Why I Play series: Golfer Jen Goh
“Why I Play” is a fortnightly series showcasing the stories of people who enjoy playing sports. Want to see your sport featured? Let us know via Facebook or Twitter.
After winning the San Diego City Amateur Championship in the United States in July 2015, golfer Jen Goh came back to Singapore a month later to clinch the Singapore National Amateur Championship and the Singapore Ladies’ Golf Association Amateur Open.
The 23-year-old was clearly in the midst of one of the best golf seasons in her life, only to be struck down a few months later by a debilitating illness that immobilised her right arm. After seeing about 30 doctors and medical professionals, it would take Goh two years to finally find out that she had thoracic outlet syndrome, which needed surgery.
After a period of rehabilitation, Jen is now back on the golf course and continuing her journey to become the first Singaporean golfer to play on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour.
Q: How did you get involved in golf?
A: My dad worked at Pebble Beach (golf course in California) when he was a student in the US, so even though he didn’t play golf at that time, he was very into the game and we had memorabilia from US Opens lying around the house. When he moved home, he started playing golf and brought me to the range for the first time, and that was enough to get me hooked.
Which muscle groups are most involved in golf? Which part of your body aches the most after a training session and why?
Actually, I don’t think there’s a muscle you don’t use in the golf swing. In different parts of the swing, from address to backswing to impact to follow through, different muscles play a part in creating power and stabilising the body in the process. For me though, because I have a weaker upper body, the muscles around my shoulder tend to ache the most after hitting a lot of balls.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about golf? How do you debunk some of these misconceptions to people?
One misconception is that golf is boring and slow and an old man’s sport. I think one just has to watch the PGA/LPGA Tour to realise that it isn’t a game you play when you’re retired. Most of the best golfers in the world today are athletes in every regard.
They spend lots of time in the gym getting stronger and more powerful, so that they can hit a stationary ball 300 metres into the air and with different flight shapes and heights as well. That’s what I love most about golf – that you can be in complete control of the flight of the golf ball. I can manipulate my swing to make the ball curve from left to right under a tree but over a water hazard, or hit it high enough to fly over a big tree standing in my way. The options are limitless.
In pursuing competitive golf, what has been your most memorable experience?
I’ve had quite a few wins and they’ve all had a lasting impact. But if I had to pick one, it would be winning the San Diego City Amateur Championship on the 18th hole at Torrey Pines GC South Course –the site of Tiger Woods’ amazing 2008 US Open victory. I’ve watched countless times the footage of the incredible putts he holed on 18th in regulation, then again during the playoff against Rocco Mediate. So, to hole a putt on that same green to win my first amateur event in the US, that was a moment I’d never forget.
What about your most heartbreaking?
It has to be SEA Games 2015. I’ve had a decent year, and we spent a tremendous amount of time and effort in the preparation phase leading up to the tournament on home soil. Even though we did win the bronze medal in the team event, I was sorely disappointed with how I played that week and the feeling that I let my teammates down with my performance was a hard pill to swallow. I had so much more in me and the failure to bring that out onto the course, to contribute more to the team was heartbreaking.
Share an inspiring story you have of a tournament or an experience with teammates that made you love golf even more.
So I found myself in Saskatoon, Canada, for the Canadian Amateur and right off the bat, I realised how out of my element I was. It was my first big amateur event with such a quality field – I was easily the worst-ranked player.
I was actually secretly happy the first round was cancelled due to torrential rain, because I felt unprepared. I had to play 36 holes the next day; I started at 7am and finished my second round only at 9pm – in the dark, in wind and rain as well. After signing for two seemingly-average rounds, I was prepared to miss the cut, but as I checked the leaderboard that night and the next day when the rest of the players were out there, I was in fact well within the cut line.
I then moved into the top 30 after four rounds, ahead of many players whom I believed were much better than I was. That was massive for me, to know that I do have the goods to play among these girls. Also, it made me realise why I love golf so much – the ball is round and anything can happen as long as you don’t give up.
Was there a time you felt like walking away from this sport? What made you stay?
There were many occasions I felt that I’ve had enough of golf but many of those situations were during times when I played badly or failed in one way or another. Once I framed the situation differently, that failure was part of this growth journey, and stayed focused on my end goals, I realised I had to stay. I had not even come close to achieving the big dreams I have and I still have a burning desire to do so.
What was the worst injury you have experienced? How did you overcome it?
This is going to be a long answer. Right after my best year in golf in 2015, I found myself with a heavily swollen right arm after a round of golf with friends. Twenty-six days later, I still could not move that arm and I had to undergo a sympathetic nerve block just to wiggle my fingers again.
For the next two years, I would lose all function of my arm every week or so, not even being able to write or cut a piece of steak. Every one of the 30-odd doctors and physiotherapists I saw thought that my golfing days were behind me and I would be dealing with this condition (complex regional pain syndrome) for the rest of my life.
It was an illness that had no cure. I was on so much medication to control the nervous system that I was legally forbidden from driving. This took a massive toll on my life, my family and at some point, I believed the professionals that I would never regain full function of my arm again, let alone play golf.
Then, I saw a doctor in San Francisco, where I was living, and she wanted to insert a spinal cord stimulator into my spine. A machine that I will have to charge every night, just so I could return to some normalcy in my life.
It jolted me into realising that I will not succumb to this and I will keep searching for something, someone to solve this. A flare up when I came home to Singapore led me to a family friend, a cardiovascular surgeon who diagnosed my problem as thoracic outlet syndrome. Not even a week later, I had surgery to remove a rib and two muscles – a surgery that will change my life forever.
Thanks to the surgeon, Dr Lim, and the rest of my support team who tirelessly worked with me on my rehabilitation, I was back on the golf course a mere four months later and even won the stroke-play section of the first tournament I entered. I never imagined I would be back competing again and I am here only because of the incredible support from my team, family and friends. I owe it to those guys.
What life lessons has golf taught you?
Golf is a lot like life; as much as you’ve made mistakes, failed, not done as well as you would have liked to in the past, you will have another chance. There is always the next shot, the next round, the next tournament, the next season to keep getting better.
So, it has taught me to never give up, you just have no idea what is around the corner, what is next in store for you. If not for golf, I might not have fought so hard to recover from a debilitating injury. On the same note, golf has also taught me to always focus on the present, because you can hit the most perfect shot in your mind, only to have a sudden gust of wind blow it into the water. I realised that life is the same, you can’t control the future or what life throws at you so why focus on that?
How can people get involved if they’re interested in this sport?
Find a friend, a golf club and hit the driving range. While you’re at it, take some lessons with a local golf professional. The fundamentals are really important in this game and having someone guide you through it will make a huge difference to not only your skill level but also how much you enjoy it.
Can you tell me in one sentence why you love this sport.
The rush I feel when I make a crucial putt or hit the ball exactly how I intended is a feeling like no other and this is why I golf.