John Senden draws motivation from son’s battle against brain tumor
BROUSSARD, La. — Australia’s John Senden has battled hard on the golf course in a professional career that has spanned nearly three decades and brought two PGA TOUR titles.
But the 46-year-old knows his battles have paled in comparison to those fought by his son, Jacob, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor last April at age 13.
That month, Senden stepped away from the game to devote his full attention and support to Jacob, who fought through extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments between last April and November – six rounds in all, with five involving full-time stay in the hospital.
Jacob’s tumor has reduced in size – “from the size of your thumbnail, to the size of your pinky nail,” Senden said – and doctors at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas have been pleased with the progress.
Inspired by his son’s fight, Senden returns to professional competition at this week’s Chitimacha Louisiana Open presented by NACHER, his first career Web.com Tour start (he has made 428 starts on TOUR).
“I haven’t really played for 12 months, but in that time, Jacob has really, really hung tough,” Senden said while traversing Le Triomphe G&CC’s 13th fairway on Tuesday afternoon.
“His whole body was getting slammed with all these treatments, and he was so strong in his whole attitude and his whole body, just really getting through the whole thing. He was tough.”
Senden has received a Family Crisis exemption from the TOUR, which is calculated by averaging the number of TOUR starts he had made over five seasons prior to taking leave, then subtracting his number of starts this past season, to calculate the number of starts he is allotted to match the No. 125 amount of FedExCup points from 2016-17 (while keeping points already accrued) and thereby maintain fully exempt TOUR status.
The category also allows Senden five rehabilitation starts on the Web.com Tour, but he plans to play only this week at Le Triomphe G&CC before rejoining the TOUR at next month’s RBC Heritage, then continuing onward for the Valero Texas Open, Wells Fargo Championship and AT&T Byron Nelson.
After Jacob’s diagnosis, Senden didn’t touch a golf club for three-and-a-half months, and he practiced in ‘little bits and pieces’ for a while.
In January, a positive MRI test put Jacob in a ‘reasonably good spot going forward,’ and Senden began to “make decisions on trying to play the game again,” he said.
For the past six weeks, Senden has upped his practice regiment, including a trip to Australia – “to train, and get on the range, and work on stuff,” he said.
Senden has been encouraged by the support the family has received – “from the PGA TOUR, from family, from schools, all over the world” – and he said the support has made it easier to refocus on his game, as he readies to chase the 310 FedExCup points needed in 13 TOUR starts to regain full membership.
Competitively speaking, he now hopes to follow his son’s lead.
Due to tumor characteristics in Jacob’s brain revealing both benign and malignant characteristics, the teenager’s doctors recommended six rounds of chemotherapy followed by six weeks of radiation, a treatment cycle that spanned from April 25 to November 10.
With the reduction in tumor size, and January’s positive MRI, Jacob’s outlook is positive.
Still, Senden cautions that challenges will remain, and he strives to help his son through them as best he can.
“It’s going in the right direction, but (the tumor) is still there, and he’s got to manage it now for the rest of his life,” Senden said. “Which means MRIs every three months for the next two years, which falls to every 12 months after that. So it really becomes a management system for him, for the rest of his time.
“The scary thing is what could happen long-term. He’s OK now; he’s gaining his strength now. With the chemotherapy, you lose all your hair; now, he is getting it back. So, socially he feels better, but it’s really, really difficult on his body, for the time he has gone through it, and on the whole family.”
Senden’s professional comeback will take shape over the next few months, and he hopes that many more TOUR successes are in store.
No matter the outcome, though, he’ll take strength in the knowledge that a more monumental comeback effort is taking shape within his immediate family.
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