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Stanford golfer returns to lineup after debilitating, 18-month ordeal

More than 200 players teed it up in last December’s South Beach International Amateur, and Miami native Jake Beber-Frankel, playing 20 minutes from home, beat just 13 of them.

He also was the only competitor to play a stroke using an opponent’s golf club.

“It was unreal,” Beber-Frankel said, recalling the unusual gaffe. His caddie, father and Hollywood director David Frankel, had handed him a pitching wedge that was nearly identical to his own, and not until after Beber-Frankel hit his shot did he realize the mix-up.

The two-shot penalty hardly mattered as Beber-Frankel missed the cut by a mile. But if the week was any kind of barometer, it proved Beber-Frankel’s return to competitive golf to be premature. The Stanford junior, mid-redshirt, had spent the preceding months rehabbing from a neurological episode in May that led to mental-health issues later that summer, and while his recovery was tangible, he clearly still wasn’t himself.

“Just a lack of awareness, being in a daze,” Beber-Frankel added. “It didn’t really feel like I was competing.”

On the cusp of another comeback, Beber-Frankel fancies himself in a much better headspace.

For the first time in nearly 18 months, Beber-Frankel will feature in Stanford’s starting lineup after the 22-year-old qualified for the Jackson T. Stephens Cup, which begins Monday at Trinity Forest Golf Club in Dallas and will be televised on Golf Channel.

“I’m not going to lie, though,” Beber-Frankel admits as he packs for the tournament. “I’m pretty nervous.”

But Beber-Frankel has long thrown expectations out the window. He arrived on campus as one of three AJGA All-Americans in Stanford’s 2020 signing class along with Michael Thorbjornsen and Karl Vilips. “He was physically as good as they come,” Stanford head coach Conrad Ray said. “It was just managing all the other stuff.” Beber-Frankel struggled to acclimate to the next level, and he logged just 24 tournament rounds and one top-10 finish in his first two seasons.

A couple weeks after his T-79 at the 2022 Western Intercollegiate, Beber-Frankel, already overwhelmed by the many stresses of being a student-athlete, woke up one morning to numbness in his fingers and an inability to lift his right arm. He immediately lined up doctor appointments and eventually received the diagnosis: a winged scapula, a skeletal condition caused by nerve damage and subsequent muscle weakening that can affect functions of the upper extremity such as lifting, pulling and pushing.

“I didn’t know what it was at first,” Beber-Frankel said. “They made it sound like it could be this really serious, debilitating nerve injury – or at least that’s what Wikipedia said also. That terrified me.”

Beber-Frankel began extensive physical therapy, but as his junior year approached, his mental health started declining. Anxiety. Depression. Psychiatrist meetings. Medication. It was all new for the long, curly haired Beber-Frankel, who played guitar and was always viewed as the chill kid, calm and collected.

“I kind of had a mini-identity crisis,” Beber-Frankel said.

Still not 100% physically or mentally, Beber-Frankel redshirted last season, and for the first few months of the fall, he hung back home in South Florida. When he rejoined the Cardinal toward the end of the fall, still not feeling right, he was hesitant that playing golf would set back his recovery. Moments like the South Beach start confirmed those fears. But when the spring rolled around, Beber-Frankel truly turned a corner. He was working out, practicing, even qualifying with his teammates – and beating many of them. His confidence was slowly returning, too.

In June, he opened the Florida State Amateur in 67, leading after the first round. He backed up to T-17 and failed to make it out of his U.S. Amateur qualifier a few weeks later, but Beber-Frankel was finally comfortable with what he calls his “new normal.”

“I still feel a lot of weird stuff,” Beber-Frankel says. “I don’t know how much of it is real or how much is in my head. But as frustrating as it is sometimes, maybe some days I’m just going to feel off and I’m going to have to get through it. I do feel 100% from where this all started, but I feel different from before, body and mind.”

Beber-Frankel cut his long locks after the spring. While he still rips it, he does take a little off with his irons now, and he has finally come to grips that he’ll be “hitting high fades all day.”

But his dreams of winning college tournaments and making it to the PGA Tour? Those remain intact.


Stanford Athletics

Stanford could use a spark, too. It has been without Thorbjornsen, a reigning first-team All-American, since the start of the fall because of a stress fracture in his back. Ray said Thorbjornsen remains without a return date, but he is ahead of schedule with his rehab and is targeting December to resume swinging. In the interim, the Cardinal have had to lean on younger players, including freshmen Ethan Gao and Kush Aurora, and have beaten just four teams in two tournaments while finishing a combined 58 shots out of first place. They also dropped a rivalry match against Cal last week (Beber-Frankel lost his match alongside Stanford women’s golfer Kelly Xu.)

“The hardest part for all of us has been to practice what we preach,” Ray said. “We talk about it a lot, but this idea that you can’t measure yourself by score all the time, you just gotta work and know that the results will come.”

That perspective will guide Beber-Frankel at Trinity Forest and likely through the fall. He shot 5 under in two rounds to earn the third and final qualifying spot last week, but he also knows he can’t make up for a year and a half’s worth of lost time in just 54 holes.

“I’d love to play well,” Beber-Frankel said, “but regardless of how it goes, just to play in a big event for this team, to hopefully contribute and be someone the team can rely on, to be one of the leading members and someone people look up to – that’s what I set out to do when I got here, and that hasn’t materialized yet, so becoming that person, that’s what I want to do.”

Added Ray: “This is a good step for him. He’s getting the juices flowing again, for sure. When the heat gets on him, we’ll see how it goes, but we gotta throw him out there. He’s healthy and feeling good and excited to compete, so let’s go for it.”