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Tara Sullivan

Road back for Tiger Woods is also mental, not just physical

Tiger Woods has a long road back from a car accident on Tuesday that could have taken his life.
Tiger Woods has a long road back from a car accident on Tuesday that could have taken his life.Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

The news that Tiger Woods was being moved to a different hospital Thursday represented the next step on what is sure to be a long road to recovery. The 20-mile transfer from Los Angeles’s Harbor-UCLA Medical Center to nearby Cedars-Sinai Medical Center took Woods out of the initial treatment for trauma as a result of his frightening car crash on Tuesday and toward the first steps of his rehab.

A statement from Dr. Anish Mahajan, the chief medical officer and interim CEO at Harbor-UCLA said by way of sendoff, “On behalf of our staff, it was an honor to provide orthopedic trauma care to one of our generation’s greatest athletes.”

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Now, the next questions begin. The medical details are best left to doctors, and the work can only be done by Tiger.

But from someone who has been there before: It isn’t easy.

With physical and mental hurdles yet to overcome, the road back from an accident that nearly takes your life is filled with potential potholes, ones that must be navigated with care and compassion.

Bobby Hurley knows.

Once upon a time, Hurley was atop the basketball world. Until the night of Dec. 12, 1993, when a devastating car accident changed his life. When the current Arizona State men’s basketball coach heard the news of Woods’s accident, the flashbacks were inevitable. So was the concern for one of the rare athletes he’d come to admire from afar, the golfer that as a young fan he witnessed help clinch a memorable Ryder Cup trophy at Brookline, the man who made him stop and pay attention every Sunday he was in contention.

“It was just so thrilling to watch him compete, he has such an unusual drive and clutch way about him,” Hurley said.

Only time will tell if Woods will get that opportunity again. For Hurley, the car accident curtailed a promising career, happening when he was only 22, ultimately sending him into retirement within five years. Despite the fact that he returned to the court within six months, he was never the same player. Woods, at 45, has already accomplished more in golf than nearly anyone. But no athlete ever wants to be forced into decisions that aren’t on their terms, and Woods might have to face that reality.

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Hurley was driving home from the Kings’ Arco Arena that fateful December night, perhaps smarting from a 112-102 loss to the Clippers, yet secure in the knowledge (and the seven assists he’d dished in 19 minutes) he was making good on the predictions of success that had followed him since his youth.

The son of famed high school basketball coach Bob Hurley, Bobby was the kid blessed with preternatural basketball instincts and a work ethic to match. He would lead tiny St. Anthony High School of Jersey City to a national No. 1 ranking, follow that with a college career at Duke that included back-to-back NCAA championships and the NCAA record for assists, and cap it all by being the No. 7 overall selection in the 1993 NBA Draft. Undersized but never outworked, Hurley was slowly making his impact on the professional game.

Arizona State head coach and former NBA player Bobby Hurley was badly injured in a 1993 car accident when he was playing for the Kings.
Arizona State head coach and former NBA player Bobby Hurley was badly injured in a 1993 car accident when he was playing for the Kings.Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

But when a driver in a station wagon plowed through an intersection without his headlights on, broadsiding Hurley and sending his battered body into a nearby ditch, the world as he knew it changed.

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“Once I started watching the coverage about Tiger, started seeing the wreckage, it kind of rekindled some bad thoughts, some bad memories,” Hurley said Thursday, a couple of hours before leading the Sun Devils to a second consecutive win over Pac-12 rival Washington.

“I listened to one of the press conferences with the sheriff, and I know it’s kind of like a cliché when he said, ‘He’s lucky to be alive,’ but I think that’s how I felt. I don’t know how Tiger feels, but he certainly has some serious injuries, like I did. But as bad as I felt, I felt an amazing feeling of being fortunate to be alive. My last conscious moments, I thought I was not going to make it. To be able to open my eyes and wiggle my toes, I was so grateful.”

Were it not for the fact that teammate Mike Peplowski had taken the same backroads home from the arena, Hurley might not have survived his injuries, which included two collapsed lungs, broken ribs, a severed trachea, a fractured shoulder blade, a compression back fracture, and various leg and wrist trauma. Peplowski was able to call 911 right away, which similarly, as reported for Woods, made an enormous difference.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Carlos Gonzalez said on the “Today” show this past week that he was on the scene with Woods six minutes after the accident, and after assessing a conscious and cogent Woods was in no immediate danger, waited for fire officials to extricate him from the crumpled vehicle. But as NBC medical correspondent Dr. John Torres also said on the show, there was still concern about Woods losing his leg without a quick response by first responders and trauma surgeons, who needed to relieve pressure on the leg muscles within an hour.

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With gratitude that those quick, important measures were taken, Woods still has so much from which to recover, an ankle repaired by screws and pins, a leg that was broken in multiple places with protruding bone that required a rod to repair, and surgical release of the covering of the muscles in the leg.

As Hurley recalled, the recovery isn’t only physical.

“There were a lot of scars, there was a lot of dealing with the physical pain, and then there was the emotional pain of it,” Hurley said. “I think that’s something that I think Tiger is going to have to work though. I remember if someone was tailgating me when I was driving, if they beeped the horn, for the first few weeks to months after my accident I had real issues. I’d have to pull over, and just learn to be OK with even getting back into the car.”

A long road indeed. Good luck, Tiger.


Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.