Commentary

Graham DeLaet feels Tiger's pain

Updated: April 2, 2014, 8:25 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

They shared second place at the Barclays and played on opposing Presidents Cup teams last year. Until Monday, that was about the extent of the association between Tiger Woods and Graham DeLaet.

Woods, 38, has 79 PGA Tour victories, 14 major championships and a bad back that on Monday was repaired with a surgery called microdiscectomy, which was performed to alleviate a pinched nerve.

[+] EnlargeGraham DeLaet
AP Photo/Matt YorkGraham DeLaet knows what Tiger Woods is currently going through after having microdiscectomy surgery himself in early 2011.

DeLaet, a 32-year-old Canadian who now lives in Boise, Idaho, is still in search of his first PGA Tour victory but is coming off a career year in 2013.

And he perhaps offers Woods the best example of the good and bad to come after back surgery. DeLaet had the same procedure in January of 2011.

"When I was at my absolute worst, I couldn't sit down for more than 10 seconds," DeLaet said Wednesday from Houston, where he is playing in this week's Shell Houston Open before competing in his first Masters next week.

"I would eat standing up and on the way to the hospital I had to lay down in the back seat. My back hurt a lot. But a majority of my pain was down in my leg with some nerve stuff. That was the main discomfort I had. It was almost excruciating. I wasn't worried about coming back and playing golf. I wanted to come back and have a normal life. That's what was going through my mind."

DeLaet cautioned that every situation is different, and acknowledged that his might have been worse than what Woods has endured leading up to the procedure that will knock him out of the Masters for the first time as a pro.

But DeLaet's surgery offers hope for a resumption of a successful golf career, but also with the caveat that the recovery time is not automatic.

According to a statement on Woods' website, there was the expectation that he might begin chipping and putting in three weeks and be playing golf again by the summer. For DeLaet, it was basically a yearlong process. He had his surgery in January 2011, returned to play four professional tournaments, then shut it down for the rest of the year.

"My quality of life changed almost immediately," DeLaet said. "They let me walk that day and it became my therapy. Walking around the hospital, then walking around the block at home and by the end of a month I was walking 4 to 5 miles a day.

"The competitive nature in all of us is that you want to get out and play. You feel like you're good enough to go. It wasn't so much that I was in discomfort after coming back. I just didn't feel I could play at a high level. For me, 80 percent isn't going to work. That works for Tiger, but for my future, it was the right move to shut it down. I don't have the same skill set as Tiger."

And yet, DeLaet is viewed as one of the game's up-and-coming players. He is ranked 30th in the world and has three top-10 finishes in 2014, including a tie for eighth in his most recent tournament, the Valspar Championship. Last year he won more than $2.8 million and finished eighth in the FedEx Cup playoffs.

In 2010, he was playing his rookie year on the PGA Tour and doing all he could to stay exempt for the following season. He admits he probably played too much. "I was fighting for my job," he said.

The pain came and went and never seemed to be consistent, DeLaet said. That is one of the reasons he kept going despite it getting worse.

"I was in such a stage of pain and emotionally it was really tough to deal with as well," DeLaet said. "I tried to avoid the surgery. I had massage therapy, acupuncture and a gamut of other options. It came down to I just had to have the surgery."

Woods has an optimistic take on his recovery, but it didn't go as smoothly for DeLaet.

He said it was three months before he started chipping and putting; Woods said he hoped to be doing those activities in three weeks. DeLaet needed four months before he began to hit full shots and basically needed the year to recover; Woods talked about a summer return.

DeLaet said a lack of mobility in his hips (not an issue with Woods) as well as playing hockey as a youth likely contributed to his problems, which he does his best to combat today with a fitness regimen that is tailored to him. He also tries to avoid situations that would put stress on his back, such as lots of golf in cold weather.

"I'm not 100 percent and don't know if I ever will be," DeLaet said. "All of us have aches and pains in golf and everyone recovers differently. The thing about Tiger is, he has a great team around him and if he were to ask my advice, I'd tell him to listen to his body. You have really good days and then three or four bad days.

"Now I'll have one or two bad days a month as opposed to one or two good days a month. And I'm still in the process of getting better."

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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