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Coming Back From a Total Hip Replacement

Case study: Tour player Tom Watson demonstrates that you can play golf again after a total hip repacement.

March 2009

Hip Replacement

Tom Watson

My injury: My left hip had been bothering me for a few years, but the pain got a lot worse last year. I had trouble sleeping. Getting my left sock on was an Olympic event. My range of motion was limited, especially my follow-through. I felt compromised in several events, particularly the Senior Open on a severe walking course.

My injury and symptoms: I studied a variety of surgeons and techniques. I wanted to know about things like the infection rate, complications rate and how well the anatomy was put back together. I decided on a total replacement using what's called an Anterior Approach because there is less compromise in the overall procedure and recovery is generally faster.

How i found my surgeon: Jim Vernon, the president of the U.S. Golf Association, was my roommate at Stanford. Early on, he sent me Dr. Joel Matta's website. Jim plays golf with Dr. Matta in Los Angeles. After doing due diligence, I wound up picking him. He popularized the Anterior Approach, and has done more than 1,700 of them. He believes that hip rotation drives the golf swing and that this is the best option for golfers who need hip replacement.

My rehab: I had the surgery October 2, flew home to Kansas City the next day and got around with crutches and then a cane for eight days before walking on my own. I began an intense "reconditioning" program December 1 with a golf-oriented local trainer: three days a week and a couple of days on my own.

Dr. Matta said some of his patients were playing golf two weeks after the operation, but I wanted to be sure of making a full recovery. I didn't go back to him -- he called often, and local doctors sent him X-rays that were fine.

I wasn't in pain, but my strength took a while coming back. On December 12, I put the hip to the test. I hit 200 drivers indoors on a monitor with no issues at all, building up my speed as I went. My rotation was better than a year ago, and I think my swing will be improved.

I plan to play my usual 15 events in 2009, including the Masters and British Open. The Champions Tour opened with the Senior Skins Game and Mitsubishi Championship in the Hawaiian Islands... a great place to be in the middle of January if you're from the frigid Midwest.

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