June 12, 2013

Back on Tour, Klauk ready to play at one of favorite stops

In a perfect comeback tale, Jeff Klauk wouldn’t be at Crestview Country Club this week preparing to play in his ninth Air Capital Classic.

In a perfect comeback tale, Jeff Klauk wouldn’t be at Crestview Country Club this week preparing to play in his ninth Air Capital Classic.

Klauk would be in Pennsylvania teeing it up at the U.S. Open. Or he’d be home in Florida, getting some rest and relaxation for next week’s PGA Tour event.

But the 35-year-old Klauk’s golf career has been all about patience. And as the 2003 Air Capital Classic champion continues his return from time off for epilepsy treatment, the site of his first Tour victory isn’t a bad place to be.

“I missed playing everywhere last year, but Wichita holds a special place,” Klauk said. “With what people did for me here last year, it’s amazing all the support I have.”

During last year’s tournament, Klauk was two months removed from brain surgery that determined the location of his neurological disorder, which first surfaced in 2006. He was scheduled to have a second procedure last August to remove damaged tissue, but chose to forego it and treat his condition with medication.

While Klauk was home recuperating, his host family during his tournament stays in Wichita took action. Rick and Vicky Heibsch organized an Epilepsy Awareness Day during last year’s second round at Crestview. Pins, lavender ribbons and informational flyers about epilepsy were distributed.

Klauk worked on his game last summer and ended a 15-month tour hiatus at the Albertsons Boise Open. He played in four events before finishing 2012 at the PGA Tour qualifying tournament.

Klauk said the medication Vimpat allowed him to focus on his return to golf instead of undergoing the invasive second surgery.

“It just wasn’t worth the risk at the time,” Klauk said. “My problem is on the front left side, which controls motor skills. After that first surgery, they put me on (Vimpat) and it actually changed my life.”

Klauk had to give up driving after suffering a complex partial seizure late in 2010 while transporting his family to church. The medication has allowed him to regain that privilege.

This year, Klauk started his tour season with a major medical exemption. He had eight PGA Tour events to try to make $429,107 and retain his status. He tied for 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February, but after missing the 54-hole cut at the RBC Heritage in April, Klauk had earned just $149,830.

That sent Klauk back to the Tour for the remainder of 2013.

“The golf has been alright,” Klauk said. “I had a lot on my plate to accomplish with the PGA Tour. It’s hard to reach those goals. I’ve got some goals out here now and I’m looking forward to the rest of the year and what it has to hold.”

Klauk has made three cuts in seven events this year. Three weeks ago, he opened the Mexico Championship with a 6-under-par 66 and eventually tied for 20th.

On Thursday, Klauk will make his 198th career Tour start at one of his favorite venues. He is third in Air Capital Classic career earnings with $141,893, trailing only two-time winner Brad Elder and 2011 champion Mathew Goggin.

It took Klauk six years after his victory at Crestview to reach the PGA Tour. Now, with a clear plan for his medical treatment, he’s ready to see if he can shorten the timeline for a return.

“Things are going well,” Klauk said. “They really are.”

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