he will return to the tour. He will need excellent treatment, hard work in rehab and some good fortune.
One other thing to think about. Since Tiger is right-handed, he drives into his left leg on the downswing. If his right leg is worse, it will be “easier,” to play with a significant injury. If his left is severely affected, it will be much more difficult.
If anyone can do it, it’s the GOAT.