FSU's Lebioda battles Crohn’s disease like a champ

By Ryan LavnerMay 15, 2015, 1:05 pm

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – After putting out on the ninth green Thursday at Finley Golf Course, Hank Lebioda sprinted toward the nearest men’s bathroom, about 150 yards away. This wasn’t totally uncommon. He charts on-course restrooms as if they were tricky green complexes.

The Florida State junior has been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract that affects about 1.4 million Americans. He has the condition mostly under control now, thanks to medication and weekly injections that he administers himself, but it wasn’t too long ago that the 21-year-old faced the prospect of shelving his golf career.

Lebioda was a top-five recruit coming out of high school, but his body began to betray him even before he arrived on campus in fall 2012. The previous spring, he contracted salmonella and dealt with the effects for months – even during his senior prom. As his buddies raged by the beach, Lebioda spent the after-party in bed. A few days later, he labored through the Sage Valley Invitational, the premier junior golf event in the country, and was so ill that the only thing he could keep down was Pedialyte.

That summer, he battled irritable bowel syndrome and complained of frequent stomachaches and diarrhea. At times, the cramps on the course were so intense that he’d drop to one knee and hope the rush of pain would subside.

“The hard thing was that Hank is like any great competitor,” says Seminoles coach Trey Jones. “He doesn’t want any sympathy. He doesn’t want anybody to feel bad for him. He internalized a lot of it, and he wasn’t that transparent about everything going on with him.”

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But he couldn’t hide later that year at the South Beach Amateur. Despite staying in a swanky hotel in Miami, eating the finest meals and riding a cart during competition, the fat and muscle melted off his body at an alarming rate. In all, he lost 20 pounds in four days.  

Somehow, Lebioda still finished second, but when he returned home for Christmas break, he said, “my parents didn’t even recognize me.” He spent the next week and a half in bed.

Hank’s father, David, specializes in gastroenterology and immediately sensed something was amiss. After scheduling the first of three colonoscopies, Lebioda took a laxative to flush out his system, but it didn’t work. The next morning, at 3 a.m., he rolled around on the floor, writhing in pain.

Tests confirmed that he had bowel obstruction and mild-to-severe Crohn’s. The connector between the small and large intestine was inflamed, which was why he was in such severe pain but unable to pass anything through. An abscess had formed there, too. 

Hopped up on steroids, antibiotics, painkillers and anti-inflammatories – “you name it, I was on it” – the only option seemed to be surgery, which would require three months of bed rest. Such a long layoff would not only force him to skip the spring semester of school, but it also prompted a few quiet and somber discussions with his father about what a future without golf might look like.

“The outlook was grim,” David says, shaking his head.

But under the care of his father and his six partners, Lebioda responded well to the aggressive treatment and was discharged from the hospital after a week. His doctors prescribed a new medicine called Humira, which called for Lebioda to pinch the skin on either side of his belly button and give himself four 10-second shots, once a week, with a device that looked like a giant BIC highlighter.

“I’m petrified of needles,” he says, but he’s gotten so used to the procedure that he recently guided one of his father’s patients through the process while in the middle of a practice round.  

Still, his weight remained a significant issue – he was down to 140 pounds, with no muscle, no fat and no energy, after being bedridden for three weeks. Worse than the shots, Lebioda soon found out the hard way that his diet was about to change completely. No milk. No fried foods. No salad. No acidic foods. No caffeine. Heck, he couldn’t even sleep on his stomach anymore.

“The whole situation made me realize that I need to grow up and manage myself better,” he said.

After a few weeks at home, he was well enough to at least consider a return to Florida State. The school’s nutritionist and chef collaborated on a strict meal plan, and any time Lebioda wanted a bite to eat he simply texted the chef. Because he was still too weak to lift, run or train with his teammates, he worked with the athletic trainer on the underwater treadmill to improve his agility.  

Within three or four weeks, he returned to hitting balls. Less than a month later, he qualified for the team’s first spring tournament, the Gator Invitational, but head coach Trey Jones insisted that he use a push cart in competition. Lebioda stopped at every restroom during his round and finished 12th that week, the beginning of an improbable run that led to him being named the ACC Freshman of the Year.

“Being a gastroenterologist, you know too much and you know how these things are supposed to end,” David Lebioda says. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and this is probably the best outcome I’ve ever seen with someone who started out as bad as he had.”

College kids aren’t supposed to grow up this fast.

After Hank’s high school graduation, his grandfather moved into the family’s home in Winter Springs, Fla., just north of Orlando. He was 91 years old, fading fast, with signs of dementia, but Hank took personal responsibility for him. Sometimes, he’d go out at midnight just to grab a carton of strawberry ice cream, and they’d sit together on the couch, two old men, watching Cubs games on WGN.

Jones jokes that Lebioda has “the diet of an old man,” because they basically have to eat the same foods.

For a while, Lebioda slammed three or four Ensure shakes a day. He’s learned how to eat salmon and boneless chicken 20 different ways. A typical dinner consists of a turkey sandwich on white bread, with no mayo or cheese. On the course this week, he’s nibbling on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and packs of fruit snacks. Standing 5 feet, 11 inches, he’s now up to 180 pounds, or about 40 more than his worst state.    

More than anything, he has learned what to avoid. If he drinks a few beers – never more than two or three – he knows he’s going to pay for it with cramps and diarrhea. Coffee with creamer never ends well. Scarf down a cheeseburger or any kind of red meat, and he’s pretty much doomed to go find a bathroom.

“But as much as everyone says, ‘I don’t know how you do it,’ my life has simplified a lot,” Hank says. “I cut out all the extraneous events that I didn’t need. Nothing was hanging over my head anymore.”

He’s back in control of his future.

Lebioda has captained the team each of the past two seasons. He’s served as the Seminoles’ Student Athletic Council representative. He’s on track to graduate in December – five months early – with a degree in finance.

And the best part? With his medical condition steadily improving, his golf game has never been better.

After a solid sophomore campaign, Lebioda has taken his game to new heights this season, with seven top-10s, a trio of runner-up finishes and a top-15 national ranking. Part of that improvement can be attributed to his time spent with swing coach Scott Hamilton, with whom he began working last summer. For years Lebioda played a “high school hook” – a push draw that every prep star hits because it maximizes distance. The smooth-swinging left-hander has turned that shot into a controlled cut that keeps the ball in play, and a sharper wedge game has become his greatest strength.  

“Scott has really helped me simplify my game,” he said. “The only thing I have to worry about now is scoring.”

Entering this week’s NCAA regionals, Lebioda’s 70.69 average is the second-best on the team, only a few ticks below standout sophomore Jack Maguire (70.63). Together, they’ve paced Florida State to six wins and the No. 1 ranking in the country.

But there are still a few awkward moments.

He knows the location of every bathroom on the course, so on Thursday, a few seconds before he had darted toward the hut about 150 yards away, he hopped into a cart with a rules official and gave him a nod, like, Hey, let’s roll. FSU has contacted both local and national officials and cleared Lebioda to take a ride to the restroom whenever he needs it because of his medical condition. This particular rules official hadn’t yet gotten the memo, so he denied the request and Lebioda took off running, unable to wait any longer. A few minutes later, the official spun around, picked him up and apologized profusely for the misunderstanding.

“It comes furiously and you can’t wait like I did,” Lebioda shrugged.

But if that’s the extent of his troubles, well, he’ll take it. This is about the best-case scenario for a guy who two years ago thought a career in golf was a long shot.

“He has a mission now,” David Lebioda says. “He enjoys his health, but he knows that success is fleeting and can be taken away at any time. He’s savoring the life he has.” 

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Teenager Im wins Web.com season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Web.com Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Web.com Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Web.com Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Web.com Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

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Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.