Gary Woodland Captures GWAA’s 2023 Ben Hogan Award

By Jeff Babineau, GWAA

ORLANDO, Florida (March 4, 2024) – Gary Woodland went from the lush green fairways of the PGA Tour to lying on an operating table, undergoing brain surgery last year on his path to overcoming the toughest test of his life.

Woodland, 39, had surgery in September to remove part of a lesion that was pressing on a nerve in his brain, which was making him feel emotions, and experience sensations, with which he was unfamiliar.

In three months, Woodland transitioned from a delicate surgery that placed his career in question to resuming his life as a PGA Tour professional, a vocation that has delivered four PGA Tour victories, including the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Woodland is the recipient of the Golf Writers Association of America’s 2023 Ben Hogan Award, given annually to an individual “who has continued to be active in golf despite a physical handicap or serious illness.”

Woodland will receive his award at the 50th annual ISPS Handa GWAA Dinner in Evans, Georgia, on the eve of the 88th Masters.

Gary Woodland on the 17th green during the first round of the Cognizant Classic in the Palm Beaches at PGA National on February 29. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

An optimistic person by nature, Woodland said suddenly last season he became driven by dark thoughts filled by fear. He clung to the side of the bed some nights after waking from nightmares that he was falling from the sky to his death. His hands trembled. He experienced chills. His energy levels plummeted. A husband and a father of three young children, Woodland endured countless hours over four-plus months with a most unsettling feeling: he thought he was going to die.

“The doctors kept telling me I was OK, but this thing pushing on my brain … didn’t matter if I was driving a car, on an airplane, I thought everything was going to kill me,” Woodland said. “You can imagine leading up to surgery how I felt going into having my head cut open and operated on. The fear going into that was awful.”

After an MRI ruled out Parkinson’s disease, Woodland was discovered to have a lesion on his brain. At the risk of losing sight in his left eye and possibly losing use of the left side of his body, Woodland underwent surgery on Sept. 18, with doctors cutting a hole in the side of his skull that was the size of a baseball, requiring 30 staples to close.

Woodland returned to golf three months after his surgery, at January’s Sony Open in Hawaii, shooting a pair of 71s. In April, he plans to compete in his 12th Masters.  

“The support from the tour, from people outside the golf world, has been tremendous for me and my family,” Woodland said.

Post-surgery, those overwhelming feelings of fear have been replaced by thankfulness and love.

“I’m humbled and honored to be the recipient of the Ben Hogan Award from the Golf Writers Association of America,” Woodland said. “This past year has been a difficult journey, but it’s also taught me so much about perseverance and gratitude. The hard times have truly given me a new appreciation for all life has to offer, and I look forward to bringing that perspective to the game of golf.”

Woodland earned 47.5 percent of the GWAA vote. Other finalists for the award were Chris Kirk, who, now sober after issues with alcohol, won on the PGA Tour in 2023 and ’24 after not having won since 2015; and Madelene Sagstrom, who has excelled on the LPGA after being sexually abused as a young child. Having held back more than 16 years of personal pain, Sagstrom stepped forward and bravely shared her story with the goal of helping others who might be in a similar situation.

Past winners of the Hogan Award include Babe Zaharias, Dwight Eisenhower, Dennis Walters, Lee Trevino, Paul Azinger, Erik Compton, Ken Green, Stacy Lewis, Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker.

The 50th ISPS Handa GWAA Dinner will be held Wednesday, April 10, at the Columbia County Performing Arts Center in Evans, Georgia.

Others to be honored by the GWAA that evening: 2023 Players of the Year Jon Rahm (top male), Lilia Vu (top female) and Steve Stricker (top senior); Jim Furyk, 2023 Charlie Bartlett Award (given to a playing professional for “unselfish contributions for the betterment of society”); Mike Keiser (William D. Richardson Award, outstanding contribution to golf); Luke Donald (Jim Murray Award, for cooperation and accessibility with the media); LPGA player/broadcaster Judy Rankin, who will be bestowed the PGA of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism; and longtime Golf Digest photographer Dom Furore, the PGA’s Lifetime Achievement honoree in Photojournalism.

More information: Jeff Babineau, GWAA Secretary,; (407) 496-4956.