Thursday, February 26, 2009

Joey D's thoughts on Tiger's return

Tiger Woods is back in action this week in Marana, AZ for the Accenture Match Play tournament where he's the defending champ. This marks Woods' first PGA Tour event since summer 2008 when he was last seen hobbling around Torrey Pines en route to another US Open victory.

Tiger had reconstructive surgery on his knee and has spent the past several months rehabbing and working his way back into playing shape. With so much focus on the return of the game's top player, we sat down with PGA Tour biomechanics coach Joey Diovisalvi to discuss what it takes for a player to come back from an injury of this nature:

Tiger Woods returned to the PGA Tour this week after season-ending knee surgery last summer. As a biomechanics coach, can you tell us what Tiger did to rehab and rebuild the knee?

First and foremost, Tiger is very, very private, which is one of many things I respect about him. Based on what information he allowed to be talked about, we can't really know everything that went on.

What we do know is that is was serious enough to end his season and it was a complete reconstruction.

The way he swings, with the torque, how he finishes, how he loads and releases the club... he ends up posting up so hard stabilizing on his left side that he goes into lateral eversion. He ends up on the side of his foot, where he laterally stabilizes all the way from his hip down to his ankle.

When they rebuild that knee Tiger knew it'd takes time to get back. He also knew that if he pushed it, he'd reinjure himself again. The rehab was completely successful and he took all the precautionary measures he needed to mount this comeback.

In your opinion, is he ready to be back this soon? What are the chances of reinjuring himself?

If you look at athletes who have structural injuries, some guys do come back too soon. The mind tells them they're ready to compete, but the body doesn't understand that it's a result of so much load and they're nowhere near ready. Load on the knees of you're a basketball player. The load factor that happens with a pitcher in MLB working back from injury.

The integrity of the structural joints is so crucial. The stress these guys put on these areas - the injuries can happen again and again if recovery isn't 100%. They need to be patient. 

Tiger swing is so hard and what happens is that his weight shifts through balance, it ends up putting a major load factor on those structural joints.

If he had come back too early, he absolutely could injure it again. The knee has troubled him in the past, so he took that extra precaution to make sure he was absolutely ready. He knows what could happen if he rushed the process.

Tiger works with Keith Kleven who is an expert in his field and they both have a huge understanding regarding Tiger's body. Tiger is one of the people that really moved the needle regarding the physical side of golf.

If you look at his body, he doesn't have a massive or muscular lower body, though he's very strong. I think years and years of the way he swings and his club head speed, movement patterns, how he transfers weight and how he has to stabilize, I think it wore the knee out, resulting in season-ending surgery.

Is an injury of this nature preventative or was it unavoidable for a player who gets after it physically as Tiger does?

I don't think it was preventative. When you look at Tiger's lower body -- bone mass versus muscle mass -- combined with the talent, the fearless nature and the understanding that his swing is his swing, in time it wreaked havoc on the knee.

Moving forward, I think he understands what it's going to take to prevent this from happening again at this point in his career. I don't think it was preventative, though. He's been the way he is for a very long time.

Mentally they don't come any stronger, but physically he's going to have to build some muscle density in the surrounding area and strengthen the connective tissue and that takes time. He's been doing that the past few months and he'll continue doing so moving forward.

Was match play a good week to come back? A format where it could be more than 18 holes on one day and 36 if he goes the distance?

Knowing Tiger the way I do, he never would've come back without being 100%.

He's been hitting balls for a while. Being in this business as long as I have, you hear what people are saying. I know people behind the scenes who have watched him on the range and he was definitely ready.

Whether he came back for match play or another event in a few weeks, it wasn't about the tournament itself as much as it was about him making sure he was absolutely ready to compete at the highest level.

Biomechanically Tiger is very well aware of what he needed to do to get back to form. He's 100% ready. The format of this week's event is neither here or there. He obviously felt that it was time and that his game was where it needed to be.

Tiger's very, very calculated and I mean that in a good way.

What will it take fitness-wise to keep an injury of this nature from happening again?

There might be some need for Tiger to make a change, which is perfect for a guy like him. Tiger is a master of adapting to what he has to do to make things work. It's all about adaptation to change and understanding the the process which allows change.

Tiger knows if he keeps doing what he's doing, he'll re aggravate the knee. He'll work around it and will find a way. He knows there's no instant fix and knows enough about his golf swing and his body to revamp things.

Do you ever see Tiger 'working' when he's out at a tournament? No. He does his work privately at home and he shows up ready to go week in and week out. He's a consummate professional and he knows exactly what he's doing coming back at this time.


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