Dylan Meyer looks like golf's Clark Kent, especially after battling back against serious disease
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Dylan Meyer looks the part of Superman’s alter ego, especially after bouncing back from a serious disease
Written by Mike McAllister @PGATOUR_MikeMc
Every eight weeks -- whether in his hometown of Evansville, Indiana, or on the road at a golf tournament -- Dylan Meyer has an appointment at a nearby expanded care hospital. After signing in, he’s hooked to an IV containing Remicade, an anti-inflammatory drug that treats autoimmune diseases. For Meyer, the target is his large intestine.
The infusion takes two hours and essentially shuts down his immune system, leaving him in a vulnerable state. If he breathes in the wrong germ or suffers an infection, the symptoms will be heightened, perhaps 10-fold worse than usual.
“I have to be very cautious of what I’m around and who I’m around,” Meyer said.
Once the last drip of Remicade enters his vein, he then receives a hydration IV for an additional 20 minutes. Only then is he cleared to leave, allowed to resume his life and his new career as a pro golfer until his next appointment in eight weeks.
Meyer has adhered to this schedule ever since he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis just over a year ago, and for the rest of his life, he must make every one of those appointments, even adjust his playing or practice routine or travel plans if necessary. Given that he’s just 23 years old – his birthday is today -- he can look forward to a lot of Remicade IVs. He has no choice, though. If he doesn’t get the treatment, his health is jeopardized.
“At first it sucked,” said Meyer, the college standout at the University of Illinois who made his pro debut last month with an eye-opening T-20 finish at the U.S. Open and is playing on a sponsor’s exemption at this week’s John Deere Classic. “Then I thought about it, and you just kind of have to deal with it. It’s like making a bogey. How are you going to bounce back? Try to hit the fairway and make birdie on the next hole.
“That’s kind of the way I’m taking it. As the next step of my life keeps going, I just want to try to make another birdie rather than just let this bogey fester.”
The biggest impact, however, may not revolve around his schedule, but his diet. There’s now a lot of blandness to it. He’s no longer allowed to eat spicy foods or dairy items and must limit his intake of fast foods, roughage and alcohol. He’s also eliminated soft drinks.
And he can’t eat pizza. Never again. For a fresh-out-of-college student who leaned heavily on Papa John’s the last few years, that was the hardest condition to, er, swallow.
“Kind of bummed out about that one.” Meyer admitted.
“He probably should eat more broccoli anyway,” said Mike Small, his former college coach. “He was a junk-food junkie.”
Jokes can be made now that the disease – which is not considered life-threatening but has potential serious complications -- is under control, but nobody was laughing during the Big Ten men’s championship in April, 2017, at Baltimore Country Club. Right before the start of the tournament, Meyer – then finishing up his junior season -- became ill. Determined not to let his teammates down, he fought through the pain.
It helped that he opened with a 7-under 63 that set a tournament and course record, but the sharp stomach pains in his lower abdomen wouldn’t subside. Plus, he constantly was forced to use the bathroom – eight, nine times a day. Physically, he was tired. Mentally, he was foggy. To top it off, he had no idea why he was sick.
Somehow, he persevered, shooting 73 in the second round and 69 in the final round to win the individual championship by a stroke, as well as anchoring Small’s Fighting Illini to a third straight Big Ten title. For a player whose black horn-rimmed glasses give off a Clark Kent-type vibe, it was a very Superman-like performance.
“I wasn’t worried about golf,” Meyer recalled about that week. “I was just worried about teeing off and getting to 18, how quick I can get to 18.”
Afterward, as he and his Illinois teammates celebrated their victory, Meyer – at 140 pounds, not exactly packed with muscles even when he’s healthy -- tried to lift the trophy. He didn’t have the strength. His roommate and best friend Nick Hardy had to help him.
“That week, he played like a stud and carried us to another win,” Hardy said. “I remember a lot of visits to the restroom. He picked us up, but we had his back, too. It was a pretty amazing achievement under the circumstances.”
The team jumped on the plane that night and headed home. At 6:30 a.m. the next morning, Meyer was taken to the hospital for tests. He underwent a colonoscopy, but the procedure couldn’t be completed because his intestines were so inflamed. He spent the next few nights in the hospital as doctors assessed the situation.
At one point, Meyer was asked about his health history and the medications he had used. He told the doctors that as a middle school student, he once took Accutane to battle an acne problem.
First sold in 1982, Accutane was effective in clearing acne but had been linked to serious side effects, including inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). According to Drugwatch.com, more than 7,000 lawsuits in the U.S. had been filed by users against the drug’s manufacturer, but in 2014, a judge dismissed the majority of those lawsuits, and jury verdicts favoring the plaintiff were overturned. The website reports that a New Jersey appellate court reinstated more than 2,000 of those lawsuits last year, and the state’s Supreme Court is now considering whether to allow those lawsuits to move forward.
As for Accutane, the drug was taken off the U.S. market 2009 by its Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche, in part because generic drugs had undercut sales. “This was an economical decision driven by falling market share,” a corporate spokesman told Reuters.
With this knowledge of the drug’s controversial history, Meyer’s doctors made their diagnosis. Since the problems were located in his large intestine, it was determined he had ulcerative colitis and not Crohn’s disease, another IBD that affects other parts of the gastrointestinal tract.
“There’s nothing in my family, no history of everything, and I’m not a stressful person at all. I’m pretty laid back,” said Meyer. “So I told the doctor that, and they just kind of did some more investigation on it and they narrowed it down just to that. I got a bad hand, a bad deal on that – and now I just have to move forward.”
Zach Guthrie, the former Illinois assistant who recruited Meyer as part of his last recruiting class before leaving the school in 2012 to become a full-time PGA TOUR caddie, followed the news from afar. He was confident Meyer could overcome the disease.
“I didn’t talk to him about this,” Guthrie said, “but I imagine his mindset was, OK, this is just like I have 155 yards into the wind on a left-to-right lie. There’s a process I can go through to deal with this problem. You can apply the same thing to that. But I’m sure he had to have some moments where he was disappointed that it happened to him. There’s not anything you can do about that.”
Meyer was determined not to feel sorry for himself, and the best way to overcome those emotions was to get back on the course and compete. After being released from the hospital later that week – 10 pounds lighter, by the way – he traveled with his team to the NCAA Regionals at Purdue and convinced Small he was ready to play.
His system full of pain medication and steroids, Meyer finished T-28, but the fact that he was able to play all three rounds was a small miracle in itself. His roommate Hardy, meanwhile, tied for medalist honors as Illinois advanced to the NCAA Championship.
“I was dead,” Meyer said. “I was a zombie out there. I was hitting it 10 yards less, 15 yards less than I was normally hit it. Just trying to grind my way around there – chipping and putting was the big key of mine. … To be at 50, 60 percent, I felt pretty good about that finish.”
He felt even better at Rich Harvest Farms, the host site for the NCAAs in Sugar Grove, Illinois. Meyer shot 71-67-69 in the first three rounds to advance to the individual championship, while his team reached the semifinals before being bounced by eventual champion Oklahoma. On the final day, though, Meyer had little energy left, shooting a 77 to tie for sixth.
Still, it was an impressive result given what had happened to him a month earlier – not that anyone who knew him was truly surprised.
When Guthrie first began recruiting Meyer, he wasn’t focused solely on his swing or his winning results – although those were certainly impressive. (“I remember him hitting shots other juniors just don’t have – 40-yard bunker shots, 30-yard bunker shots,” Guthrie said.) What he really wanted to get a feel for was the intangibles, to see just how tough of a competitor Meyer could become.
Those are the only kind of players who succeed at Illinois.
“Mike Small, he is all about tough competitors and he wanted to coach guys who wanted to be coached tough,” Guthrie said. “With Dylan, right away you could tell he’s gritty and ready to beat everybody. … A lot of people talk about that he’s 5-10 and only 140 pounds. But so much of what’s inside is what really matters with him. He’s proven that completely.”
Meyer certainly marches to the beat of his own drum – in fact, his love of music led to a former college job as a DJ in under-21 clubs, as well as his Twitter handle (@DJ_DFunk). His glasses have brought comparisons not only to Clark Kent, but Tom Kite and even a couple of musicians, Buddy Holly and Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo. He once wore a mohawk.
He can be the life of the party, but those glasses can just as easily reflect a serious side – and things got real serious a year ago.
“He’s not your normal kid,” Small laughed when asked to describe Meyer. “What you see and what you project is different. You can’t really stereotype him.
“I think he has the ability to have a long and strong career. Certainly he’ll have to establish a work ethic, a plan and a routine as a pro. If he does that, he’s going to be a good one.”
The early signs are promising. After finishing his college career tied for fourth at the NCAA Championships, Meyer’s first round as a pro golfer was a 77 at Shinnecock Hills. He followed that with rounds of 69-71-74 to tie for 20th. Playing in sponsor’s exemptions, he missed the cut in his next start at the Travelers Championship but bounced back with a T-17 at last week’s Quicken Loans National.
He’ll try to build on that at TPC Deere Run, where he missed the cut last year as an amateur. Having grown up just six hours away in Evansville, Meyer is determined to give his friends and fans a better showing at this week’s John Deere Classic – especially on Friday, which is Illinois day.
It’s all a building process, of course. He hopes to make the most of his sponsor’s exemptions in hopes of acquiring status on one of the tours. He wants to improve his consistency, and he’s learning how to manage his way around courses.
Plus, he also needs to manage his health. It’s been a year and he’s feeling good. But the IV drips and the bland diet are part of his life now. Reality checks, if you will.
“I’m not going to let anything hold me down,” Meyer said. “There’s no reason to sit there and moan and groan about something that’s out of your control. … I’m very excited, getting to play for money and getting to do what you love to do as your job is awesome. Not many people can say they’ve done that or can do that.
“Getting the chance to do this and kind of showcase my abilities of what I’ve done in amateur golf and see how they translate here – well, there are certainly things I really need to work on to be the best of the best.
“But I’ve got time.”