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MY BRAIN ON GOLF
JEFF KLAUK
March 05, 2012
After a long climb, I finally realized my dream of making a living on the PGA Tour. Now seizures have threatened my career, but I'm hoping the neurosurgery I plan to have this spring will allow me to get back on the course
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March 05, 2012

My Brain On Golf

After a long climb, I finally realized my dream of making a living on the PGA Tour. Now seizures have threatened my career, but I'm hoping the neurosurgery I plan to have this spring will allow me to get back on the course

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My swing instructor, Cody Barden, used to work at The Country Club of Birmingham, and the wife of one of his former students also suffered from epilepsy. She had recently undergone epilepsy surgery, and her results—no more seizure activity and only low-dose medicines as a precaution—encouraged me to look seriously into that possibility. Cody reached out to her neurologist, Edward Faught, who had recently moved to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where Cody lives. I switched to a new medicine, Vimpat, which worked much better at controlling the complex partial seizures but could make me dizzy and cause little tremors in my hands—I can't imagine trying to hole a three-footer to make the cut that way.

There have been dark moments. I've broken down and cried in front of our small group from church. When you can't drive a car, never mind pursue your career, you feel as if your independence has been taken from you. Professional golf is all about independence, and suddenly I was reliant on everyone else. I haven't driven a car since January 2011. Mostly, I take my golf cart around Palencia, our country club community, shuttling between the house, the golf club and the gym. I've been so lucky to have friends and neighbors willing to drive me to rehab for my shoulder and to the nearby TPC Sawgrass to practice.

And it's hard not being out there with the guys. As much as the competition, I miss the camaraderie. I've talked about my situation with Matt Kuchar, but in general it's hard to connect when you're not out there week in and week out. You don't even know about the new equipment. You feel out of touch with everything and everyone.

Overall, though, I feel as if I've handled the situation well. I've surprised myself in that way. Realizing that we all have our problems has helped keep things in perspective. I think the patience I've had to develop to become a successful golfer has helped me cope. Though I had a successful college career at Florida Southern, it took me eight years to reach the PGA Tour. Likewise, it takes time to figure out these seizures and get them under control.

Much as I'd like to control the seizures right now, it doesn't always work that way. You have to maintain faith that things happen for a reason and that, with work, the doctors will figure it out. I'm also lucky and grateful to have a strong support group, from my wife and our families to Cody, who has gone from swing coach to a one-man version of WebMD and proved to be the kind of tireless advocate everyone with epilepsy could use.

After a battery of tests this winter, I was deemed a candidate for epilepsy surgery. Before I see the operating table later this spring, doctors will slide several plastic strips containing electrodes under my scalp and two to four platinum wires into my brain. Then I'll have another EMU. If the procedures pinpoint the problem area, we can proceed to surgery. If not, we'll have to go through the process again. The epilepsy surgery, which generally lasts between three and four hours and has been performed since the 1950s, entails removing the electrically abnormal brain tissue, a section on average of roughly two inches by one inch by one quarter of an inch deep. Dr. Faught feels the chance for complete control of my seizures is 60% to 70% now and, we hope, closer to 90% after the additional pre-op tests. About 3% to 5% of patients suffer significant side effects, but assuming all goes well, I could be playing competitive golf again a month or so after surgery.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about undergoing brain surgery. After all, what do people say when something isn't complicated—"It isn't brain surgery." But, honestly, it scares everyone in my family more than it scares me. I'm tired, and I want this resolved once and for all. I want to feel good about myself, feel good on the golf course, and not have to worry about whether I'm going to have a seizure. There's now an end in sight where I can get back out there and do what I love to do—play golf.

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