In his first in-depth interview since his February car accident, an upbeat Tiger Woods shed light on his traumatic injuries, recovery and what the future might hold.
“I think something that is realistic is playing the tour one day—never full time, ever again—but pick and choose, just like Mr. [Ben] Hogan did. Pick and choose a few events a year and you play around that,” Woods said during a Zoom interview with Golf Digest’s Henni Koyack from his South Florida home. “You practice around that, and you gear yourself up for that. I think that’s how I’m going to have to play it from now on. It’s an unfortunate reality, but it’s my reality. And I understand it, and I accept it.”
Watch the complete video interview below:
“I don’t have to compete and play against the best players in the world to have a great life. After my back fusion, I had to climb Mt. Everest one more time. I had to do it, and I did. This time around, I don’t think I’ll have the body to climb Mt. Everest, and that’s OK. I can still participate in the game of golf. I can still, if my leg gets OK, I can still click off a tournament here or there. But as far as climbing the mountain again and getting all the way to the top, I don’t think that’s a realistic expectation of me.”
Woods suffered comminuted open fractures to both the tibia and the fibula in his right leg after losing control of his vehicle outside of Los Angeles on Feb. 23. He was rushed to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and subsequently transferred to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he spent three weeks and faced the possibility of amputation.
“There was a point in time when, I wouldn’t say it was 50/50, but it was damn near there if I was going to walk out of that hospital with one leg. Once I [kept it], I wanted to test and see if I still had my hands. So even in the hospital, I would have [girlfriend] Erica [Herman] and [friend] Rob [McNamara] throw me something. Throw me anything.”
One of the first memories Woods has after the accident is asking for a golf club to toy around with while in his hospital bed. Such began a rehabilitation process that included three months in a hospital-type bed in his home. Next, a wheelchair. He then progressed to crutches, which allowed him to regain independence and move around at his own will.
“Adding that part into my day-to-day life was so rewarding because I’d been stuck in a house. Granted, it’s a pretty nice house I’ve built for myself, but I hadn’t been able to do the one thing I love to do: I love to go outside and just be outside. Sometimes I just crutch and lay on the grass for an hour because I want to be outside. Missing the contact of a golf ball hit properly is one of the better feelings.”
Woods’ rehabilitation has been a frustrating up-and-down ride—he says he actually expected to progress faster than he did—and, in the dark days shortly after the accident, he says he reverted to a mentality he learned from his father.
“This is where dad’s teaching came into play being in the military and being SF [special forces]. Any SF operator can attest to this—you don’t know how long a firefight is gonna take. It could last five seconds or five hours and some could go on for days at a time. With that in mind, you don’t know when the end is so that’s the hard part. How do you get through that? One of my dad’s ways of getting through that was live meal-to-meal. … I just shortened up the windows of, Oh, this is gonna be nine months of hell, to It’s just two or three hours. If I can repeat these two to three hours at a time. Next thing you know it adds up, it accumulates into weeks months and to a point where here I am talking to you and walking into a room.”
Once he was cleared to practice putting, Woods lengthened the famous Scotty Cameron Newport 2 putter that he used to win 14 of his 15 majors, for he couldn’t bend over the same way he used to. Next came chipping competitions with his son, Charlie, and eventually clearance to begin very limited full-swing practice. Woods posted a video of him flushing a short iron to social media last week, which fueled significant hype and speculation on a return. But Woods suggested he is nowhere near ready to compete on the PGA Tour.
“I have so far to go … I’m not even at the halfway point,” he said. “I have so much more muscle development and nerve development that I have to do in my leg. At the same time, as you know, I’ve had five back operations. So I’m having to deal with that. So as the leg gets stronger, sometimes the back may act up. … It’s a tough road. But I’m just happy to be able to go out there and watch Charlie play, or go in the backyard and have an hour or two by myself with no one talking, no music, no nothing. I just hear the birds chirping. That part I’ve sorely missed.”
Woods said the prospect of playing with his 12-year-old son has motivated him greatly throughout the process. Some of the first post-accident images that surfaced were of Woods watching Charlie at tournaments around Florida.
“I went to golf tournaments to watch him play, and I’m looking at some of these scores he’s shooting and I said, How the hell are you shooting such high scores? I gotta go check this out,” he told Koyack. “So I’d watch him play and he’s going along great, he has one bad hole, he loses his temper, his temper carries him over to another shot and another shot and it compounds itself. I said, ‘Son, I don’t care how mad you get. Your head could blow off for all I care just as long as you’re 100 percent committed to the next shot. That’s all that matters. That next shot should be the most important shot in your life. It should be more important than breathing. Once you understand that concept, then I think you’ll get better.’ And as the rounds went on throughout the summer, he’s gotten so much better.”
Messages of support and encouragement have poured into Woods’ phone and inbox since the accident—including a call from the president, which Woods cannot recall without laughing about hearing “the White House on line 1.” He also expressed deep gratitude for the way the golf community has embraced him. A number of PGA Tour players have visited Woods at different stages of his recovery, perhaps no one more frequently than Justin Thomas.
“The Thomases and the Woodses are like family,” he said. “JT is like the brother I never had, and Charlie is like the little brother that JT never had.”
Woods will make his first public appearance since the accident at this week’s Hero World Challenge, a 20-man tournament in the Bahamas that benefits his foundation. That he is upright and present this week is hugely encouraging, but Woods knows there is still a long road ahead.
“There’s a lot to look forward to, a lot of hard work to be done—being patient and progressing at a pace that is aggressive but not over the top. Obviously, when I get in the gym and I get flowing and the endorphins get going, I want to go, go, go,” he said. “That’s how I’ve been able to win so many tournaments. But then again, everyone reminds me at what cost? Look at you now. Pre-accident I was what? Ten surgeries. That’s just the wear and tear of doing my sport, of just trying to push it to win everything I possibly can. To win every single tournament I played in, I would do everything I possibly could. Like any sport, there’s a cost to it. There’s a cost of doing business and unfortunately, for sportsmen and sportswomen, injuries are a part of it.”
This article originally appeared on Golf Digest.