Jane Park Playing for More Than Herself at Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational

Jane Park put up a disclaimer on her Instagram Story last week. Speaking for her daughter Grace Godfrey, who is non-verbal, she gave suggestions on how to interact with her at this week’s Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, where Jane will be playing her first LPGA Tour event since the 2021 Ascendant LPGA benefitting Volunteers of America when Grace began having undiagnosed seizures that ultimately caused irreparable brain damage. Suggestions included singing “Baby Shark” or “Itsy Bitsy Spider” or Ms. Rachel songs, giving a high five and even fake crying, something that 2-year-old Grace finds inexplicably hilarious.

If you don’t know anything about Grace’s journey, this might have seemed odd to you. But for Jane, thinking of things like this is part of a new normal, one to which she and her husband Pete Godfrey have had to adapt since that fateful week in Texas in 2021 when theirs and Grace’s life changed forever.

Jane and Pete met on the LPGA Tour as she played and he caddied, most notably looping for former World No. 1s Ariya Jutanugarn and Lydia Ko. The pair got engaged in November 2016 and were married not long after, tying the knot in February 2017. On March 21, 2020, the couple announced they were expecting their first child that fall and baby Grace arrived three weeks before her due date, born on Sept. 5, 2020.

She was a smiley, happy baby, accompanying her parents to various tournaments around the country and capturing the hearts of all who met her on the LPGA Tour. Jane returned to competitive golf following her maternity leave at the 2021 Gainbridge LPGA in February and she and Pete were enjoying their newfound parenthood. But everything changed just a few months later.

Nearly 10 months after Grace was born, the family found themselves in a Dallas-area hospital, praying that she would pull through the undiagnosed epileptic seizures that were wracking their daughter’s body and learning how to navigate a new path as parents, now caregivers for a child with a severe brain injury.

Throughout the past two years, Jane, Pete and Grace have adapted to their new lifestyle and demonstrated an unbelievable amount of resiliency in the wake of unspeakable tragedy. This week at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational marks Jane’s long-awaited return to LPGA Tour competition, and now two years on from that life-changing experience, the 36-year-old has learned how to swim in these uncharted waters and has gained a new perspective on life as the parent of a child with a disability.

“For lack of a better word, it just was core-shaking, and violently different from what I was normally used to,” Jane said. “With everything that's happened in the last two years, I’ve reflected a lot on my golf career, and all the ups and downs and the highs and lows that I went through in golf. It felt like life or death when I was playing well, or when I wasn't playing well. "

“Watching your child suffer, it changes you. It changes your DNA. It changes your mindset. it's just a very different life, but in many aspects, it's very similar as well. I've got like a singular mindset of Grace comes first and I want to prioritize her the most. With golf, I kind of was the same way. I made sure my decisions were in line with bettering my physical ability as well as my mental ability. I’ve kind of drawn on my experiences in golf to help me through which sounds really cliche. But I'm still here. I'm alive and kicking and so is Grace.”

Jane has been incredibly open about sharing her family’s journey with Grace on her social-media accounts, primarily posting about their experiences on Instagram. Not long after Grace fell ill, Jane reached out to her followers asking for help finding resources and support so she and Pete could learn as much as possible about what their daughter was facing neurologically.

“I want to use this platform as a sounding board to find help instead of reaching out for your sympathy,” she said on Instagram on July 17, 2021. “I want to reach out to you all to ask you about anything from support groups for myself and my husband, care for my daughter, to neurologists who would be so kind to weigh in on my daughters MRIs. Even a mother who has been through something similar and is willing to chat is something I am in dire need of. We feel so alone, and don’t know where to turn or what to do. So if you or anyone you know can give us some of the help we need, please send them my way."

What happened next was awe-inspiring. Numerous LPGA Tour players, who were friends and colleagues of both Jane and Pete, took to their social-media channels, re-sharing Jane’s post in search of anyone who might be able to relate to the Godfreys’ situation or provide insight as to what they should expect as caregivers for a child like Grace. And it worked.

“When Grace first got sick, I disabled all of my social-media accounts,” Jane recalled. “I wanted to disappear. I had thoughts of suicide. I wanted nothing to do with this complicated and insanely depressing life when you look at the bare bones of it. I started to scare myself with these thoughts that I was having. I didn't know what else to do. 

“At that point, I thought, let's see if I can find something or someone that I can relate to with the insane amount of trauma that we were going through as a family. The girls on Tour and the Tour itself, they were standing by to see what we needed and honestly, I didn't know what we needed. I didn't know which way to turn. I didn't know who to call, who to text. I reactivated my accounts after being quiet for a few weeks and I just asked for help."

“I was lucky to have a big outreach with a lot of the girls having enormous followers and they all posted about it and the amount of response we got was incredible. My inbox was flooded with emails, DMs and whatnot. My friend Tiff (Joh), she offered to go through my inbox and she made a spreadsheet of people who had messaged.

“That’s what the LPGA does. That's what friends like Tiff do and that's what the LPGA has done for me. They've connected me with other moms and other families who are going through the same thing.”

Both her LPGA Tour family and the community of families of children with disabilities that Jane has built have been critical to her survival and caretaking of Grace. The Tour has stepped up in unimaginable ways, like Marina Alex organizing “Saving Grace” in collaboration with the Golf4Her Foundation, a fundraiser for the family that’s been held the last three years, the 2023 edition of which the Godfreys were able to attend. Players often visit Jane and Grace at their home 30 miles outside of Atlanta, Ga., turning out in droves for her second birthday party last September.

And the mothers that she has met who also have children like Grace have provided a sounding board for Jane as she’s learned how to handle insurance companies and advocate for her child. They’ve also been there as a support system, with one Michigan-based family who Jane has become close friends with even coming to the Dow GLBI this week to visit with her and Grace in person.

“This is this extended family of disability parents that I've met, they have been crucial to not only my knowledge of what we need to do to care for Grace but what important questions we need to ask our healthcare providers and how to deal with insurance and how to expect these landmines that are hidden within advocating for your child,” Jane said. “We just have to learn to roll with the punches because the punches are just going to keep coming. To know that we're not alone in this journey and that we never walk alone, that brings a ton of much-needed oomph to do our journey and to our care for Grace.”

This week at the Dow GLBI, Jane is excited to be teeing it up alongside longtime friend and major champion Paula Creamer with Grace in the gallery and Pete on the bag. It’s been fun for her to see her Tour friends interacting with her daughter and catching up with people that she may not have seen in over two years. Despite the constant challenges, Jane has managed to find a sense of peace and gratitude in what has been a chaotic rollercoaster the last 24 months allowing her to latch on to the glimmers of positivity that flit through her life every single day.

“There's not a day that goes by that I wish that this didn't happen to Grace,” she said. “I have definitely gained a lot more perspective on how invisible disability is and how inaccessible places are. A fear of mine is that she remains unseen because she is disabled. Grace is nonverbal, but if you sit and get to interact with her, you'll see that she is a remarkable little person.

“If I'm looking at it from a big picture, Grace almost died. She was seconds away from being completely brain-dead and being on a ventilator. Two years removed from that day where she felt ill, she is a completely different child than she was when she got sick. She continues to want to try she continues to improve little by little. She inspires me every day to do the best for her, to do the best that we can. Even when we're the most tired as caregivers, I just take one look at her and I'm just like, ‘Let's go. Let's just do it.’ I'm not the one going through all this stuff. I'm not the one seizing every single day and all I can do is just lift her up as much as I can.” 

Now a passionate advocate for children with disabilities, Jane hopes that she and Creamer can use their platform this week in Midland, Mich., to bring awareness to epilepsy and the challenges she, Pete and Grace face on a daily basis. She’s also proud to be doing this, to inspire other parents facing their own challenging circumstances, to encourage others in her community with her family’s bold example of resilience. It’s remarkable to see and more than Jane could ever have asked for two years ago in the throes of pain and uncertainty. 

“Hopefully we get some eyes on the difficulties of dealing with disability in America, and it's really my honor to be out here,” Jane said. “I didn't think I would ever find myself back at an LPGA tournament. It’s been a long few years. Somehow our family has made it out of the rubble, and to be here with my family again, it honestly means everything. I would have never even dreamt that this could happen.”