The Reluctant Return

By Randall MellMay 6, 2009, 4:00 pm
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The PlayersPONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. ' Its golfs great X factor.
 
You never really know whats going on in a players personal life and the impact its having on his game.
 
You can watch a struggling Tour pro hit shot after shot and never see whats ailing him.
 
2008 Players Championship
Paul Goydos congratulates Sergio Garcia after their battle in 2008. (Getty Images)
No matter how good the grip, or perfect the swing plane, shots dont always fly straight when something internals misaligned.
 
The heart is the most mysterious component of the swing.
 
Almost four months after his ex-wifes death, Paul Goydos returns to The Players Championship this week a different man than the one who won a legion of new fans with his unexpected run at the title a year ago.
 
His former wife, Wendy, who struggled with addiction after resorting to illegal drugs to help her deal with debilitating migraines, died on Jan. 17. Goydos was told she died after taking something to ward off the pain, though he still hasnt seen the toxicology reports to know the exact cause. He said telling his two daughters was the most difficult thing hes ever done.
 
Obviously, its been a tough year on my kids, Goydos said. Theyre handling it. Im proud of the way theyve handled it, for lack of a better word. Theyre enjoying and appreciating the time they had with their mother and not dwelling on the time they dont have. Thats a sign of the parenting their mother did for them.
 
Goydos, 44, a two-time PGA Tour winner, gained full custody of his two daughters, Chelsea, 18, and Courtney, 16, in 2003. A former substitute teacher, he took the following year off, helping in his girls classrooms, taking them to the mall and becoming more integrally involved in their lives.
 
The devoted father story gained new legs when Goydos stepped into the underdog role as the 54-hole leader at The Players a year ago. The wit, charm and deadpan sense of humor that Goydos fellow Tour pros know so well was unveiled to a national audience that would fall in love with Goydos almost overnight.
 
When it was pointed out that he had never held the lead after 54 holes of a PGA Tour event, Goydos didnt miss a beat.
 
Yeah, but Ive only been on Tour for 16 years, he said.
 
When NBCs Bob Costas asked Goydos how he would sleep on the eve of the final round, Goydos quipped: On my back.
 
There was more witty repartee that made Goydos the peoples favorite in a Sunday duel with Sergio Garcia. In the end, though, Garcia prevailed, defeating Goydos on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff after Goydos hit his tee shot in the water at the famed 17th island hole.
 
Even in the loss, Goydos said the final-round support was so overwhelming he walked away with a sense of what it must feel like to be Tiger Woods.
 
In that loss, Goydos gained more acclaim and favor than he did in his two victories.
 
Its almost not comparable, the difference between finishing second at that event as opposed to winning Bay Hill [in 1996] or the Sony Open [in 2007], Goydos said.
 
That loss, though, thrust Goydos vigorously into the life of a public figure.
 
Its a role that troubles him with his return to The Players, including his wifes death as the tragic new chapter in his life.
 
I really struggle with how public I want this story to be, Goydos said.
 
Goydos said hes speaking up to set the record straight about the life Wendy lived, not just the death she experienced. You hear guilt in his voice when he tells her story. You hear how he lumps himself in with the folks who make harsh judgments about the plight of substance abusers.
 
I want people to understand this is someone who tried not to be an addict, Goydos said. This is someone who battled a health problem that got away from her and just beat her. Im just as guilty as everybody else is about being judgmental on this issue. Im not saying I didnt do the exact same thing. This is a disease much more serious than I thought.
 
Goydos said the passing of time has only brought that point home to him, how he didnt empathize enough with his wifes fight.
 
The more I think about it, the more tragic it becomes, he said.
 
Goydos has missed the cut in six of 10 starts since he learned of his wifes death, but he wont blame it on a misaligned heart.
 
Everyone has their own sets of worries, Goydos said. Some may be greater at times than others, but everyone deals with that. It doesnt matter if youre a professional golfer or a writer or a lawyer or what have you.
 
Tiger Woods took nine weeks off after the death of his father, Earl, three years ago and struggled upon his return at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Robert Allenby struggled with the death of his mother this winter. Ernie Els is dealing with his sons autism. The personal struggles of countless other Tour pros have never come to light.
 
Obviously, those things bother you, Goydos said. For me to say Ive played poorly because of whats happened, thats not really fair to the other people who have beat me every single week, because they have problems, too. We all have our level of problems, and for certain people it may be more difficult from year to year, but the reality is we all go through the same things eventually.
 
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