Fighters Keep Fighting

Remembering The Week At Kingsmill That Changed My Life

We are always reminded how blessed we are to play golf for a living, to travel with the LPGA Tour and compete at the highest levels. The beautiful places, the interesting people, the wonderful comradery among my sisters on the LPGA Tour. It’s a good life and we all know it. Of course, golf is hard. When you’re struggling with your game, it seems like the most frustrating profession in the world. But then, at some point, reality hits you. An injury, an illness. At some point you realize that the game can be taken away from you in an instant. Your life’s work and all your dreams can be snatched away from you. That is the moment when you appreciate just how blessed you really are.

At the end of 2015, I was playing in an event in Dubai on the Ladies European Tour. At that time, I had LET status because I had won a co-sanctioned event in India. But as I was playing, I had a pain and numbness in my leg. My mom was there with me and she asked me, “Are you sure you want to play?” I told her, “I like this course. I’m here. I’m a fighter. I want to keep playing.” But every shot, I was stretching and the numbness and aching in my leg just wouldn’t go away.

I fought through the pain. Shanshan Feng won by 10 strokes and I finished second, limping on one leg.

After that, I went home to Thailand, had an MRI, and was told that I had a bulging disc in my spine. The doctor prescribed rest, which I did. I also did some yoga and stretched more. But I played a solid LPGA Tour schedule for the first five months of 2016.

Then, on Monday morning of the event at the beautiful Kingsmill Resort in Virginia, my leg felt more numb than usual. I tried to dismiss it. Maybe I woke up in the wrong side of the bed. So, I pressed ahead with my practice round. I hit my drive on the first hole. But when I hit my 6-iron approach to the first green, I heard a pop in my back. Then I heard a scream, loud and haunting. It took a second for me to realize that it was coming from me.

That was the most physical pain I had ever experienced in my life. I couldn’t stand; I couldn’t sit. All I could do was lie flat.

Once it became obvious that the pain wasn’t going away, I withdrew from the tournament and drove to my home near the Washington Dulles airport in Virginia. After a couple of doctors’ visits, I was recommended to a spine specialist. It took a month, during which time I could barely walk. Then, after another round of scans, the specialist said words I never thought I would hear. “You have a fracture, a broken back, and you’re going to need surgery in four days.

Don’t even think about saying no, because if you don’t have this surgery, there is a good chance that you will be in a wheelchair for the rest of your life.”

I was in shock. I was in the mid-20s at the time. The idea of being unable to walk for the rest of my life scared me. I told my parents, and obviously they were concerned. Then I told my sponsor, Singha. They had been with me for a long time and I needed to let them know what was happening. To my amazement, they told me, “Don’t worry. Just do whatever you have to do. And don’t think about the costs. I’ll send you money for the cost of surgery right away. The whole thing.” To this day, I get emotional thinking about that moment. There was a chance that I might never be able to play golf again, but my sponsor supported me anyway, going above and beyond what I could have ever imagined.

Some sponsors develop business relationships with athletes – transactions that are mutually beneficial to the player and the company. But many of our LPGA Tour sponsors are like family. They stick with us, not because of business, but because of the bond we have with them.

My surgery took four hours. And while I was up walking almost immediately, the doctor was very clear that I could not pick up a golf club for three months. Because I’m stubborn, a month and a half later, I was chipping and putting. And two months after the surgery, I went to TopGolf and took a few tiny swings with a 7-iron that only went about 50 yards. That fall, as my strength improved, I went back to Thailand and worked back into a practice routine.

I was determined to be a professional golfer for a long time, so in 2016, I went through a major swing change to relieve the pressure off my back. It took quite a long time to get comfortable with the new swing and even longer to regain the confidence that I could compete again.

Then, in July of 2018, I completed the circle by winning the Marathon Classic in Toledo, Ohio in a playoff, my first official LPGA Tour victory. A year later, I won again at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, a team event with my partner and friend Cydney Clanton.

Every day for the last six years, I wake up grateful. Grateful that I can play golf, or even just walk, and grateful to be back out on the LPGA Tour living my dream. I could have given up. I could have walked away. But the pain of not giving it my all would have been far greater than the pain I felt that day when my back gave out. Now, I’m here and I’m happy. And I have a positive outlook every day.

I also have a positive message for everyone who reads or hears my story. If you’re a fighter, keep fighting. Never give up. Be positive in life. And no matter what, always be grateful for the opportunity to follow your dreams.