Klauk trying to end seizures, return to pro golf

By Jason SobelMay 11, 2012, 8:33 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – One hundred forty-four of the world’s best golfers are competing at this week’s Players Championship, all vying for the $1.71 million prize that awaits the winner. They will acknowledge each birdie with ecstasy, each par with relief, each bogey with anguish.

They will live and die with every stroke of the club, this assembled group of world-class professionals.

Jeff Klauk isn’t one of them. It’s not because his ball-striking has been inconsistent or his putting stroke a bit balky. It’s not because he isn’t good enough.

No, Klauk has the talent to play in this tournament.

It’s his brain that’s holding him back.

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Klauk grew up here at TPC-Sawgrass, headquarters for the PGA Tour. For 23 years, his father, Fred, was the golf course superintendent, the man largely responsible for ensuring the venue looked and played to the standards of such an elite championship.

The family lived just off the 12th hole of the Valley Course, the other 18-holer on this property. It was only a 15-minute walk for Jeff and his brothers to reach the first tee at the Stadium Course, a walk they routinely made during their youth.

During the summer months, Jeff and one brother, John, worked for their father, mowing fairways and greens all morning, then grabbing a quick lunch before either practicing or playing in the afternoon.

“Oh, it was great,” Fred says of those days. “It taught them so much. They were both aspiring professional golfers and it made them appreciate all the work that goes into hosting a tournament.”

It wasn’t just a golf course to the Klauks. It was a home. One on which Jeff estimates he’s played “close to 1,000 times” as a junior player, collegian and member of the PGA Tour.

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Yes, dreams do come true, and the kid who was raised in the epicenter of the most important golf circuit in the world was able to realize his.

After a lengthy career on the developmental Nationwide Tour, during which he earned more than $1 million, Jeff Klauk finally reached the PGA Tour for the first time in 2009. But that wasn’t good enough. Much like an Augusta, Ga., native pines to qualify for the Masters, he desperately wanted to make the field at The Players, competing in front of friends and family on his home course.

That’s no easy task for a rookie, but Klauk got off to a flying start that season. He finished T-12 at the Sony Open, T-11 at the Buick Invitational and solo fourth at the Honda Classic. By the time the calendar turned to May, he had made the cut in 11 of 13 starts – and gained entry into The Players.

“It was quite a thrill to be able to play in The Players Championship,” he recalls. “It was always a dream of mine.”

He didn’t just play. Klauk posted rounds of 71-72-70-71 to finish in a share of 14th place, ahead of such major champions as Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington.

It was an impressive display of golf considering all the pressures of competing in front of the hometown galleries. It was even more impressive considering what he was battling personally.

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On June 16, 2006, following a second-round 69 at the Nationwide Tour’s Knoxville Open, Klauk was asleep at a friend's house when he suffered a grand mal seizure. He withdrew from the event, but continued playing scheduled tournaments until he suffered a second occurrence two months later in Scranton, Pa.

“It was surprising because we’d had no problem up to then,” he says. “That was our wakeup call.”

After consulting with doctors and being diagnosed with epilepsy, Klauk was put on a drug called Trileptal, which completely eliminated the grand mal seizures. How could he tell it was working? After missing the cut at Pebble Beach in 2010, he flew home and forgot to take the medication. Without it, he suffered yet another episode.

Other than that occasion, he has remained free of grand mal seizures. In December of 2010, though, while driving to church with his wife Shanna and their two young children, Klauk became lightheaded and unresponsive.

“All of a sudden, I kind of spaced out,” he recalls. “I did a little chuckle laugh and Shanna asked me a question, but I was just spaced out.”

The Klauks met with a neurologist who performed testing on an Epilepsy Monitoring Unit. It revealed that Jeff was suffering from complex partial seizures without ever being aware of them.

“I don’t have an aura that I’m having them,” he explains. “That would change things. If you know you’re having them, you’d stop what you’re doing and make it a safe situation.”

Instead, he’s had to make concessions. He doesn’t drive anymore and, coupled with rotator-cuff surgery and ankle surgery, he hasn’t competed in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event since last year’s Wichita Open.

Medication has helped reduce the seizures, but hasn’t eliminated them completely.

“They have controlled the seizures to an extent, but they’re not fully controlled,” Klauk says. “I’ll have one or two now and then, but it’s not to the extent that it makes us feel comfortable with me driving. They normally happen when I’m tired and I’ve had a long day, and a lot of the times they happen late at night, right after dinner or before I go to bed.”

The situation led to an agonizing conundrum: Live a life of compromises or seek the necessary steps to have them eliminated?

It wasn’t an easy decision.

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With his complex partial seizures limited by the medication, Jeff Klauk is going to live. He is going to be able to enjoy his family life and remain relatively pain-free, the previous rotator-cuff and ankle injuries notwithstanding.

He’ll be restricted, though. Won’t be able to drive a car. And, more importantly, could see the condition take a toll on his golf game.

For these reasons, he’s elected to employ medical technology to help eliminate the continual seizures. In November, he underwent another EMU at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta to try to pinpoint where they were emanating. The process wasn’t successful, so Klauk took the next step.

Just three weeks ago, he checked into Emory for what is called intracranial monitoring. During a nine-hour procedure, Klauk had strips implanted inside both sides of his head, hooked up to 108 electrodes.

“The goal for that surgery is to locate the spot,” he explains. “If we happen to get really lucky and hit a home run, we can find the spot where the seizures are coming from. We didn’t hit a home run, but the whole process was to figure out what side of the head the seizures were coming from. We finally figured it out after 18 days.”

After 18 days of not being able to leave his room, let alone the hospital itself, Klauk was informed by neurologists that the seizures were coming from the left frontal part of his brain.

That was the easy part. Now comes the hard part.

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This past Wednesday, Klauk returned to his St. Augustine home – just 30 minutes from his childhood home next to TPC Sawgrass – both hopeful and anxious.

There aren’t many people who would be galvanized by a second elective brain surgery, but that’s exactly what he is hoping for. At some point in the next month, Klauk will find out whether he is a candidate to have another nine-hour procedure called a craniotomy, during which he would have a grid placed on the left side of his brain, potentially eradicating any further seizures.

Klauk calls it an invasive operation and a “very big process,” but understands its importance for his long-term well-being.

“That surgery gives me hope,” he says, “that I could possibly be seizure-free after all this.”

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All of which should lead to one simple yet complicated question: Why?

Why risk having multiple brain surgeries when the condition isn’t life-threatening? Why spend weeks and months in and out of hospitals? Why put yourself through all of this if it isn’t necessary?

Klauk understands the questions, but counters with easy answers.

“If I don’t try to become seizure-free, I’d have to live the rest of my life asking, ‘Why did I not give this a try?’” he contends. 'I’d always say, ‘Maybe if I had done it, I would be seizure free.’”

“Your main job as a wife is to support your husband,” Shanna says. “It’s the choice that he wanted to make. I’m not going to hold him back from something that’s going to change his life.”

Don’t underestimate the role that golf has played in his decision, either. Klauk desperately wants to return to the PGA Tour – he has eight tournaments remaining on a medical extension – and more than anything wants to return right back here, competing again at The Players Championship on the course he knows and loves so much.

“I think the golf is probably driving the bus,” says his father, Fred. “I think he’s taking a gamble, he’s risking a lot of things, because that’s where he wants to be. He wouldn’t be doing all of this if it wasn’t for golf.”

“I’d like to get it over with as soon as I can,” adds Jeff, “so I can get my normal life back on track and I can get out and play.”

When he does return to the PGA Tour, he will come bearing a greater perspective on things outside of the game.

Klauk is quick to point out that his ordeal is “nothing” compared to that of Jarrod Lyle, a fellow pro who is currently undergoing leukemia treatments in his native Australia. He also maintains that he wants to get involved with the Epilepsy Foundation, helping others dealing with similar afflictions.

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On Friday afternoon, two days after returning home from his 18-day stay at Emory, Klauk and his family were back at The Players Championship. Jeff and Shanna walked the familiar venue with Jackson, 7, and Bridget, 3, in hopes of giving the kids a chance to see Tiger Woods.

Wearing a white Titleist cap that barely hid large scars bordered by stitches on either side of his head, Klauk saw some old buddies. Tournament leader Zach Johnson, in particular, said that he’s continually keeping him in his prayers each day. It’s a common sentiment amongst his brethren.

“I’ve gotten so many letters and notes from guys on Tour that it wouldn’t even be fair to give names out, because I’d forget people,” he says. “They’re thinking about me; that means a lot to me. When I was in the hospital, I got a lot of those notes. That was a great surprise, just helped me stay strong when I was in there.”

The prayers and letters will continue while he enters the next phase of his battle, his recovery and his life. As he walked around the course, Klauk was home again. It’s a long road that he’s traveled to get back here. The journey, though, is far from over.

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Inside Attica: Interviewing Valentino Dixon

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 20, 2018, 2:00 am

By RYAN GRIFFITHS

Some stories stick with you longer than others. First time you get to do a feature. First time you meet a sports legend (it was Allen Iverson for me). Seeing a championship isn’t bad, either. Been there, done that. Lawnmower museum on the east coast of England, tsunami survivors in California, re-connecting Al Geiberger with his lost 59 tape, all good, but no story or environment has stuck with me like going to Attica Correctional Facility in 2013 to tell the story of Valentino Dixon.

For starters, I’d never been searched before setting up for an interview. Not just me, everyone - all three cameramen, Jimmy Roberts, the guy escorting us in who worked there. Everyone. Attica trusts no one. Can’t blame them after 1971, when inmates protesting living conditions took members of the prison staff hostage. The ensuing police response left 29 inmates and 10 hostages dead.

Attica has a "shank wall," a collection of homemade weapons seized from inmates and displayed like baseball cards in a plastic case on the wall outside the guards' lunchroom. Prison interior decorating at its finest. Nice touch.

We went to do a story on an inmate who was introduced to the world in a Golf Digest article by Max Adler in 2012. "The golf artist who had never stepped foot on a golf course - Valentino Dixon.: He was in for murder. Second degree. You know, your standard golf story.


Wrongfully imprisoned man freed after nearly three decades


Dixon, a former aspiring artist before getting caught up in the Buffalo drug-dealing scene, started sketching photos from Golf Digest for the warden. I’ve never been to prison, but from what I have gathered from watching The Shawshank Redemption some 8,000 times, getting in the warden’s good graces is a smart habit to pick up if you’re doing serious time.

Dixon's art was insanely good. Even more so because he did it all with colored pencils. No paintbrushes allowed (see shank wall above). Jimmy, the crew and I stopped for a good 10-15 minutes to marvel at his creations before continuing with the interview.

We spent a solid 40 minutes talking to the man who supposedly killed a man 20-something years prior. In that time, he pleaded his innocence to us over and over again. He spoke like a man who had rehearsed every angle of his story over and over and over again. I give him credit - there were no holes in his story. I consider myself a pretty good judge of character, and he didn’t look like a killer, didn’t sound like one. either. But what did I know? I’d never met one - that I know of. And if you were stuck in prison for 20-plus years and all of a sudden had a camera in front of you and a platform to plead your innocence, wouldn’t you do your best to try to get out of there?

Since the guards wouldn’t allow any food, the crew and I stopped at the first deli we saw on the ride back into Buffalo. After we were done eating, we all looked at each other, knowing what we all were thinking: "Do you think he did it?”

Didn’t matter what we thought, we were just there to tell the story. On Wednesday, however, people whose opinions mattered made a decision and allowed someone who loves the game of golf, but has never stepped foot on a golf course, to do just that if he so chooses. That's a story that will stick with him for the rest of his life.

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Wrongfully convicted inmate who turned to golf artistry freed

By Associated PressSeptember 20, 2018, 12:35 am

BUFFALO, N.Y. – A New York prison artist who never played golf but became known for drawings of lush courses he could only imagine was set free Wednesday after authorities agreed that another man committed the murder that put him behind bars for nearly three decades.

Valentino Dixon walked out of Erie County Court into bright sunshine and hugs from his mother, daughter and a crowd of other relatives and friends, ready for a meal at Red Lobster and vowing to fight on behalf of others who are wrongly convicted.

"I love y'all," Dixon shouted after trading the green prison uniform he wore in court for jeans and a T-shirt. "It feels great."

Earlier Wednesday, a judge agreed to set aside Dixon's conviction in the 1991 shooting death of 17-year-old Torriano Jackson on a Buffalo street corner and accepted a guilty plea from another man who had confessed to the killing two days after it happened.

"There was a fight. Shots were fired. I grabbed the gun from under the bench, switched it to automatic, all the bullets shot out. Unfortunately, Torriano ended up dying," Lamarr Scott, who has been in prison for 25 years for an unrelated attempted murder, told the court. "I dropped the gun and ran and it was over and done with."

Scott said he had gotten the gun, a Tec-9 semi-automatic, from Dixon and the two men had driven together to the crowded corner where the fighting broke out. Scott was given a sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison, concurrent with his current term.

Judge Susan Eagan let stand a count of criminal possession of a weapon against Dixon, and its 5- to 15-year sentence, which she said he had satisfied.


Inside Attica: Interviewing Valentino Dixon


"You are eligible for release today," the judge said, igniting applause and shouts from courtroom supporters.

"Mr. Dixon is not an innocent man. Don't be misguided in that at all," Erie County District Attorney John Flynn told reporters after the hearing. He described Dixon as "an up-and-coming drug dealer in the city of Buffalo" at the time of the shooting and said Scott was Dixon's bodyguard.

"Mr. Dixon is innocent of the shooting and of the murder for what he was found guilty of," he said, "but Mr. Dixon brought the gun to the fight. It was Mr. Dixon's gun."

While behind bars, Dixon rekindled his childhood passion for drawing, often spending 10 hours a day creating vivid colored pencil landscapes, including of golf courses, while imagining freedom. Articles in Golf Digest and elsewhere have drawn public attention to Dixon's case. NBC Sports' Jimmy Roberts spotlighted Dixon in a 2013 segment for his "In Play" series on Golf Channel.

“I’ve worked in this business for close to 40 years, and this is the most consequential thing I’ve ever been a part of," Roberts said after learning of Dixon's release. "I’m a sports reporter, but we helped get a man out of prison. I’m humbled and dumbstruck.”

Georgetown University students made a documentary as part of a prison reform course last spring. The class worked with Dixon's attorney, Donald Thompson, to have the conviction overturned.

"It went so far beyond reasonable doubt that it's pretty outrageous that he would have been convicted and it would have been upheld," said Marc Howard, director of the university's Prisons and Justice Initiative. Howard taught the course with childhood friend, Marty Tankleff, who also spent years wrongfully imprisoned.

Dixon said he will keep drawing, while working on behalf of other prisoners.

"If you don't have any money in this system, it's hard to get justice because the system is not equipped or designed to give a poor person a fair trial," he said. "So we have a lot of work ahead of us."

His daughter, Valentina Dixon, was a baby when her father went to prison. She brought her 14-month-old twins, Ava and Levi, to court from their Columbus, Ohio, home.

"We're definitely going to go shopping and go explore life," she said. "I can't wait to get him a cellphone and teach him how to Snapchat."

Dixon's mother, Barbara Dixon, said she was in shock after relying on her faith while fighting for his release.

"We're going to Red Lobster," she said when asked what was next. "And everybody's invited."

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Thomas donating to hurricane relief at East Lake

By Jason CrookSeptember 19, 2018, 9:20 pm

Much like in years past, Justin Thomas is using his golf game to help with relief of a natural disaster.

The world No. 4 announced on Twitter Wednesday that he’d be donating $1,000 per birdie and $5,000 per eagle at the Tour Championship to a charity benefiting the victims of Hurricane Florence, which ravaged the Carolinas last week.

At a fan's suggestion, Thomas, who has averaged 4.35 birdies per round this season, also pledged to donate $10,000 for a hole-in-one.

Hurricane Florence made landfall on Friday just south of Wrightsville Beach, N.C., and has left much of the area flooded and without power. At least 37 people have died in storm-related incidents.

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Rose realizes his No. 1 ranking is precarious

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 8:18 pm

ATLANTA – Asked how he would like to be identified when he was finished playing golf, Justin Rose didn’t hesitate – “major champion, Olympic gold medalist, world No. 1.”

He’s had only a week to enjoy the last accomplishment, but the Englishman is aware of what it means to his career to have finally moved into the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“It's a moment in your career that you always remember and cherish,” said Rose, who overtook Dustin Johnson with his runner-up finish two weeks ago at the BMW Championship.


Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Rose said he took some time last weekend with family and friends to relish the accomplishment and will play his first event this week at the Tour Championship as the world’s best, but he also understands how tenuous his position atop the ranking is at the moment.

“I accept it's really tight up top. It could easily switch this week,” he said. “I just feel that if I go to [No.] 2 or 3 this week, if Dustin and Brooks [Koepka] both play well, I have an opportunity the week after and British Masters, and going to China and Turkey, there's going to be opportunities to get back there.”

Johnson, Koepka and Justin Thomas could unseat Rose atop the ranking this week depending on their finishes at the Tour Championship.