With daughter in tow, Jane Park makes healing return to LPGA
Jane Park, like all moms on the LPGA, won’t just have to worry about hitting greens or limiting three-putts at this week’s Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational. Once the final putt drops each day, Park will switch into mom mode, which in a nutshell, Park says, means getting her 2-year-old daughter, Grace, to bed “warm, safe and fed.”
However, for Park and husband Pete Godfrey, a longtime LPGA caddie, the middle task has seemed impossible at times these past two years as Grace has battled intractable epilepsy, which has left their once healthy, milestone-reaching baby girl disabled by seizures and a severe brain injury while forcing Jane to step away from professional golf – likely permanently in a full-time capacity – to care for her daughter.
Park won’t stop being caregiver this week, but she will step inside the ropes at Midland Country Club for the first time in over two years to compete in the team event alongside partner Paula Creamer. Godfrey will be on the bag.
As for Grace, she’s made the trip to Midland, Michigan, too.
“It was hard traveling here,” Park admitted Tuesday. “And, yes, it’s definitely hard day to day, but just to see her out kind of in my happy place where I grew up, it’s been an honor. It’s really been so healing for our family.”
It was July 2, 2021, and Park had just missed the cut at the Volunteers of America Classic in The Colony, Texas, her third straight early exit on tour. She and then-10-month-old Grace were wrestling in their hotel room, with Grace also recently having taken her first assisted steps using a toy shopping cart. By the next day, they were in the ICU on the 10th floor of a Dallas hospital, Grace laying in a bed, hooked up to multiple machines, in critical condition after suffering the first of what would be a series seizures and brain swelling.
Doctors would later inform the Parks that Grace’s seizures had caused severe brain damage and that Grace, because of her disability, would likely need full-time assistance for the rest of her life. Eventually came the diagnosis of intractable epilepsy, or uncontrolled epilepsy in which a person’s seizures cannot fully be managed by medication.
Park put away her golf clubs – she’s still barely practiced since Grace’s first seizure – and turned to blogging and social media to document Grace’s difficult health journey, partly as a coping mechanism, partly to share updates to friends, partly to hopefully help others going through similar ordeals. Navigating the chaos hasn’t been easy, but there have been bright spots, too. For one, Park became involved in an online community for parents of children like Grace. One friend lives about an hour and a half from Midland, and on Monday, she and her three kids, including her youngest son Alistair, drove to the golf course to spend an hour with the Parks.
Alistair, who underwent a hemispherectomy where he had half his brain removed because of his severe epilepsy, is a “walking miracle,” according to Park.
Grace is inspiring herself.
Park calls every day a highlight as she and her family continue to learn and adapt to Grace’s needs. She talked Tuesday about the many ways to make Grace laugh, whether it’s seeing “men cry in her face very intensely,” a person coughing or simply saying the word “food.” Oh, and as many parents can relate to, Grace loves Ms. Rachel.
Park has also been encouraged by the effect Grace’s story has had on others. The tournament is selling hats this week to raise money and awareness for the Epilepsy Foundation, and Grace has had her fair share of fans.
“Strangers coming up and saying hi and crying,” Park said, tears swelling in both her and Creamer’s eyes. “They’re super excited to see Grace. Just to see the type of impact that Grace has had on the general public, and just to see that our story has touched them in a way that has left an indelible mark on them, that’s an honor. It’s my honor to share Grace’s story because I feel like so many people and so many children with the same disease and disabilities that go unheard and to have a sort of platform to sing praise to her story is an honor. It’s really an honor for me honestly every day, and to be her mom is the best thing.”
Added Creamer: “To be able to be out here, and see her happy and laughing, and taking 30 seconds away from reality of what’s going on in her life is probably one of the greatest things that can happen this week. I’m glad I get to witness that and be by her side. … If you would have said two years ago Jane would be standing here and being able to be an advocate for what she’s doing, it’s honestly – she’s one of the strongest women I think I’ve ever met.”
Park isn’t sure how she’ll play this week, or how much she’ll be able to focus. There was already a scare Tuesday in player dining where Grace was having breathing issues from what they thought was an allergic reaction. Paramedics came and checked out Grace, who is now doing much better.
“Honestly, I wish I could stay present on the golf course,” Park said. “I mean, there are so many times where even during practice rounds or the pro-am today my brain wanders to how Grace is doing: Is she okay? Is she screaming? What is she doing?”
Park could be asking the last question of herself.
“I didn’t think I would ever find myself back at an LPGA tournament,” Park says, candidly. “Yeah, 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.”
In support of @TheJanePark, Peter Godfrey and their daughter Grace —special ‘GRACE’ hats will be available for purchase this week at the Dow GLBI 🧢— Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational (@DowGLBI) July 18, 2023
The proceeds will be donated to the Epilepsy Foundation and the @Golf4Her foundation.
READ MORE ⬇️https://t.co/JhUpVJgtdT pic.twitter.com/yUxf8tKQum
Asked about her future in this game, however, Park seemed content with the possibility that this would be her final LPGA start, ending a pro career that began in 2007 after a decorated amateur resume that included a U.S. Women’s Amateur victory and first-team All-America status at UCLA. Park has amassed 17 career top-10s on the LPGA, including two runners-up, both in 2008.
“If this is it,” Park said, “if this is my last go-around, it’s almost like having a proper sendoff, you know what I mean, because everything was cut short so abruptly. I never had a chance to say goodbye. If this is the last of the last, then I can say we had a good run. We went through some trials and tribulations, and we still made it back somehow, and yeah, I’m very proud of that.”