As a PGA Tour rookie in 2009, Jeff Klauk earned $1.24 million, enjoyed three top-10 finishes and the thrill of thriving at The Players Championship at Florida’s TPC Sawgrass, where his father had been the superintendent.
“Crazy as it might sound, I’d almost rather win that tournament than a major, just because I grew up cutting the fairways and greens,” said Klauk, whose 3-under par 285 left him tied for 14th, 2 strokes behind Tiger Woods and ahead of numerous household names.
At 31, at last, it seemed he might be on a trajectory toward becoming one of those names himself.
But then he was betrayed by a back injury in 2010, one of seven surgeries he recalled enduring as he prepared Tuesday to begin competition today in the Web.com Tour’s Midwest Classic at the Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate in Overland Park.
“Ankle, back, rotator cuff, decompression of shoulder,” he said, pausing and adding, “What else have I had?”
Well, there was that pesky “intracranial monitoring” procedure just over a year ago to combat his epilepsy.
“Crazy,” he said. “They go in there and put 100-some-odd strips of electrodes inside your skull. Yeah, that was something else.”
Klauk had his first experiences with the disease in 2006 after two grand mal seizures, but he had managed it successfully with medication before he began suffering them in a different form, partial complex seizures, as he drove to church on Christmas Eve 2010.
“That was a shocker,” he said.
And when the “little 20-second kind of space-out-type seizures” persisted as he was on tour in California, he finally recognized, “it was time to go back home and get this figured out.”
An eight-hour surgery at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta in April 2012 was followed by 18 days consigned to his hospital room, “basically tied up to all this stuff,” as doctors worked to determine from where the trouble was emanating.
The hope was that it stemmed from the right frontal lobe.
It was on the left.
“That’s a lot more complicated,” he said. “Especially playing golf and all that.”
And quitting golf never was a consideration, he said, anticipating the question before it was out.
“Never once,” said Klauk, whose brother, John, was an All-American at Texas and whose wife and “anchor,” Shanna, was a two-time NCAA Division II champion at Florida Southern.
Still, Klauk planned to undergo a more substantial surgery months later and even went as far as to schedule it. But in the days before, he said, “We decided not to go with (it) because it was just a little riskier than what we wanted.”
Yet with proper medication, by definition a trial-and-error process, Klauk says he has been seizure-free for “well over a year,” enabling him to drive cars again for the first time in ages.
“That was quite the bear,” he said.
Not quite the feat resuming his career has been, though, after missing most of 2011 and all of 2012.
This is his 18th tournament this year and 10th on the Web.com tour, where his best finish was 20th in the Mexico Championship. He has winnings of just $16,459.
“But golf is 90 percent mental, and I’m over (that aspect of epilepsy),” he said. “I accept what I have; I accept everything. And hopefully this is the week where I put it all together, right?”
In a sense, though, he already has: as an example that having epilepsy — and about 3 million Americans and 65 million people worldwide do — doesn’t mean you can’t do what you want to do most.
“For sure,” said Klauk, who is reluctant to be portrayed as a face of the disease but added, “I’m not embarrassed to talk about it.”
Klauk last month joined “The Pledge,” the epilepsy awareness campaign of global biopharmaceutical company UCB Inc.
“Being just OK,” he touts in their video, “isn’t good enough.”
But to get beyond that entails a few key points.
Like acknowledging that getting proper medicine and dosage is a process that calls on patients to be, in fact, patient and candid with their doctors.
“When you’re messing around with medicine, you’ve got to go from one thing to another and it doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “You’ve got to take different dosages for an extended period, do it at different times for an extended period, so that’s what the complicated part is.”
Like coming to terms with knowing that there can be side effects, which Klauk cautions will vary from person to person but over the years for him now largely are in the form of occasional dizzy spells.
But even those can be minimized with diligent attention to medication, environment and warning signs.
“You’ve got to know when to take your medicine, what to take it with, what not to drink with it, stuff like that,” said Klauk, who carefully adheres to his routine of three times a day and keeps extra medicine in his travel gear, cars and golf bags.
Whether or not his game gets back on the trajectory it once was on, Klauk now knows he can have a meaningful impact regardless.
“There are so many people who have epilepsy in this world, and a lot of them are even shy to talk about it,” he said. “But there are a lot of different things you can do with it nowadays.”