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Gary Woodland grateful in return to competition at Sony Open in Hawaii

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Gary Woodland grateful in return to competition at Sony Open in Hawaii

Will mark first start since brain surgery last fall

    Written by Cameron Morfit @CMorfitPGATOUR

    Gary Woodland thanked his doctors and expressed gratitude for his family, friends and coach, Butch Harmon, as he prepared to return to action at this week’s Sony Open in Hawaii.

    It will be his first start since undergoing brain surgery last September.

    “The love and support has been unbelievable,” Woodland said in an emotional press conference Tuesday afternoon, his first since publicly disclosing the lesion on his brain late last summer. “Even being back this week, seeing the guys, haven't seen many guys. It's been overwhelming how good it's been.”

    At times his eyes welled with tears. For four and a half months, he said, he thought he was going to die.

    Woodland said he began feeling symptoms at the Mexico Open at Vidanta last May when he started waking up with a jolt in the middle of the night – small seizures. He began having terrifying thoughts of death at all hours.

    As an optimist by nature, he knew that whatever was going on, he didn’t feel like himself. He was nauseous the week of the PGA Championship in New York, and his doctor ordered an MRI, which revealed the lesion.

    Gary Woodland on symptoms he dealt with in 2023

    As it turned out, it was pressing against the part of his brain that controlled fear and anxiety. Woodland went on medication, and doctors elected to take a wait-and-see approach regarding surgery. But with symptoms persisting and even worsening, it seemed that the lesion might be growing. It was time to go in and get it; Woodland would undergo a craniotomy in Miami on Sept. 18.

    He was terrified.

    “They cut me open all the way down to my ear,” he said. “Cut about a baseball-sized hole in my skull and went in through that and then put it back with plates and screws.”

    He joked Tuesday about having a robotic head and potentially setting off metal detectors, but at the time no one was laughing. Instead, doctors were telling him they’d gotten most of the lesion, that it was benign, and that they had cut off the blood supply to the rest. Woodland was flooded with relief.

    In some ways, though, the work was just the beginning, with plenty of rest and rehabilitation ahead. He didn’t want his three kids back home in Delray Beach, Florida, to see him looking so compromised, but he had no choice.

    “My son was very scared of me when I didn't have something on my head to cover the scar, the staples,” he said. “He is 6 and doesn't understand. He thought I was dying.”

    With the help of his wife, Gabby, he was recuperating. He began to take full swings five weeks after the surgery, and posted a swing video on Nov. 13, 2023, expressing a belief that he would be back the following year.

    His Sony Open commitment corroborates that intention. This week will mark Woodland’s first TOUR start since the Wyndham Championship last August, where he finished T27. Woodland made 18 cuts in 24 TOUR starts last season, finishing 94th in the FedExCup. His four TOUR wins include the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

    The Kansas native has made eight career starts at the Sony Open, with five made cuts including four top-25 finishes. His best result at Waialae Country Club is a tie for third in 2015.

    He and his family came to Hawaii early and have been staying with friends in Kona. He said he had an encouraging MRI a week and a half ago, has been in regular contact with Harmon and they have been pleased with the progress of his game. All that remains to be seen, he added, is how well he can sustain his focus amid the normal pressure and strain of a 72-hole PGA TOUR event.

    “So far it's been good,” Woodland said. “I slept great last night. Played nine holes this morning; I am going to go play again this afternoon. It's the focus deal, overstimulation. I'll be at the house, if all my three kids are on an iPad or phone, it's just too much. I have to leave the room for a while.

    “It's 'what can I handle?'” he added. “Next week will be four months from surgery. That's probably the date where they said after four months, I should be pretty good. We'll see.”

    Cameron Morfit is a Staff Writer for the PGA TOUR. He has covered rodeo, arm-wrestling, and snowmobile hill climb in addition to a lot of golf. Follow Cameron Morfit on Twitter.

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