A back is not a knee or an ankle or a shoulder. You cannot prop it up, put it in a sling or do anything that limits the use of it.
Now imagine a back so bad it’s required four surgeries in a little over three years. Should it be much of a surprise that Tiger Woods would need help to manage his use of painkillers?
“When it’s your back, it’s the core of everything you do. It affects your legs. It affects your midsection. It affects your upper body. You just really can’t move,” Mark Steinberg, Woods’ longtime agent, said Tuesday, a day after the golfer announced he was in treatment.
“I’m not making any excuses,” Steinberg added. “But you don’t have four back surgeries in a span of a few years unless you have real, real pain.”
Golf is not a collision sport like football, hockey or even basketball. Some would even argue that it wasn’t even much of a sport 20 years ago. More like a leisurely walk with some calisthenics thrown in.
Woods changed all that. Gary Player has been working out for years, but Woods was the one who turned golfers into gym rats. When he got stronger, he got longer, and every other player took notice.
And it wasn’t just the time he spent in the gym. Former swing coach Butch Harmon once said Woods was the hardest-working player he’d ever encountered, spending hours on the range.
But his devotion to fitness and perfecting his game came with a price. He swung the club with such force that his back absorbed thousands, if not millions, of violent twists. It was only a matter of time before it would break down. (He didn’t do his ankle, Achilles or knees any favors, either.)
Ask anyone who has ever had back issues and the pain is, simply, excruciating. Everyday life is a struggle, let alone trying to play the game you love. Surgery can help, but that has its own perils. Just ask Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who missed all but the last four games of the NBA playoffs because of lingering complications from back surgery in 2015.
“I can tell you if you’re listening out there, stay away from back surgery,” Kerr has said. “I can say that from the bottom of my heart. Rehab, rehab, rehab. Don’t let anyone get in there.”
None of this is meant to give Woods a pass for his DUI arrest in the early hours of Memorial Day. He’s very lucky he didn’t hurt himself or, worse, someone else.
But you can hold Woods responsible for his actions while also having empathy for the circumstances behind them. Acknowledging there’s a problem isn’t easy for anyone, let alone someone who’s on a first-name basis with pretty much the entire planet.
“I’m proud of him,” Steinberg said. “Most people would want to try and do this on your own and not seek such a big step. Granted, I’ve been his agent for 20-plus years, but right now I’m here for him as a friend and somebody that I love.”
Steinberg wouldn’t say where Woods is getting treatment or how long he’d be there. But a timeline is irrelevant — as is the question of whether he’ll ever play another round of competitive golf again. Once expected to shatter Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors, Woods likely will have to be content with the 14 he already has.
Now the hope for Woods is far simpler — and far more important: A life free of both the excruciating pain he’s endured and the drugs he took to try and manage it.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.