About Utah: Dr. Vern Cooley had tiger of a tale before he met Tiger Woods

Published: Sunday, Jan. 29 2012 10:00 p.m. MST

Long story (and longer days) short: Cooley graduated from the University of Utah, got his medical degree at Harvard, did an internship followed by a four-year residency at the University of Washington, and then returned to Utah in 1996 for a one-year fellowship at The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital, the cutting edge facility in Murray run by his former next-door neighbor … Tom Rosenberg.

"Nothing was ever said verbally that I would come back and work with Tom," remembers Vern. "It was just kinda understood by all parties, providing it all worked out."

The big unknown was how Cooley would perform in the OR. "There's no way to know until you get there," says Vern.

As soon as Cooley got there, everyone knew.

He's been operating ever since.

In 2002, not long after Rosenberg and Cooley had relocated their practice to Park City, where they've partnered with Robert Metcalf's son Mike, Tiger Woods began experiencing knee pain. Woods consulted with his physical therapist in Las Vegas, Keith Kleven, a native Utahn, who gave Tiger the names of five leading orthopedic surgeon groups around the country. Rosenberg and Cooley were on the list.

Tiger made a visit to Park City, everyone hit it off.

Woods had arthroscopic surgery in late 2002 to remove a cyst on his ACL. That held until 2008, when Tiger returned to Rosenberg and Cooley for another scope after the Masters in April to remove damaged cartilage. He was in need of ACL ligament replacement surgery right then, but he wanted to hold off until he played in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego in June.

That's the tournament Tiger won on one leg. A week later, he was in Park City, staring up at Rosenberg and Cooley.

The ACL reconstruction surgery was pronounced a resounding success by all concerned, greatly expanding Rosenberg and Cooley's reputation, especially in the pop culture world, even though the doctors made it a point then, and continue to make the point, that the procedure on Tiger Woods was similar to thousands just like it — and that it was performed no differently.

"In the OR there's a sense of reverence for what's going on at the moment," says Cooley. "It doesn't matter who it is, every knee gets the same attention."

Having said that, the famous Utah doctor who worked on Tiger Woods allows a grin to spread across his face.

"But yeah," he adds, "you do think twice when it's a billion-dollar knee."

Which only makes it that much better for the next person in line.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays and Fridays. Email: benson@desnews.com

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