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.”

NCAA men's regional team and individual scores

Full coverage: NCAA men's regionals

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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Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.

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Rose: T-2 finish renewed my love of The Open

By Jay CoffinJuly 22, 2018, 9:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Rose made the cut on the number at The Open and was out for an early Saturday morning stroll at Carnoustie when, all of a sudden, he started putting together one great shot after another.

There was no pressure. No one had expected anything from someone so far off the lead. Yet Rose shot 30 on the final nine holes to turn in 7-under 64, the lowest round of the championship. By day’s end he was five shots behind a trio of leaders that included Jordan Spieth.

Rose followed the 64 with a Sunday 69 to tie for second place, two shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. His 133 total over the weekend was the lowest by a shot, and for a moment he thought he had a chance to hoist the claret jug, until Molinari put on a ball-striking clinic down the stretch with birdies on 14 and 18.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I just think having made the cut number, it’s a great effort to be relevant on the leaderboard on Sunday,” said Rose, who collected his third-career runner-up in a major. He’s also finished 12th or better in all three majors this year.

In the final round, Rose was well off the pace until his second shot on the par-5 14th hole hit the pin. He had a tap-in eagle to move to 5 under. Birdie at the last moved him to 6 under and made him the clubhouse leader for a few moments.

“It just proves to me that I can play well in this tournament, that I can win The Open,” Rose said. “When I’m in the hunt, I enjoy it. I play my best golf. I don’t back away.

“That was a real positive for me, and it renewed the love of The Open for me.”

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Woods does everything but win at The Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 22, 2018, 8:57 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a proud man who spent the majority of his prime scoffing at silver linings and small victories, Tiger Woods needed little cajoling to look at the bright side Sunday at Carnoustie.

Sure, after a round in which he took the solo lead at The Open with nine holes to go, the first words out of Woods’ mouth were that he was “a little ticked off at myself” for squandering an opportunity to capture his 15th major title, and his first in more than a decade. And that immediate reaction was justified: In the stiffest winds of the week, he played his last eight holes in 2 over, missed low on a 6-footer on the final green and wound up in a tie for sixth, three shots behind his playing partner, Francesco Molinari.

“Today was a day,” Woods said, “that I had a great opportunity.”

But here’s where we take a deep breath.

Tiger Woods led the freakin’ Open Championship with nine holes to play.

Imagine typing those words three months ago. Six months ago. Nine months ago. Twelve months ago.

The scenario was improbable.



At this time last year, Woods was only a few months removed from a Hail Mary fusion surgery; from a humiliating DUI arrest in which he was found slumped behind the wheel of his car, with five drugs in his system; from a month-long stay in a rehab clinic to manage his sleep medications.

Just last fall, he’d admitted that he didn’t know what the future held. Playing a major, let alone contending in one, seemed like a reasonable goal.

This year he’s showed signs of softening, of being kinder and gentler. He appeared more eager to engage with his peers. More appreciative of battling the game’s young stars inside the ropes. More likely to express his vulnerabilities. Now 42, he finally seemed at peace with accepting his role as an elder statesman.

One major, any major, would be the most meaningful title of his career, and he suggested this week that his best chance would come in an Open, where oldies-but-goodies Tom Watson (age 59) and Greg Norman (53) have nearly stolen the claret jug over the past decade.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

But success at this Open, on the toughest links in the rota?

“Just need to play some cleaner golf, and who knows?” he shrugged.

Many analysts howled at Woods’ ultra-conservative strategy across the early rounds here at big, brawny and brutish Carnoustie. He led the field in driving accuracy but routinely left himself 200-plus yards for his approach shots, relying heavily on some vintage iron play. Even par through 36 holes, he stepped on the gas Saturday, during the most benign day for scoring, carding a 66 to get within striking distance of the leaders.

Donning his traditional blood-red shirt Sunday, Woods needed only six holes to erase his five-shot deficit. Hearing the roars, watching WOODS rise on the yellow leaderboards, it was as though we’d been transported to the mid-2000s, to a time when he’d play solidly, not spectacularly, and watch as his lesser opponents crumbled. On the same ancient links that Ben Hogan took his lone Open title, in 1953, four years after having his legs crushed in a head-on crash with a Greyhound bus, Woods seemed on the verge of scripting his own incredible comeback.

Because Jordan Spieth was tumbling down the board, the beginning of a birdie-less 76.

Rory McIlroy was bogeying two of his first five holes.

Xander Schauffele was hacking his way through fescue.

Once Woods hit one of the shots of the championship on 10 – hoisting a 151-yard pitching wedge out of a fairway bunker, over a steep lip, over a burn, to 20 feet – the outcome seemed preordained.

“For a while,” McIlroy conceded, “I thought Tiger was going to win.”

So did Woods. “It didn’t feel any different to be next to the lead and knowing what I needed to do,” he said. “I’ve done it so many different ways. It didn’t feel any different.”

But perhaps it’s no coincidence that once Woods took the lead for the first time, he frittered it away almost immediately. That’s what happened Saturday, when he shared the lead on the back nine and promptly made bogey. On Sunday, he drove into thick fescue on 11, then rocketed his second shot into the crowd, the ball ricocheting off a fan’s shoulder, and then another’s iPhone, and settling in more hay. He was too cute with his flop shot, leaving it short of the green, and then missed an 8-footer for bogey. He followed it up on 12 with another misadventure in the rough, leading to a momentum-killing bogey. He’d never again pull closer than two shots.

“It will be interesting to see going forward, because this was his first taste of major championship drama for quite a while,” McIlroy said. “Even though he’s won 14, you have to learn how to get back.”

Over the daunting closing stretch, Woods watched helplessly as Molinari, as reliable as the tide coming in off the North Sea, plodded his way to victory. With Woods’ hopes for a playoff already slim, Molinari feathered a wedge to 5 feet on the closing hole. Woods marched grim-faced to the bridge, never turning around to acknowledge his playing partner’s finishing blow. He waved his black cap and raised his mallet-style putter to a roaring crowd – knowledgeable fans who were appreciative not just of Woods making his first Open start since 2015, but actually coming close to winning the damn thing.

“Oh, it was a blast,” Woods would say afterward. “I need to try to keep it in perspective, because at the beginning of the year, if they’d have said you’re playing the Open Championship, I would have said I’d be very lucky to do that.”

Last weekend, Woods sat in a box at Wimbledon to watch Serena Williams contend for a 24th major title. Williams is one of the few athletes on the planet with whom Woods can relate – an aging, larger-than-life superstar who is fiercely competitive and adept at overcoming adversity. Woods is 15 months removed from a fourth back surgery on an already brittle body; Williams nearly secured the most prestigious championship in tennis less than a year after suffering serious complications during childbirth.

“She’ll probably call me and talk to me about it because you’ve got to put things in perspective,” Woods said. “I know that it’s going to sting for a little bit here, but given where I was to where I’m at now, I’m blessed.”

But Woods didn’t need to wait for that phone call to find some solace. Waiting for him afterward were his two kids, Sam, 11, and Charlie, 9, both of whom were either too young or not yet born when Tiger last won a major in 2008, when he was at the peak of his powers.

Choking up, Woods said, “I told them I tried, and I said, 'Hopefully you’re proud of your Pops for trying as hard as I did.' It’s pretty emotional, because they gave me some pretty significant hugs there and squeezed. I know that they know how much this championship means to me, and how much it feels good to be back playing again.

“To me, it’s just so special to have them aware, because I’ve won a lot of golf tournaments in my career, but they don’t remember any of them. The only thing they’ve seen is my struggles and the pain I was going through. Now they just want to go play soccer with me. It’s such a great feeling.”

His media obligations done, Woods climbed up the elevated walkway, on his way to the back entrance of the Carnoustie Golf Hotel & Spa. He was surrounded by his usual entourage, but also two new, younger additions to his clan.

Sam adhered to the strict Sunday dress code, wearing a black tank top and red shorts. But Charlie’s attire may have been even more appropriate. On the day his dad nearly authored the greatest sports story ever, he chose a red Nike T-shirt with a bold message emblazoned on the front, in big, block letters:


After this unbelievable performance, after Tiger Woods nearly won The Open, are there really any left?

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Molinari hopes to inspire others as Rocca inspired him

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 8:43 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Francesco Molinari was 12 years old when Costantino Rocca came within a playoff of becoming Italy’s first major champion at the 1995 Open at St. Andrews.

He remembers being inspired by Rocca’s play and motivated by the notion that he could one day be the player who would bring home his country’s first Grand Slam title. As he reflected on that moment late Sunday at Carnoustie it sunk in what his victory at The Open might mean.

“To achieve something like this is on another level,” said Molinari, who closed with a final-round 69 for a two-stroke victory. “Hopefully, there were a lot of young kids watching on TV today, like I was watching Constantino in '95 coming so close. Hopefully, they will get as inspired as I was at the time, watching him vie for the claret jug.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Molinari had already made plenty of headlines this year back home in Italy with victories at the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, and the Quicken Loans National earlier this month on the PGA Tour.

A major is sure to intensify that attention. How much attention, however, may be contingent on Sunday’s finish at the German Grand Prix.

“It depends on if Ferrari won today. If they won, they'll probably get the headlines,” Molinari laughed. “But, no, obviously, it would be massive news. It was big news. The last round already was big news in Italy.”

Molinari won’t have any competition for the front page on Monday; Ferrari didn’t win the German Grand Prix.