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PGA Championship: With history of back problems, former Mets captain David Wright can empathize with Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods tees off during the first day

Tiger Woods tees off during the first day of practice rounds in the PGA Championship tournament at Bethpage Black golf course on Monday, May 13, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

It is hard to imagine how much stretching, exercising, grimacing and more stretching Tiger Woods has to do for his back to feel ready to play any one round of golf. The public did get an inkling before the final round of the Masters, as tee times were moved up about six hours to avoid potentially dangerous afternoon thunderstorms.

When the revised schedule was announced, Woods said, “I’ll wake up at 4, maybe 3:45, and start the process of getting this body going.”

That sounded very reasonable, and all too familiar, to one avid amateur golfer — one who put his heart and soul and back muscles into playing third base for the Mets. “I saw that,” Wright said on Monday about the April 13 quote from Woods. “I can definitely relate to that.”

In his final seasons, Wright would spend hours doing tedious exercises just to get in the lineup. Like Woods, he knew that every second was worth it. When you devote your life to something, you so not want to give it up one minute sooner than you absolutely have to. Consider how hard Wright labored last year to play part of one last game.

Having retired much sooner than he had wanted, Wright can understand how distraught Woods was when he thought he might never play golf again, and how elated Woods was when spinal fusion surgery gave him one more chance. He can understand as well as anyone how rewarding that fifth green jacket was.

“Having been through some of the injuries that he has been through and seeing him kind of beating up on all these younger guys just shows the perseverance and that relentless drive that he has,” Wright said at Bethpage Black, where Woods practiced early in the morning for the PGA Championship. “As a fellow bad-back person, it was nice to see him overcome the odds and get back on top.”

This week, Wright has something else in common with Woods, other than a complicated spinal history. He is a golf ambassador.

Wright even has the official title, Honorary Ambassador for the 2019 PGA Championship. As you’d expect, he is not just going through the motions. He is pouring everything he has into the role. On Monday, he greeted and praised each participant in the PGA Secretary’s Cup, a nine-hole tournament on the Bethpage Red and Blue Courses. All of the golfers were military veterans from the PGA Project HOPE program.

“It was awesome. I come from a military town, my family has a military background. So, it hits home,” the Norfolk, Virginia, native said. “While I’m up there trying to get base hits and make plays in the field, they’re fighting wars to keep us safe and protect our freedom. It always puts things in perspective for me. So, every chance I get to thank them and talk with them, I do it.

“A lot of them were very open with me about some of the issues they’ve been through, or that they’re going through, and how golf helps them. That was really touching for me.”

He can relate to that, too. Golf has helped him cope with the reality of being retired at 36. “After a season, I’d typically be getting ready for the next year. I guess that kind of competitive drive needed to be fed somewhere else,” he said, adding that some of his close buddies are golf fanatics.

“Truth be told, I’m not all that great, but it’s what drives me. Every day when I wake up, I want to practice. Some days I can, some days I can’t because of my back. But just that mentality excites me. It kind of fills that void left by baseball.”

He must do a lot of preparation just to make it to the first tee, but it’s worth every second.

New York Sports