The 5 greatest comebacks in golf history

Unless you’ve spent the past few days in the coma ward, you know Tiger Woods was slated to make his return to professional golf at the Hero World Challenge. 

Woods has made a number of returns to the pristine fairways of the PGA Tour, but he’s never been absent for such a substantial period of time. The golfing world was keen to see how Woods makes the transition from dropping the kids off at school and beating balls at The Medalist to competing at the Safeway Open.

Instead, we’ve been made to wait until the Hero World Challenge.

Perhaps, when he eventually tees it up again, Woods will return to the celestial spheres he once inhabited, climbing back onto his pedestal in the pantheon of golfing gods. While the odds are against such a triumphant return to glory, whatever Woods’ comeback story is, the first chapter will be written this week.

What’s TW up against in his pursuit of an all-time great golf comeback? Some pretty impressive tales. Grab a seat for the five greatest comebacks in golf history.

Ben Hogan

Ben Hogan never stopped

In the dense early morning fog of February 2, 1949, Ben Hogan’s Buick was crushed head-on by a Greyhound bus that had swerved into his lane to pass. Hogan, who dove in front of his wife in the passenger seat, broke pretty much everything in his body. And adding to the difficulty of his recovery and the issues that would plague him for the rest of his life: A surgery in the wake of significant clotting resulted in poor circulation to his legs and substantial pain as his legs tired. Doctors weren’t sure how well he’d ever walk again, let alone play golf.

All Hogan did after he made it out of the hospital and through a lengthy period of rehab was win the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion. Three years later, in 1953, the Hawk played in three majors and won all three.

Babe Zaharias

(Source/Nate D Saunders).
(Source/Nate D Saunders).

Women’s golf’s transcendent figure, Babe Zaharias’ win at the 1954 U.S. Women’s Open is still incomprehensible some 60 years later. Suffering from cancer, following surgery to remove her colon a year earlier, and wearing a colostomy bag, 43-year-old Babe Zaharias beat the field by 12 strokes at Salem Country Club. After the victory, Zaharias said:

“This was an answer to my prayer, I said please make me able to play again. I’ll take care of the winning.”

Indeed she did. Babe died two years later.

Erik Compton

(Source/Golf Channel).
(Source/Golf Channel).

Diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy when he was nine, Erik Compton had his first heart transplant at 12. That’s right: As in one of two. After the initial transplant, Compton went on to a decorated amateur career, playing on the 2001 Palmer and Walker Cup teams.

In 2008, after a year on the Nationwide Tour, Compton underwent a second heart transplant, bouncing back to even greater success when he earned his PGA Tour card in 2011. His most notable finish came at the 2014 U.S. Open at brutal Pinehurst No. 2. Compton finished tied for second and was one of only three players to break par.

Paul Azinger

(Source/Ryder Cup).
(Source/Ryder Cup).

In 1993, the year he won the PGA Championship, Paul Azinger was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in his right shoulder. It would take a year of chemotherapy and radiation to rid the fiery Massachusetts native of the disease, and he eventually returned to the winner’s circle in 2000 with a win at the Sony Open in Hawaii.   

Jarrod Lyle

Jarrod Lyle

While Jarrod Lyle hasn’t had tremendous success since battling leukemia for a second time, the fact that he survived two battles with the disease and returned to professional golf. The Australian had first battled the disease at 17. Confined to bed for nine months in the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, he didn’t have the energy to walk a golf course for another year after treatment.

Twice a winner on the Nationwide Tour, Lyle was experiencing some success when the leukemia returned in 2012. He again endured the horror and misery of treatment and was declared cancer-free in 2013 and returned to professional golf.

Start the discussion

to comment