Golfer Gary Woodland Overcame Brain Surgery and Returned to Playing the Sport

Gary Woodland had brain surgery and was back to golfing just four months later.


Apr. 11 2024, Updated 10:44 a.m. ET

Gary Woodland at the 2024 Masters Tournament.
Source: Getty Images

Every major golf tournament has a number of narrative threads running through it, and each of those threads is worth pulling on. One of the most interesting coming into the 2024 Masters Tournament is the story of Gary Woodland, whose own health issues almost kept him from competing in the tournament.

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Gary, a one-time US Open champion, spent the entire year dealing with some pretty trying health problems. Now, he's opening up about them, and about his ultimate recovery.

Gary Woodland at the Valspar Tournament.
Source: Getty images
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What happened to Gary Woodland?

Gary spent much of the past year dealing with panic attacks and seizures that were caused by a lesion on his brain. Not only did the lesion cause physical problems, it also caused changes in his personality that left him terrified.

“That was the one that scared me the most,” Gary explained earlier this year, per the Associated Press. “I’m a very optimistic person. I believe good things will happen. I was very fear-driven every day, mostly around death.”

Gary's struggles with the lesion began during the 2023 PGA season, and he began having what he believed were severe panic attacks during the 2023 Mexico Open.

"Saturday night before the last round, I had a nightmare," Gary explaind to ESPN. "[I] jumped up in the middle of the night out of bed — tough to go back to sleep — and I was almost fearful to go to the golf course."

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Gary continued to play, but his loved ones became increasingly concerned about his overall health as he explained to them what he was experiencing.

"He calls me and he's like breathing heavily, and he's just like something is wrong," Gary's wife Gabby said. "He's like, I'm tremoring I can't even pull back the putter you know, this is like career ruiner and he's just panicking. I'm like, what is going on?"

Source: Instagram/@gary.woodland
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Gary had to have brain surgery to remove the lesion.

After multiple scans and tests, doctors were able to confirm that Gary had a lesion on his brain that was causing him to feel more fearful than normal.

"It was like somebody was coming into bed scaring me in dead sleep and I'd just jump out," he explained. "I have a fear of heights, and I literally jump out of bed at 2 a.m. and feel like I'm falling to my death to a point where I'm laying on the bed for an hour face-down grabbing the bed as hard as I can to tell myself I'm laying down."

Doctors ultimately drilled a "baseball-sized hole" to extract the lesion, and discovered when they went in there that it wasn't cancerous.

"They couldn’t get it all out from where it was located," Woodland said. "It was benign. If it was cancerous they would have removed it all. It’s up against my optic tract."

Gary got on the path to recovery shortly after surgery, and was able to return to golf after only four months away, which is a relatively short stint given how major his surgery was. Now, he's once again trying to win it all.

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