After years of uncertainty, Klauk begins road back

Stan Badz/PGA TOUR
Jeff Klauk returns to action for the first time in 14 months this week in Boise, Idaho.
September 11, 2012
Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- There is anticipation in Jeff Klauk's voice again.


"I'm tired of watching my friends play golf on TV and win tournaments," the 34-year-old says.

When Klauk packed his bags for this week's Albertsons Boise Open presented by Kraft on the Tour, it took a little longer than usual. Not because he suffers from epilepsy -- he was diagnosed with the disease in 2006 -- but because he hasn't played a competitive round of golf in 14 months.

"I was forgetting everything I had to put in my bag for a tournament," said Klauk, who tees off at 9:30 a.m. MT on Thursday. "I found that kind of amusing."

He also found it to be a relief. Thanks to medication that can control the complex partial seizures that have at times made his life hell, Klauk hasn't suffered a seizure in 3 1/2 months and is again able to do the only job he's ever had.

This week's tournament will be the first of five rehab starts allowed under Klauk's medical extension.

"There are times I go to the course and don't feel the way I want to feel; that's why we keep tweaking the medicine," Klauk said. "I never thought I wouldn't play again, because it's what I do. Everything will work its way out."

While Klauk says he leads a mostly "normal" life, the three drugs he takes daily, Vimpat, Keppra and Trileptal, come with a price tag greater than any co-pay -- mostly dizziness and double vision, sometimes tremors in his hands, all of which are of course occupational hazards. And because of the danger of another seizure always lurking just around the corner, he can't even drive his own car.

"I'm still the same person I was before, except occasionally I have these 20-second space-outs that happen at night most of the time," Klauk says.

One such space-out occurred on Christmas Eve in 2010 when Klauk was driving to church with his wife, Shanna, and the couple's two young children. "That was a shocker to everyone to say the least," said Klauk, who was first diagnosed as epileptic after a pair of grand mal seizures, which are characterized by loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions. He began taking Trileptal, which prevented any seizures over the next few years.

It also allowed Klauk to focus on his career. In 2008 he had six top 10s, including a win, on the Tour, finishing third on the money list that season. He followed with three top fives on the PGA TOUR in 2009 and also tied for 14th in THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass, where his father was the longtime course superintendent.

The next year, Klauk also battled back and ankle injuries but scraped together three top 25s in 16 starts between the two tours. Then he had the episode on Christmas Eve.

After meeting with a neurologist, who performed testing on an Epilepsy Monitoring Unit, Klauk learned he was suffering from complex partial seizures without even being aware of them.

He spent 2011 playing on a major medical extension but made just two cuts in eight starts on the PGA TOUR and had one top 25 in four starts on the Tour.

In April of this year, he underwent a procedure in which 108 electrodes were attached to the inside of his skull to locate the source of the seizures. He chose not to have a second, more invasive surgery that would have involved removing a portion of his brain from which the seizures originate.

"It was scary for my family," said Klauk, who spent 17 days at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta during the testing. "For me it was more we're going to get some answers and solve this problem."

During the procedure, he was only allowed to sleep 4 hours a day. "It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life," said Klauk, who admits the side effects and trying to get the right balance in medication still make life difficult. "I have my bad days, don't get me wrong. But I feel bad I have to rely on everyone else if I have to get around town or go to the doctor. That's the last thing I want to do."

"Am I frustrated I can't drive? Absolutely. But besides my family, my career is the most important thing to me. I'd rather play great golf than be able to drive. It's been very, very hard but the support I've had from family, close friends and from the TOUR and players and tournament directors sending notes when I was in the hospital was tremendous."

That included everything from a Tour poster signed by several players, to notes from Greg Norman, PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem and former commissioner Deane Beman, tournament directors and others. His brother, John, will also be on his bag this week in Boise.

The easy part, at least as far as Klauk is concerned: Playing golf again. "My golf game hasn't gone anywhere. It's just a process of getting my golf game back," he said. "There's no reason I shouldn't play well this week. My game's good."

Now Klauk hopes to give a little back, too, using his platform to provide inspiration to the 1 in 26 Americans who will be diagnosed with epilepsy in their lifetime.

"If I sulk or whine it's not going to do me any good, it's going to make my life miserable," Klauk said. "I can still do what I want to do and do it very well and hopefully I can help other people out who have the same problem."