It’s her second appearance at the Pacific Bay Resort Australian Ladies Classic but to Queensland’s Georgia Clarke it feels a lot like a debut.
A little over two months ago the 27-year-old underwent spinal surgery to replace three discs in her neck after almost five years of continually worsening pain.
Clarke, who turned pro in 2018 after an extraordinary introduction to the game, says it is only ‘dumb luck’ that she is walking, let alone playing golf.
A chance encounter with a highly respected Australian orthopaedic surgeon at The Grand Golf Club, where Clarke works, not only saved her golf career but gave her a new lease on life.
“I’d been in pain for about five years, and it was getting progressively worse, but I could never figure out what was causing it,” she says.
“In hindsight, I had a car accident about five years ago, and that’s probably where it started, but by last year it was really getting bad.
“I went to play the Indian Open in October last year, but I had to pull out halfway through the second round because I just couldn’t play.”
“I feel like this is a huge second chance for me, and I really want to make the most of it.Georgia Clarke
Returning to the Gold Coast, she was back at work the following week when highly respected surgeon Matthew Scott Young, a member at the club, noticed her discomfort.
“He asked me what was wrong and I told him. By that stage, I was losing feeling in my right arm, and it was getting pretty scary,” she says.
“He made an appointment for me to see him a couple of days later and by the following week he was operating.”
Scott Young was instrumental in developing the technology used in Tiger Woods’ surgery in late 2017 and Clarke says she feels blessed to have been in his care.
“After he looked at all my X-rays and MRI scans he told me I wouldn’t have been able to walk within a year if I had done nothing about the injury,” she says.
“The surgery was scary, but that possibility was much scarier.”
Within ten days Clarke – with Scott Young’s blessing – was hitting full shots again and while an opening 83 yesterday was hardly the score she wanted to begin her comeback to the professional game it still felt like a victory.
“I’m not 100 per cent yet, but I’m definitely getting back there,” she says of her physical state.
“I’ve lost quite a bit of distance, and I’m still a bit nervy over some shots, especially with the long irons.
“But this week was really all about finding out just where my game is, and I’ve been careful to manage expectations, so I wasn’t too upset about my score.”
Playing pain-free for the first time in her career (Clarke only picked up a golf club for the first time at the age of 22, but that’s a story for another time) she now has her sights set on the rest of 2019 and beyond.
“I’ll play the rest of the events here in Australia, and if I feel my game is in good enough shape I’ll go to the Korean and US Tour Schools later in the year,” she said.
“I feel like this is a huge second chance for me, and I really want to make the most of it.
“The ultimate goal is to get to a place where I’m competitive with the best players in the world, and that journey has sort of started this week.”