What do Tiger Woods and Ben Hogan have in common?
Well, not much other than they both completely dominated their era of golf.
However, they might have a lot more than that in common during the coming weeks, months and years.
In February of 1949, after having just won 11 events including the U.S. Open and PGA Championship in 1948, Hogan was involved in a car accident while driving with his wife in Van Horn, Texas. Hogan was struck head-on by a greyhound that had strayed to his side of the road while trying to speed through extremely foggy conditions
The accident very nearly took Hogan’s life, and left him with a circulation problem that would make simply walking, let alone playing 72-holes of golf, incredibly difficult for the remainder of his career.
It took Hogan more than a year to recover from his injuries, and his comeback win at the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion is to this day regarded as one of the most amazing feats in the history of golf.
Although Hogan was actually more dominant after his near-fatal car accident, his playing schedule was never the same again.
Due to the stress 72-hole tournaments would place on Hogan’s injured legs, he limited himself to the majors and a few other tournaments here and there for the remainder of his career. Hogan would very often attend the Masters in April and then not be seen again until the U.S. Open in July.
Hogan didn’t play another PGA Championship (which at the time was a match-play event that included several 36-hole matches) until it was changed to a stroke-play event in 1958. He attended just one British Open in his entire career, which he won in 1953 at Carnoustie.
Following Hogan’s 1949 car accident, simply getting his body ready for a round of tournament golf was almost more difficult than actually playing.
Hogan was forced to start wrapping up his legs hours before his tee time. After finishing his rounds, Hogan would sit on a tub and receive treatment on his legs for several more hours.
If Hogan had a 7:30 am tee time, he was up at 4:30 am wrapping his legs and receiving treatment before even leaving for the golf course.
Woods has not suffered injuries nearly as severe as Hogan, and modern medicine has made it possible to treat and correct virtually any knee injury imaginable, but similar to Hogan, Woods will likely be forced to play the rest of his career on a very fragile pair of legs.
Although the Woods Camp claims that this latest injury to his left knee and Achilles tendon occurred while hitting a shot out of the pine straw from under the Eisenhower Tree during the third round of the Masters, those who have followed Woods closely this season know that this storm has been brewing for quite some time.
Back in late December, Woods received a cortisone shot in his right ankle to relieve what his agent Mark Steinberg described as “lingering soreness from a 2008 injury.”
In February, Woods could be seen walking with a very slight limp during the Dubai Desert Classic; and at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in early March, Woods grimaced in pain and grabbed his left leg after a tee shot at Doral’s par-three fourth hole during the first round and again grimaced after his tee shot on the par-five tenth during round two.
This entire year Woods has been walking a little slower than usual, and has looked more like a 65-year-old man suffering from arthritis while climbing in-and-out of bunkers than a 35-year-old gym rat.
So, yes, the shot from the pine straw may have greatly contributed to whatever damage he has now done to his left leg, but it was likely the knock-out punch to an injury he has been dealing with for at least several months.
Whatever the case may be, Woods could follow a path very similar to Hogan over the next decade.
There is only one number that matters to Woods right now, and that is 18.
Woods' entire career, and entire life for that matter, has been all about breaking Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championship victories. Right now Woods is four behind that mark.
Most of those who doubted Woods’ ability to win 18 majors would typically point to the possibility of a lost putter, an erratic driver, or the emergence of another supremely talented player who would steal majors away from Woods during the latter part of his career.
Injuries were always a concern, but for the first time ever, it’s looking as if injuries could wind up being THE reason Nicklaus’ record may ultimately elude Woods.
Depending upon how severe Woods’ latest injuries are, he could be faced with a choice: Continue to chase down Nicklaus’ record in full throttle, or dial it back a bit for the remainder of his career.
Sponsors may shiver at the thought, the rest of the tour may need to plan for a financial Armageddon, and PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem will likely find himself waking up in the middle of the night with cold sweats, but playing far less tournaments may just give Woods the best chance to eventually win five more majors.
When push comes to shove, this is about one man’s life-long quest to scale the Mt. Everest of all golf records; and for Woods to scale Mt. Everest—a.k.a. Mt. Nicklaus—he may very well need to turn into Ben Hogan for the remainder of his career.
People tend to not realize what they have until it’s gone, and the days of seeing Woods play in 15-20 tournaments per year might just be over.
No one can predict exactly what the future may hold, but one can certainly venture to guess what might happen when the biggest attraction in the history of golf is all but removed from the game.
Anyone interested in purchasing a $100 ticket to see the band U2 without Bono?
I didn't think so.
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