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‘All I did was just scream:’ LPGA star recounts breaking her back on a shot

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Jasmine Suwannapura

Jasmine Suwannapura during the HSBC Women’s World Championship last month.

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Jasmine Suwannapura’s leg didn’t just hurt. It was numb. Then it started to shake. 

Five months earlier, at the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters in early December 2015, Suwannapura had been limping through four rounds. But that would turn out to be from a bulging disc in her back, and through yoga and stretches, she was playing a month later. Suwannapura made five-straight cuts at one point. 

Only now, when she woke up on the Monday ahead of the Kingsmill Championship in early May 2016, she had no sensation in her leg. 

“Well, I did the morning routine of stretching and stuff. Went to the driving range, hit a couple balls, and I noticed that my leg was shaking instead of numb,” Suwannapura said. “So I just hit balls, finished the range and went on the 1st tee. I thought that maybe I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Maybe I just didn’t stretch enough or — I wasn’t even thinking much of it. Hit the driver, not that far.”

She laughs now, while looking back last week at this year’s Kingsmill, now renamed the Pure Silk Championship. Suwannapura continues. 

“And then had a second shot like maybe 6-iron, like a punch shot for the second shot, and then as soon as I hit that shot, I heard a pop on my back. It was the most painful thing I ever experienced in life. All I did was just scream, and I just went down on the ground basically just screaming.

“And then I didn’t know what to do. I have to lay down flat, and that’s all I can do. So my caddie tried to get someone to get a cart to pick me up, and I had to sit, like, pretty much almost straight up. Like I could not sit or lean on anything.”

Five years ago, on the 1st hole on the River Course at Kingsmill Resort, Suwannapura had broken her back. She retells the story in detail — the beginning, which included a surgery thousands of miles away from family; the middle, which included an inpatient rehab; and, absolutely, the end; her press conference last week was part of the LPGA’s Drive On campaign, and she’d also pen a first-person story about her injury on the Tour’s website. Suwannapura has even walked past the spot where it happened. 

Like any scar, it’s a reminder. 

“Well, it’s tough to see the spot that I was there on the ground knowing how much pain it is,” she said. “But like I said, I’m very proud that I’m a fighter, and I’m here today because of that.”

Incredibly, Suwannapura didn’t withdraw from the 2016 event until two days later. “I’m like, I’m just going to see what’s going on and maybe I can play.” She’d see one doctor. She’d see a back specialist. And he’d walk into the room with four more doctors. 

If you don’t have the surgery at all, within a month you will be in a wheelchair for the rest of your life.

Jasmine Suwannapura

“I was like, what’s going on?” Suwannapura said. “And during that time, I was only 23, so I didn’t think anything — I’m 23 years old, right? So he said, well, this is what happened: Your back is broken, and he explained it real fast. This is going to happen. You’re going to have surgery within four days. This is how you prep yourself. And he showed me the metal and the screw that have to go inside my back. 

“So I was in shock because I had to have surgery within four days. He said, don’t even think that you’re not going to do it or try not to have a surgery, because as soon as — after today, if you don’t have the surgery at all, within a month you will be in a wheelchair for the rest of your life. You have no chance.

“And he said, like, I’m 99.99 percent you’ll be fine. So I was in shock, and I was crying.”

Suwannapura would have the four-hour surgery. She’d also personally whittle her three-month prescription of no golf to one. “After I had the surgery, I was still stubborn to chip and putt and went to Top Golf and hit 7-irons 50 yards, but that made me happy.” Over the following months, Suwannapura would overhaul her swing to reduce the impact near her injury, and she’d return to the LPGA Tour in March of 2017, where she’d play in 20 tournaments, but finish no higher than a tie for 14th and end up 101st on the money list. “So a little rough year,” she said. 

Then, in July of 2018, at the Marathon Classic, after a stretch of six missed cuts in 15 tournaments, she’d win. Suwannapura birdied the first hole of a playoff, while Brittany Lincicome made a par.

“The moment that we won the Marathon is just — it says a lot,” Suwannapura said. “You know, it proved that I can do it, first of all, and also proved that don’t give up on your dreams.

“Just, yeah, I’m glad I’m a fighter. If I’m not a fighter, I wouldn’t be here today. I wouldn’t be on the tour having a trophy for myself and be here today.”

Since then, she’s won once more, at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational in July of 2019. And last week, five years after lying on the 1st hole at Kingsmill, Suwannapura tied for 48th at the Pure Silk Championship.

“Well, five years later, it’s a lot of change,” said Suwannapura, who is playing in this week’s Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play. “I mean, there is no pain at all in my back, which I’m very grateful for. It actually reminded me that I was down there on the ground on the 1st hole, how much pain it was, and now I still have the opportunity to come and play and be on the tour.

“It’s like, yeah, I’m very grateful to be out here and still follow my dreams and play golf, and even more happier every day, you know, knowing that life can change so much in a good way.”  

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Nick Piastowski

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