To hear Gary Woodland tell his story – jolting awake in the middle of the night, shaking and practically paralyzed by the sudden fear that he was going to die someway, somehow and soon – is to be given a window into a harrowing tale.
The beauty of the story, which began with unexplained shaking last spring, is that Woodland is in Honolulu, Hawaii, this week, resuming his PGA Tour career with the fear replaced by personal peace, a bit of hardware in his head where surgeons went in to get the lesion on his brain and a prognosis that, God willing, he has more happy and healthy years ahead of him.
“I’m 39 years old. To live a life one way and all of a sudden you’re not yourself, you have no control. … I’ve worked hard with performance coaches and psychologists since I was 16 years old. You think you can overcome stuff. I couldn’t overcome this,” Woodland said this week at Waialae Country Club, site of the Sony Open in Hawaii, which begins today.
“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 is one of the PGA Tour’s solid citizens, a former U.S. Open champion who quietly goes about his business. With his wife, Gabby, Woodland is the father of four children and a devoted fan of his alma mater Kansas Jayhawks basketball.
The first symptoms appeared when Woodland was playing the Mexico Open at Vidanta in late April. Woodland didn’t feel like himself and began jolting awake at night, his hands shaking while a sense of fear consumed him.
An optimistic person by nature, Woodland went the other way.
“I would be completely asleep and jump out of the bed and fear would set in. I have a fear of heights, and fear that I’m falling from heights. It was Wednesday or Thursday night of Memorial, and I’m laying in bed at 1 o’clock, grabbing the bed to tell myself I wasn’t falling from heights, I wasn’t dying, for an hour,” Woodland said.
Doctors determined that Woodland was having partial seizures due to the lesion on his brain. It was pushing on the portion of the brain that controls fear and anxiety, adding to Woodland’s symptoms.
“It was a horrible experience. All you wanted to do was go to sleep to not think about it, and going to sleep was the worst part.” – Gary Woodland
Medication helped for a time while doctors did monthly MRIs to make sure the lesion wasn’t growing. When the fear began to come back, doctors thought the lesion was growing and surgery was required.
Through most of it, Woodland continued to play tournament golf because he could focus his mind on the game, not his condition. Finally, at the Wyndham Championship in August, Woodland’s caddie, Brennan Little, told him that he had to get help.
Woodland kept his condition private because doctors weren’t certain what they were dealing with.
A specialist in Miami confirmed the need for surgery, but it came with no promises. The location of the lesion threatened his eyesight and movement on the left side of his body. Getting everything out was not an option, given the risks.
On September 18, Woodland had surgery, and doctors removed as much of the lesion as they could. The lesion was not cancerous. By tying off blood vessels around what remains, Woodland said they are optimistic that what’s left of the lesion will not grow any more.
“When I woke up and realized I was OK, I was filled with thankfulness and love. That replaced the fear,” Woodland said.
“It was very emotional because I had gone 4½ months of every day really thinking I was going to die. The doctors kept telling me I was OK, but this thing (was) pushing on my brain. Fear and anxiety every – didn’t matter if I was driving a car, on an airplane – 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.
“It was hard on me. Probably harder on my family for what they had to deal with me throughout this whole thing and try to keep me positive and keep me looking forward. That was hard to do in the moment.
“After surgery, I definitely felt relief, one, that I could see and had the left side of my body.”
Two days after surgery, Woodland brushed off a wheelchair and walked out of the hospital with 30 staples in his head to go home to Delray Beach, Florida.
Five weeks after surgery, Woodland began hitting balls again. After playing nine bad holes one day, Woodland arranged to fly to Las Vegas to see swing coach Butch Harmon.
Woodland has modest expectations this week at the Sony Open. It’s been four months since his surgery, and Woodland is physically able to hit all the shots he needs. Whether he can handle the mental side of things for a tournament week remains to be seen.
“When I woke up and realized I was OK, I was filled with thankfulness and love. That replaced the fear.” – Gary Woodland
He will remain on medication through mid-March (though he might stay on it through the Masters). After that, doctors will be able to provide a better long-term prognosis, but they have been optimistic, he said.
Until last year, Woodland said the only thing he feared was failure.
“This was a new experience for me. Being an optimistic person, taking that away and everything is death, everything from driving a car to getting on an airplane, which we’re traveling for a living. Coming home, see my kids do something, oh, something bad is going to happen to them,” Woodland said.
“It was a horrible experience. All you wanted to do was go to sleep to not think about it, and going to sleep was the worst part.”
“I realize there is a lot of good in this world. The love and support I’ve had has been unbelievable. Even being back this week, seeing the guys; haven’t seen many guys. It’s been overwhelming how good it’s been,” Woodland said.
“I learned a lot about myself. Usually people ask me for help and I’m not asking. I’m very fortunate and probably lucky why I’m sitting here being able to play this week that I asked for help.
“When I was struggling, if my doctor would’ve gave me anxiety or some medicine to calm me down and not ordered that MRI, who knows how much more it would’ve grown. Asking helped speed the process up. Helped us catch this quicker than we probably would’ve caught it.
“That helped me – saved me, more than anything. So, I can’t do it all on my own. I need the right people around me. I’m fortunate I had the people around me willing to help and the right people to get me in the right places.”
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Tell us how we can improve this post?