'No Reason Why Tiger Woods Can't Be Top Of The Game Again' - Foot And Ankle Surgeon

Foot and ankle surgeon and consultant Nima Heidari talks us through Tiger Woods' latest surgery and why it means he'll be able to play pain-free this year

Tiger Woods looks on after hitting an iron shot
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A foot and ankle surgeon and consultant says that there is no reason why Tiger Woods can't make it to the top of the game again and that people writing his career off have "no clue" following his latest surgery.

Woods underwent a subtalar fusion surgery on his right ankle to alleviate the arthritic pain experienced following his car crash in April 2021. Woods was seen limping at Augusta National recently before withdrawing from The Masters before restarting his third round.

The fusion surgery he had has essentially turned two bones and a joint below his ankle into one bigger bone, meaning he will be slightly restricted in the movement below his right ankle but crucially pain-free.

The 15-time Major winner's surgery will likely take three months to heal, meaning he will miss the remaining three Majors this year, but he should be able to walk pain-free and continue playing golf later this year.

We spoke to foot and ankle surgeon and consultant Nima Heidari, who specialises in foot, ankle and limb reconstruction and has been in the industry for more than two decades, to give us the full lowdown on Woods' surgery, his injuries and what is next for the American.

Heidari says that Woods' injuries and surgeries are "exactly the kind of stuff that I deal with as a matter of routine" and that subtalor fusion should ensure he can walk and play golf pain-free once it has healed.

"The thing is one of the reasons why he's finding it difficult to get around the golf course, to sleep, to do things because he's got pain in his foot," he said. "So, what you do is that you sacrifice the small amount of movement that he may have in this joint for loss of pain.

Tiger Woods during the second round of the 2023 Masters

Woods withdrew ahead of the completion of the third round on the final day of the 2023 Masters

(Image credit: Getty Images)

"And in fact if he has got a reduction in his pain, that could only mean good things for his play. Now, having had the operation and being out and so on, of course, he's going to need a period of rehabilitation. But I mean, to be honest with you, if anyone is going to make a comeback it’s going to be Tiger Woods, this man is incredible.

"There's two things about him which are incredible. One of them is him. And there's no substitute for his hunger and his desire to be the best and to continue to be the best and to win. But also he's surrounded himself with an incredible team that will facilitate that desire in him."

Heidari thinks that Woods' surgery will be positive for him and can help prolong his golf career. The 47-year-old has stressed that he can still hit all the shots he needs to but walking has been the problem.

"I think actually it's a very positive thing because he's really recovered from the original injury," Heidari said. "He's made an enormous amount of recovery from the original injury and a phenomenal recovery.

"Now he's got some of the consequences of the foot injuries that he's had and you know I may have said when we last spoke that if he's got any foot injuries, it will be the foot injuries that will define the final outcome, and here we are.

"You can see that it is the foot injuries and the consequences of those that have caused him to have a delay in his recovery and he's just required more remedial interventions to stop him being in pain so that he can then continue with his play.

'There's no reason why he can't be absolute top of the game again'

"He's one of these absolutely amazing people that is simply just restricted by his own desire and hunger. There is no other impediment to him, which is incredible. But yeah, I mean it's one of those things because we've had people playing extremely high level golf with quite advanced years, comparatively to other sports, right? So, I think if you've got less symptoms in his foot and ankle, there's no reason why he can't be absolute top of the game again."

While the huge benefit of the fusion will hopefully be Woods' ability to walk and play golf pain-free again, one issue could be his ability to cope with uneven lies and hilly surfaces.

"The subtalar joint is important to accommodate to an uneven ground so for example, imagine if you're walking on a camber of a road or you're walking across a hill, one foot has to turn one way and the other foot has to turn the other way," Heidari said.

"The movements that are called inversion and eversion of the foot are very much coupled to the subtalar joint. So the subtalar joint is very important to be able to step on uneven ground. He may have difficulty in traversing uneven ground to some extent. But the thing is that if you have arthritis in your subtalar joint, you have difficulty in traversing on uneven ground and you have pain as a result of it."

And will Woods walk with a limp due to the lack of movement in his newly-fused joint? Heidari is not sure yet, but does stress that further ankle problems could arise in the future.

"I don't know if he will walk with a limp. Sometimes people don't. So I think whether he's got a limp or not, what it would mean is that his foot would be less able to accommodate the way that it needs to position itself on uneven ground to keep him straight, that can then put further stresses on the ankle joint" he said.

"So he may develop problems with the ankle joint but that tends to be sometimes several years down the line and it is not an immediate effect. It will help because if the problem with walking is pain, then this will reduce his pain and thereby improve his ability to walk."

Heidari also doesn't think Woods' swing should be impacted too badly by the fusion surgery.

"I don't really think so," he said. "The thing is that he's still managed to play astonishingly good golf from coming out of the injury, and he's been treated by a very, very skillful surgeon. So technically he would have had a superb operation. And off the back of that, then it is the case that, honestly if he's got less pain, he will just get on with it.

"I love following his story, it’s just testament to the fact what you can achieve when you have the right attitude and the right level of desire and that's facilitated by the right kind of people around you. It is just it's a delight to watch."

Elliott Heath
News Editor

Elliott Heath is our News Editor and has been with Golf Monthly since early 2016 after graduating with a degree in Sports Journalism. He manages the Golf Monthly news team as well as our large Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. He covered the 2022 Masters from Augusta National as well as five Open Championships on-site including the 150th at St Andrews. His first Open was in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, when he walked inside the ropes with Jordan Spieth during the Texan's memorable Claret Jug triumph. He has played 35 of our Top 100 golf courses, with his favourites being both Sunningdales, Woodhall Spa, Western Gailes, Old Head and Turnberry. He has been obsessed with the sport since the age of 8 and currently plays off of a six handicap. His golfing highlights are making albatross on the 9th hole on the Hotchkin Course at Woodhall Spa, shooting an under-par round, playing in the Aramco Team Series on the Ladies European Tour and making his one and only hole-in-one at the age of 15 - a long time ago now!

Elliott is currently playing:

Driver: Titleist TSR4

3 wood: Titleist TSi2

Hybrids: Titleist 816 H1

Irons: Mizuno MP5 5-PW

Wedges: Cleveland RTX ZipCore 50, 54, 58

Putter: Odyssey White Hot OG #5

Ball: Srixon Z Star XV