Gary Woodland returned to the PGA Tour this week for the Sony Open in Honolulu, Hawaii. He began his tournament on the 10th tee Thursday morning, and it was the first time since August he played professional golf.
The former U.S. Open champion announced on August 30 that he would have surgery on Sept. 18 to remove a lesion growing on his brain. He had a baseball-sized hole cut out of the left side of his skull, and just four months later, he is back playing golf.
When he stepped up to his first tee of the day and heard the Sony Open starter say, “Now, on the tee, from Topeka, Kansas, a warm aloha for Gary Woodland,” it was quite the moment for him.
“A little more emotional than I thought I was going to be,” Woodland said. “Took an extra second, deep breath — hearing Topeka, Kansas, hearing my name called, there was a time when I didn’t know if that was going to be called again, so it got me a little more than I thought it was going to.”
He mentioned that it took him a few holes to settle down, but he still didn’t have the day he wanted.
“Probably the happiest I’ve ever been shooting over par, tell you that,” he said.
This week wasn’t about finishing high with him just four months off his surgery. His goal test his limits mentally, and he thought it went well.
“This was one of the hardest rounds I’ve ever had here,” Woodland said. “I was excited and was doing a lot of breathing, trying to slow everything down because I was moving fast. I settled in, especially the last nine holes, and played really well. Like I said, I’m excited. The energy stayed up. Focus stayed up — a lot to be proud of.”
He came back from an early 3-over start to card a 1-over 71 on Thursday in his ninth start at the Sony Open. Woodland made three bogeys in his first eight holes but got some momentum by getting a couple of shots back on the back. He also two-putted from 25 feet on his final hole to close his round with a birdie.
Woodland may not have expectations for the week, but it’s great to see him out on the course again. He will look to improve off that 71 on Friday and possibly make the cut in his first event back on Tour.
Savannah Leigh Richardson is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. For more golf coverage, be sure to follow us @_PlayingThrough on all major social platforms. You can also follow her on Twitter @SportsGirlSL and Instagram @savannah_leigh_sports.