The news that Tiger Woods' recent Achilles tendon injury, which forced him to withdraw from the WGC Cadillac Championship on Sunday, is only a "minor strain" will come as welcome news to fans hoping to see him play more in 2012 (see: The Masters). As one of my co-workers so eloquently put it, "I just want him to be back already, this is getting ridiculous." Ridiculous indeed. The sight of aerial coverage following Tiger's escape from Doral was not only a deflating scene, it made me long for the days when he played through the pain--and won.
Let's be fair, chances are Woods was not going to compete for the Cadillac Championship title, and it was probably in his--and the PGA Tour's--best interests to stop playing, but there was a time when Tiger Woods wouldn't stop playing even on doctor's orders. So instead of rehashing the negative aspects of his injury, let's use this opportunity to take a look back at some of golf's best "playing through pain" moments; starting with the man of the hour and said doctor's orders.
Tiger Woods wins the 2008 U.S. Open despite two leg fractures.
Ironically, it was then-coach Hank Haney who revealed to the world that Tiger Woods not only won the 2008 U.S. Open with two leg fractures, but he did so against doctor's orders. Saying at the time, "It's just incredible he accomplished what he did. I'm so proud of him. I can't believe it. The guy's heart and his toughness ... wow. It really is just wow. I don't know what more you can say than that." Guess Tiger training in combat boots didn't bother Hank back then.
Tiger Woods wins the 2003 Bay Hill Invitational by 11 strokes with food poisoning.
It might not rank up there with his 2008 U.S. Open victory, but a visibly-sick Tiger Woods playing in the rain at the final round of the 2003 Bay Hill invitation makes his Achilles walk-off seem almost laughable. Every player on the PGA Tour--and many not on the tour--has a story about playing while sick, but how many can say they threw up lunch, played in horrible conditions, and beat an invite-only field by 11 strokes?
Ken Venturi wins the 1964 U.S. Open despite extreme heat exhaustion.
Prior to 1965, the final "round" of the U.S. Open consisted of 36 holes played on the final day. This is no small feat on a normal day of championship golf, but consider the 1964 U.S. Open finished on a humid, 100-degree day, on the longest course the Open had ever witnessed--Congressional Country Club. Ken Venturi would go on to win one of the most remarkable Championships in history, but he was not without help: He played the second 18 of the day with an accompanying doctor who was administering salt tablets and ice packs; a marshal with an umbrella to shield him from the sun; another marshal equipped with a first-aid walkie-talkie; the executive director of the USGA; and a police officer in uniform.
According to Shirley Povich of the Washington Post, Venturi was counseled in the locker room between rounds by Dr. John E. Everett, a Congressional member, who suggested Venturi quit, saying, "You know, dehydration can be fatal."
"I'm already dying," Venturi responded. "I have no place else to go."
After Venturi's victory, the 36-hole format was dropped in favor of two days of 18-hole rounds.
Babe Zaharias wins the 1954 U.S. Women's Open one month after colon cancer surgery.
Seriously, did you read that title? It is without a doubt one of the most amazing stories in all of golf. Zaharias was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1953, and after undergoing cancer surgery, she made a comeback in 1954. In true Zaharias fashion however, she didn't just "make a comeback", she played the 1954 season with the lowest scoring average on the LPGA tour--the only time she achieved that status. Zaharias would also win her 10th and final major at the 1954 U.S. Women's Open championship, one month after the surgery and while wearing a colostomy bag. Yes, you read that correctly. With the win, Zaharias also became the second-oldest woman to ever win a major LPGA championship tournament.
Unfortunately, her colon cancer resurfaced the following year, eventually taking the life of one of the greatest athletes of all time. In a true testament to her will and perseverance, Zaharias was still the world's top-ranked female golfer at the time of her death.
Ben Hogan wins the 1950 U.S. Open less than two years after near-fatal bus accident.
The story by which all "playing through pain" sports moments can be measured, Ben Hogan's victory at Merion in the 1950 U.S. Open goes down as one of the most miraculous feats in all of sports. In February of 1949, Hogan and his wife, Valerie, collided head-on with a Greyhound Bus while driving just outside of El Paso, Texas. The force of the crash broke Hogan's collarbone, pelvis and ankle and crushed one of his ribs (Valerie sustained only minor injuries). Doctors were not sure he would ever walk again, let alone play golf. Yet, despite all odds, Hogan began rehabbing, and less than one-year after the accident, he was playing tournament golf. By the summer of 1950, with legs still bandaged, he would enter the U.S. Open and play five rounds that would immortalize him forever.
Hogan forced a playoff with Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio on the 72nd hole, and would go on to win an 18-hole playoff to secure the Championship only 16 months after the accident. It not only made Hogan an instant celebrity--in only one year, a movie about his story, "Follow the Sun" starring Glenn Ford, was released--it propelled the game to new heights. Hogan would go on to win five more major championships, including all three he played in in 1953, before retiring.
I guess you could say Ben Hogan was golf's Kirk Gibson.
-- Derek Evers