Gary Woodland battled a brain lesion for months last year, suffering fear of death and night seizures before surgery eased his worries and led to his PGA Tour return this week at Honolulu.
The 39-year-old American, seeking his first victory since the 2019 US Open, will tee off on Thursday at the Sony Open in Hawaii at Waialae Country Club. It’s his first event since last August and after a brain lesion was removed last September.
“This week will be a big week,” said Woodland. “I can hit every golf shot I want right now physically. It’s can my brain sustain the seven days of tournament golf?
“It has been a long process. A couple weeks ago I didn’t know if this week was possible. It has been a journey for me but this was a goal of mine from surgery to be back. I plan on being competitive very quickly.”
Woodland began feeling symptoms at last April’s Mexico Open, starting with night seizures that would jolt him awake.
“It was a lot of jolting, especially in the middle of the night. Shaking. Hands were really tremouring,” he said.
“A lot of fear. That was the one that scared me the most. I was very fear-driven every day, mostly around death. As it got worse, loss of appetite, chills, no energy.”
When anxiety medication didn’t help and he missed the cut at the PGA Championship, Woodland consulted a specialist who ordered an MRI exam last 24 May.
“I got an MRI that night and came back with a lesion. Looked like a tumour on my brain,” Woodland said.
“The jolting and everything I was experiencing at night was partial seizures. The lesion in my brain sat on the part of my brain that controls fear and anxiety.”
Medications slowed seizures but caused “horrible side effects” and soon they weren’t having any impact.
“Every day it was a new way of dying, new way of death. The jolting in the middle of the night scared the heck out of me,” Woodland said, recalling an episode at the Memorial tournament.
“I would be completely asleep and jump out of the bed and fear would set in. Fear that I’m falling from heights. I’m laying in bed at 1am grabbing the bed to tell myself I wasn’t falling from heights, I wasn’t dying, for an hour.”
Woodland struggled two more months to finish the season, forgetting what club he was hitting at times and rushing to make putts. His caddie told him he had to solve the problem.
“When the fear started to come back the doctor is like, we have to go in. The part pushing on in the brain they believed it was growing,” said Woodland.
“I had gone four and a half months of every day really thinking I was going to die. I thought everything was going to kill me. You can imagine leading up to surgery how I felt going into having my head cut open and operated on. The fear going into that was awful.”
With risks of losing eyesight and partial paralysis of his left side, Woodland underwent the operation and after it was over felt his fears finally subside.
“The fear went down immediately,” he said. “After surgery I definitely felt relief that I could see and had the left side of my body. I spent two days in the ICU [intensive care] and then walked out of the hospital.”
Doctors could not remove the entire lesion so Woodland gets MRIs to monitor it, doctors saying they hope to have cut off blood flowing to it so it will die.
“I’m still on the meds. They switched brands. I’m starting to feel like myself again. My energy is back,” Woodland said.
“It has been overwhelming how good it has been. I learned a lot about myself. Lucky I’m sitting here being able to play this week.”
Woodland has a baseball-sized hole in his skull replaced with titanium plates and screws.
“I’ve got a robotic head, I guess,” he said.
© Agence France-Presse
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