Tiger Woods unveils dreary portrait for his future in golf
By Stephanie Wei under Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods doesn’t have a timetable for when he’ll return to play golf competitively or even for when he can do any type of activity aside from walking. He painted such a sorry, unfortunate picture with his inability to commit to playing in any tournaments in 2016.

Woods, who was speaking as the host of this week’s Hero World Challenge (18-man field money grab that benefits his foundation), is recovering from two microdiscectomy surgeries over an 18-month period, along with another somewhat unexpected “procedure” in the same area of his back at the end of October.

The hardest part for the 14-time major champion who turns 40 at the end of this month is the unknown.

“I have no answer for that and neither does my surgeon,” Woods said at Albany Golf Club on Tuesday. “There is no timetable, so that’s the hardest part of me. There’s really nothing I can look forward, nothing I can build towards.

“Where is the light at the end of the tunnel?”

Woods endured the first microdiscectomy in March 2014. Then, he received a second one on September following the last regular season tournament of the 2014-15 PGA Tour schedule at the Wyndham Championship, which he described as a highlight of 2015 when he entered the final round two shots behind the leaders and placed tie for 10th. He was surprised that it turned out to be his last event of the year.

“Was it a surprise? Yeah,” Woods said. “Because as I was alluding to that week and subsequent weeks, I felt my hip was killing me and I didn’t think it was coming from my back. We worked out in the trailer each and every day and just tried to loosen up my hip. And OK, fine, we went out and played. But I didn’t feel any back discomfort.

“Come to find out it wasn’t my hip, it was coming from my back.”

Then, Woods had a follow-up procedure in late October due to further discomfort in the same part of his back.

At this point, Woods says the only physical activity he can exert is walking.

“I walk,” said the 14-time major winner. “And I walk and I walk some more.
“I am really good at playing video games. Really good. I swear, that’s basically how I pass a lot of my time.

It’s easy to imagine how frustrating it must be to be sidelined indefinitely for a (former?) world-class athlete.

“I have to reset the clock every day and say, ‘Here we go, this is a new day,'” said Woods. “‘Let’s take it for what it is.’ I listen to my surgeon, I listen to my physios and we just take it day by day. Hopefully the day by day adds up to something positive here, soon.”

In other words, he’s losing hope and his future as a competitive golfer is winding down.

Now, with what Woods had to say, along with a seemingly honest portrayal of his physical health, we’re all asking the same question: Is Tiger Woods headed for retirement?

He couldn’t answer the question if he would simply be confined to hosting duties a year from today. He says he does want to play competitively and described any achievement at a tournament going forward as being a positive.

“I’ve had a pretty good career for my 20s and 30s,” he said.

“For my 20 years out here, I think I’ve achieved a lot, and if that’s all it entails, then I’ve had a pretty good run. But I’m hoping that’s not it. I’m hoping that I can get back out here and compete against these guys. I really do miss it.”

That sounds like a golfer who is trying to come to terms with hanging up his clubs. It takes a while to accept that you can’t overcome certain physical impediments that prevent you from competing at the level you once could.

Trust me, I know this from personal experience and recognize the symptoms and “quitting” collegiate golf was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do — and I was at a level that’s so far from Tiger Woods that it’s on an alternate universe, but I understand what he’s going through to an extent. It sucked when I finally had the guts to have the “talk” with my coach, who made me feel sort of guilty. But my parents were certainly not disappointed as my mom had been begging me to quit for years, so it’s important to have people who support you and your decision. I’m glad I didn’t have to face THE ENTIRE WORLD like him. I can’t imagine how humbling that must have been.

If you’ve been competitive in a sport and are forced to quit because of circumstances outside your control, then you know how difficult it must have been for Woods to publicly admit what his situation is at the moment — and it took courage. But it takes (years of) time to get there. He’s started to understand and accept that he’s NOT a “quitter.” He tried. He did everything he could and more.

It’s extremely frustrating when you try every type of treatment possible and hear from specialists all the time that they’re going to fix you. I mean, I’m not kidding when I say you try everything — even if there’s a .001 percent it will work; if there’s a chance, you’ll go for it. Finally, you feel like you’ve exhausted every single option. You attempt to play in pain, which sucks and turns into a humiliating exercise, and you keep trying, but the pain becomes debilitating and it’s only getting worse. You continue to tell yourself that the next treatment/specialist you receive/see will be the answer, but you eventually start to lose hope.

And you reach a point where the effort becomes more and more depressing and dejecting (when promises or prognoses go unfulfilled and the agony persists), and then you eventually realize and surrender to the fact you’ve had one hell of a run (which Woods did today), and you’re OK walking away with what you have already accomplished, and now it’s time to experience the next chapter in life that gives you joy. For Woods, that sounds like it would be spending time with his kids.

Up until this week, he’s always maintained that he wanted to break Jack Nicklaus’ all-time career majors record of 18, but the message and tone delivered Tuesday imply he’s moving on from that lifelong goal. Now, he’s more concerned about being able to play soccer with his two children.

“If I can get to that, then we can start talking about golf,” he said. “But let me get to where I can pass the time and really be a part of my kids’ life in the way that I want to be part of it physically, not just as a cheerleader.”

He’s right — it’s been a good run. We’re ready to move on, too. After all, Jordan, Jason, Rory and Rickie won’t necessarily produce the same wonder and awe as “Tiger Woods at his prime,” but they’re pretty damn good replacements.

Update: Even Rory McIlroy got the sense that Woods is pondering retirement and posted via Instagram.