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« Quick Roundup: Tiger's Pre-Masters Back Surgery | Main | Also Not April Fool's: Paulina To Grace May Golf Digest Cover »

Flashback: Graham DeLaet Had The Same Surgery As Tiger

Thanks to reader Tim for the reminder of what is both good news and bad news for Tiger.

The good: Graham DeLaet is one of the best golfers on the planet right now after having the same surgery. The bad news? The microdiscectomy took him a long time to recover from.  

Here's a short version filed by Doug Ferguson as a note.

And the long version, the transcript, from the January 2012 Sony Open:

Q. Talk about the back issues and when it first started.

GRAHAM DeLAET: You know, I've always kind of battled a bad back ever since I was a teenager playing hockey growing up when I originally hurt it. There would always be once or twice a year where I would have a flare-up and I would be out of commission for a couple of days, but then it would always get better.

For some reason during 2010 in the Fall Series, I was in a lot of pain but I was playing really real well and then I kept going. Then when the season was over, I just progressively got worse and worse and worse to the point where I couldn't sit down for more than ten seconds and that's kind of when we realized that, you know, surgery was kind of the only option.

I tried a lot of different things, whether it be massage and chiropractor, physical therapy, acupuncturing; tried it all, but nothing was really working. It was the l 5/s 1, lower back.

Q. When did you have surgery??

GRAHAM DeLAET: January 3 of last year.

Q. What kind of surgery??

GRAHAM DeLAET: I had a microdiscectomy, because I had a herniated disk to the right, so they go in to shave off a piece of that to alleviate the pinch on the nerve. I had a terrible pain in my right leg, and you know, yeah, it was not fun. I'm glad it's all over and I'm feeling great now.

Q. Inaudible.

GRAHAM DeLAET: It was actually the next week, I was scheduled to play in the AT&T at Aronimink and I played a practice round early Wednesday morning before the Pro-Am and then I was kind of practicing that afternoon, or that day, and then later that afternoon, it wasn't feeling right.

I think I wanted to be there so bad that I felt that I was better physically than I actually was. And so the next morning, I woke up and I just knew that it's hard enough to compete out here when you're healthy and I just knew that I wasn't in good enough shape to compete.

Q. After the surgery, how long before you were able to pick up a club??

GRAHAM DeLAET: It was at the two-month Mark where I started hitting little chips and putts and half-wedges, kind of thing. By the time -- it wasn't probably until November that I could really like go after a drive as hard as I could, or really lash at one in the deep rough kind of thing.

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Reader Comments (23)

Sweet. We can count him out for the Ryder Cup then, which means the US should win like in 2008.
04.1.2014 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy
While it's interesting to compare the recovery process to other players who've dealt with the same issue and gone through the same procedure, it's impossible to judge how long it'll be before Tiger is fully recovered. Given what we've read, it would seem practical to see his return a month or so prior to the final major of the season. Then again, it could indeed prove to be a much more lengthy recovery period for him and it wouldn't come as a real shock a lot of people if he's played his last tournament of the season already.

Looking ahead, I don't see his aggressive swing changing enough to take the strain off of his back. He's swung the club aggressively his entire career, and I don't see much success coming his way if he can't continue to swing the club freely and without reservation. He's not going to throttle back his swing. His aggressive nature is intimately tied into the way he compresses the golf ball, and to deviate from that successfully and yet still be able to control the ball would probably take years of repetition to acquire all of the feel nuances required of him to continue performing as he would need to at that level.

All of this talk about changing his swing to increase his longevity is pointless. It's not going to happen.
04.2.2014 | Unregistered CommenterPA PLAYA
Graham was in his late 20's/early 30's during the recovery. That's a big difference from Tiger's late 30's.
04.2.2014 | Unregistered CommenterSquid
PA PLAYA, I would disagree slightly with your assessment he can't change his swing. Going to the "swing left" model, for example. He never showed any back issues before going to that. The swing is an arc, the club will go left of its own, no need to contort one's back doing it purposefully.

Swinging on the wrong angle/line is the origin of many back issues. That change alone will do a world of good. I have scoliosis and have never had back issues. Anecdotal, yes, but if a person with a spinal deformity can swing without hurting his back, surely Superman can find a better motion?

The "swing left" and his dive into the ball, both traits he's developed in recent years, both Kryptonite to the sturdiest back...
04.2.2014 | Unregistered CommenterDJ Watts
This may turn into a plus...he won most of his majors not only with power, but with an unbelieveable short game. He may not return with the power he once had, but he can still win with the short game he has inside him. If he can reconcile his new reality, then he surely has the mind and talent to win at least a couple more majors. I wouldn't call myself a hater, but I am not really a Tiger guy...but the game is infinitly more interesting when he is on the leaderboard.
04.2.2014 | Unregistered CommenterBDF
+1, DJ, on the "yank left and deep dive" move of the Foley wipe. Anyone wishing to sample a taste of this kind of back pain, just do 70 deep knee bends and each time you come up, yank your right arm hard left while holding it horizontal to the floor. You couldn't design a better exercise to stress and injure the human back. I understand why journalists, pros, and folks around the game are hesitant to speak critically of one of their own, but Foley has taken one of the great athletes of all time to the precipice of ruin. Somebody take Foley. Please.

Also, comparing one person's recovery from a back injury to another's is pointless. Nerve injuries are as specific to each spine as finger prints are to fingers...

As commented yesterday, Woods needs to disappear for the rest of this year, dump Foley, and come back as Tiger. He's done enough penance for the fire hydrant. What the golf world needs is some absence to make the heart grow fonder. And a man who has given his injuries time to heal.
04.2.2014 | Unregistered CommenterRLL
@DJ Watts and RLL,

The "Swing Left" is not the issue. Corey Pavin did it. Tom Watson changed his swing to swing left, and now he calls it his "secret."

Everyone's body is different. Without his team (doctor, trainer, etc.), Tiger would have flamed out years ago given his powerful but violent swing.
04.2.2014 | Unregistered CommenterDC
Oh and if anyone cares, my opinion is informed by Tom's own interview:

"The Secret is about keeping the shoulder plane on the same level on the downswing as you do on the backswing. It's not really a secret – that move is one that most modern players use, though it dates back to Sam Snead. But incorporating into my swing in 1994 has been the single most important technical change I have made in my career....I pictured Corey Pavin's practice swing where he goes way inside and then comes way over the top to make a big loop. It gave me the down swing thought I needed to turn my upper body with my right shoulder higher and eliminate the pronounced ‘Reverse C' shape of my downswing in my previous swing....The new swing is much less physically demanding, there's no question. There is less stress on the body. Instead of ‘slide and tilt', with my back arching through impact and my shoulders getting steep, I rotate around the spine. That has helped me from a longevity standpoint."
04.2.2014 | Unregistered CommenterDC
A bulged disk is quite a bit different than a herniated disk.
04.2.2014 | Unregistered CommenterP Dog
Hi DC,

Cory Pavin and Tom Watson might get away with it. I would offer that Tiger's current condition speaks volumes about his choice of swing model. And I think it's fascinating that you know what he would and wouldn't have done without his team.

I'd argue that he'd be further along the Road to 19 had he given Foley a wide berth. He ditched Haney for reasons we'll never know, and after only one full season without a major victory. His 5th year with Foley will end without a major once again, and no amount of spin can alter that fact. I believe stubborn pride is the only thing having prevented him from moving on long, long ago.

My burning question is, why does he even need someone telling him how to swing? He still hasn't figured that out?


04.2.2014 | Unregistered CommenterDJ Watts
how many people will be put out of work during the "recovery" and will there be a job for them if and when he returns? :)
04.2.2014 | Unregistered Commentersmiledoc
Again, I agree with DJ. Say what you will about Watson's comments, but he dug his changes out of the dirt on his own, like Hogan. And to this day, he has one of the smoothest overall turns golf has ever seen. Of more interest to me in his interview is the reference to Slammin' Sammy -- maybe THE smoothest of all time.

Whatever the herky jerky move of the Foley wipe is, it is NOT smooth. And whatever Woods has tried, he has not been able to integrate it into a natural instinctive move. He still needs to do exaggerated and repetitive practice swings before every hit just to enter into the realm of the swing. It is artificially imposed on his structural swing, as opposed to something brought out of him from the inside to exploit his God given supernatural abilities.
04.2.2014 | Unregistered CommenterRLL
DJ and RLL,

I just take what people say at face value. Tom Watson said swinging left helped him and so he changed his swing. Tiger Woods said he had to change his swing because of his left knee and his longevity. Sean Foley's early interviews states his teaching philosophy is really grounded on the great swings of the 1950's ([Sean] said "he learned when still a teenager trying to copy the swing of Curtis Strange — who swayed off the ball on his backswing — that keeping the weight more centered worked better. He then studied the swings of great players in history and noticed they didn’t make dramatic weight shifts away from the ball either.....[he] watched old school players hit it good and realized there was something to what they were doing.")

The modern swing isn't that much different from Snead, Hogan, and Nelson. The only thing that changed is the terminology and technology.

As for the burning question, the answer is clear that no one knows their own swing, from the lowly beginner to the PGA Tour player. That's why Tiger, Phil, Adam Scott, and Rory have another set of eyes as a resource. If we all really did "own their swing," then the Butch Harmon's, Sean Foley's, and Jimmy Ballard's of the world would go out of business.
04.2.2014 | Unregistered CommenterDC
I've enjoyed the discussion, DC, even if we won't agree on this. Perhaps we'll continue this later. 'Til then, take care!

04.2.2014 | Unregistered CommenterDJ Watts
I, too, will have to just agree to disagree with this, DC. I think everybody has a natural swing that's theirs. A coach named Fred Shoemaker has done some amazing work with club throwing that both illustrates and proves this.

Sure, we can all tinker with what is ours -- that's called being alive -- and Tiger Woods is one of those athletes who is more alive than just about anyone else.

But what we're talking about with him and Foley is analogous to the coach who tried to impose a halfcourt offense on the Showtime Lakers... Tiger adopting the Foley wipe would be analogous to John McEnroe in his prime having a coach convince him he should become a baseliner. He, too, had so much raw talent that he could probably make that "work," but for me, the burning question would be why, who is this benefiting...?

Lastly, I don't wish for anyone to go out of business. But gun to my head, if I had to make a choice, I'd pick Foley over Woods in a NY minute, and I think most of the golf world would, too.
04.2.2014 | Unregistered CommenterRLL
RLL - I nearly forgot to respond to your last comment - I actually like Tom Watson's swing, and it cannot remotely be compared to anything Tiger does, except that they're both playing golf. I've liked his swing since I began to look at the golf swing, it's a classic:

Fulll body pivot (no hip restriction), floating leading heel, a timeless, leveraged action - can still be seen in Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh's, Bubba Watson's actions, and many others, even if they swing with a planted leading heel, they allow the hip action. Apples and oranges to Tiger's bent-over "wringing the towel" model.

I also found this to be very instructive - compare the pre-2010 injury list for Tiger to the post Haney injury list, it is truly shocking.


04.2.2014 | Unregistered CommenterDJ Watts
RLL, I hope this doesn't turn into a duplicate post as my comment seems to not have taken. If it eventually appears, my apologies - but I was saying to you that I like Tom Watson's swing, but it is nothing like Tiger's, even remotely. Watson has always had a full body pivot with the shoulder/hip action, a floating left heel.

I'm not personally invested in anything Tiger does or against it, I'm just an observer, but this historical list of Tiger's injuries and keeping in mind Tiger's move to Foley in 2010 is shocking. It is a cascade of post 2010 injuries, old and new.

04.2.2014 | Unregistered CommenterDJ Watts
Have a good day DJ!
04.2.2014 | Unregistered CommenterDC
An (accurate) athletic golf swing forces the player to maintain spine angle, rotating around the spine angle, while increasing the amount of torque in relation to the hips and shoulders during the entire process. This doesn't change, regardless of an out-to-in swing path or vice-versa.

With club head speed exceeding 115+ mph, this is a serious undertaking for those even with healthy backs. Modern medicine is great, it saved my mother's life a month ago. But it's not going to miraculously cure a patient's back problem if he continues abusing it in the same manner he has for the past 25 years.

I'm not arguing that Tiger can't change his swing, he's done so several times throughout his career. I'm arguing that he's not going to change the aggression of his golf swing, which is most likely the real reason behind the surgery earlier this week. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think we've seen the last of his back issues. This could be just the beginning.
04.2.2014 | Unregistered CommenterPA PLAYA
Another day DJ and RLL!

I just saw your new post regarding hip action. Turns out Sean Foley also likes hip turns too ("you might have been told to make a backswing where your left shoulder is under your chin. That way you know you've reached the top and can start down. This isn't the worst advice I've ever heard, but it's possible to turn that left shoulder under the chin without rotating your upper torso much at all--and that can put too much emphasis on the arms. It's better to focus on your hip turn. Ideally, your hips turn away from the target as much as they can.")

And as for comparing Tiger and Foley to a half court offense on the Showtime Lakers...everyone was saying the same thing almost 8 years ago when Tiger switched to Haney. Upright swing to flat swing. The fact that he won majors with a "forced" one plane swing speaks volumes about him.

Tiger is almost 40, he's getting old but still wants to generate high club head speeds. There's a limit to what the body can do.
04.3.2014 | Unregistered CommenterDC
DC, hello again!

You are correct in that Foley advocates certain things that differ from Tiger's actual swing. And for the better. If Tiger had kept his erect posture instead of bending over the ball (all the side views of Foley show him more erect over the feet than Tiger over the toes) and had let his hips move instead of trying to lock them in place, he'd likely have avoided the back problem.

The main problem I see is that Foley's model just doesn't work for Tiger and he was jury-rigging it to his preference, to disastrous results.

So, I don't know how to say it without seeming schizophrenic, but while Foley's actual model is better than anything Tiger has been coming up with - I still don't like it. His weighting and balance are opposite to what Tiger was doing prior to going to him. Tinkering with a swing is one thing, but going to something at odds with what you've been doing your whole life?

Good to chat with you again however!

04.3.2014 | Unregistered CommenterDJ Watts
There must have been technical problems with the site comments yesterday, DC, as they seemed to get frozen or cut off overnight... at least in this thread...

And as I'm heading out now to actually play some golf, I'd prefer to leave it where I did yesterday and just agree to disagree...
04.3.2014 | Unregistered CommenterRLL
Great stuff RLL, DJ, and others. I'm really kicking myself for overdoing it the other night.

I personally think that every golfer has to swing left at some point in the swing. For me, it eliminated a shank that crept into my game from always trying to hit a all pros are "supposed to do".

But, i only try to swing the club left well after impact...after my shoulders are facing the target a skoosh. To me, it rounded off my swing and I immediately got my "easy power" back.

This was about 14yrs ago and that key still works fine to this day when I lose feel for my vectors as I call em.

Also: I have been experimenting with keeping my back shoulder "up or higher" throughout the swing since last summer. Seems to be a good thought.

Oh well...its only golf FFS. Best thing is to enjoy the walk more than the results.
04.4.2014 | Unregistered Commenterjohnnnycz

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