Tiger, the ACL, and Me

I’m not much of a golf fan, but I’m a huge fan of Tiger Woods, precisely for the reasons that David Brooks summarized the other day: He wins not just because he is a superb athlete, but his mental discipline is overwhelming.

So today’s news is that Tiger will take time off to have reconstructive surgery on his left knee — the one that was ‘scoped right after the Masters and that gave him obvious pain during last weekend’s U.S. Open. Why reconstructive surgery? Because he tore his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in that knee almost a year ago. Since then, he’s won what — 10 tournaments? 11?, including two majors (the PGA and the U.S. Open). Without a cruciate ligament? In his left knee — the platform for his swing, one that suffers the torque of driving?

I was a competitive athlete for a long time when I was young, but I didn’t learn nearly enough about the mental side of sport until I tore my first ACL nearly 20 years ago. The discipline that I learned during that rehab opened my eyes to what top-level athletes achieve. (Not that I achieved it myself, but I could faintly glimpse it from where I stood.) When Tiger came along, it was easy to grasp immediately what separated him not only from his fellow golfers but from almost all other athletes, in any sport.

Whatever Tiger’s flaws, in my view there is no doubt that he is in the same class (but different sport) as the other member of my warrior pantheon, Michelle Akers, who finished her soccer career while battling Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

This is usually a law-and-technology blog, so I’ll close with a law-and-technology note. Tiger will be back, and back in top form, faster than anyone might imagine. ACL reconstruction procedures have evolved at light speed since I had my first in 1989, thanks in no small part to the fact that in my experience, top sports-oriented orthopods often have entrepreneurial streaks, a knack for finding venture and government funding, and a sheaf of patents.