“I felt like everything was going to kill me,” says Gary Woodland, who had a death phobia prior to having brain surgery.

In the months leading up to his brain surgery last year, American golfer Gary Woodland admitted he was “fear-driven every day, especially around mortality.” Thursday is the first competitive appearance for the former US Open champion since his craniotomy to repair a brain tumor on September 18.

Although Woodland just announced his illness a few weeks ago, he had been dealing with debilitating symptoms for months, starting while competing in a PGA Tour tournament in late April. On the night before the final round of the Mexico Open in Vallarta, the 39-year-old was startled out of his slumber. “Fear kicked in” right after, according to Woodland’s Tuesday statement. “I had no idea what it was,” he said reporters in Honolulu at the Sony Open, the second tournament of the 2024 PGA Tour season.

I didn’t know, it may have been a panic attack. I could feel my hands quivering. When Woodland’s symptoms worsened to include a lack of appetite, energy, and chills, he went to his doctor for help. By the end of May, when his doctor referred him for an MRI, Woodland would finally have his answer. Woodland went on to say that the crippling dread of dying was the most severe symptom. He explained that he felt as if “everything was going to kill me” whether he was in a car or an airplane.

Starting when I was sixteen years old, I put in a lot of time and effort with psychologists and performance coaches. You believe you can conquer challenges; I was unable to do so. It seemed like there was a new death method every day. The shock in the wee hours of the morning terrified me… At one in the morning, I’m lying in bed, clutching the bed to reassure me that I wasn’t about to die from a fall from great heights.