When Crohn's disease hits, it hits hard.
Matt Stasiak has learned that the hard way in his five years of living with the disease, a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract.
Translation: your intestines swell, bringing along with it symptoms like a loss of appetite, fever, weight loss and fatigue.
"It kind of just wipes me out when I get hit with it," said the 23-year-old Stasiak, who despite the disease is one of the area's most accomplished amateur golfers.
Forget pounding balls on the range when a flare-up occurs. Just having the energy to get through a day is a challenge.
"In my case, my iron goes way down and all I want to do is sleep," Stasiak said. "It's hard to work on my game."
Stasiak's latest bout with the disease came in March. He lost 20 pounds and had to go to the hospital for an iron transfusion.
"It's pretty amazing how much better it made me feel after that," Stasiak said Tuesday during a break from his job at Brookfield Country Club.
As his health has improved — he's gained back about 10 of the pounds he had lost — so has his game.
Last week, Stasiak shot a 2-under round of 68 on the final day of the Monroe Invitational Championship, a premier amateur tournament outside of Rochester. He finished in a tie for 46th in the championship.
"I think I hit 15 greens [in the final round] and started hitting the ball like I've been all summer," Stasiak said. "That's a confidence booster."
Stasiak's focus this summer is on the Porter Cup. He's in the field for the third straight year thanks to his second-place finish in last year's Buffalo District Golf Association points standings (first-place finisher Jake Katz has turned professional, so that spot went to Stasiak).
"The last two years I've just done mediocre, but I feel like I've got the experience in my third year that I can compete," he said.
Stasiak hits the ball an eye-popping distance for a player who stands about 6-feet, but weighs just 150 pounds. During last year's BDGA Match Play final, he was keeping up with Katz — who's got 5 inches and 50 pounds on him — off the tee.
Stasiak credits that to a sweet swing he's built with local instructor Gary Battistoni, whom he's been working with the past 13 years.
"I've got a swing that — I'm not a big guy, but I get everything I can out of it," he said. "Distance isn't a problem for me. It always comes down to chipping and putting."
Stasiak first started feeling symptomatic, of all places, on a golf course. During a course-record round of 63 at Sheridan, he started to cramp. He was diagnosed with Crohn's in July 2007, just a month after winning his second Section VI individual title and placing third in the state tournament. He's also the last local golfer to win the prestigious International Junior Masters tournament at East Aurora Country Club, which he did in 2006.
"He had a scholarship to Miami (Ohio), and we said, ‘what do we do now? said David Stasiak, Matt's father. "Do we keep him out of college? We put the ball in his court, and he said he was going to fight through it. Leaving him there at college, as a parent, was really hard to do.
"In retrospect, it was more on his plate than we should have left him with."
Stasiak played in just one match as a sophomore at Miami, as he struggled in dealing with the disease.
Flare-ups would force him onto steroids to deal with the inflammation.
"A teenager tends to have that invisibility," David Stasiak said. "He'd be feeling good and neglect to take his meds. He had to learn why it was important to take that medicine. It got really, really tough."
Stasiak also had to learn that talent alone wasn't going to get him by.
"Before he was taking things for granted. He was able to get by on his ability. I don't think he's content any more," David Stasiak said. "He's playing hungry. His swing is as good as it's ever been."
Stasiak is on the anti-inflammatory Lialda, a pill he takes daily to help against outbreaks.
"I'm still learning how to deal with it," he said of his illness. "I've learned that stress definitely causes it to get worse. I do whatever I can to keep the stress levels down."
He's also matured on and off the golf course.
"Matt tends to be a little bit of a late bloomer," David Stasiak said. He's figuring it out. I'm seeing a lot of that this summer."
That included during a friendly round on Father's Day at Fox Valley, when the younger Stasiak reached all the par 5s in two.
"I'm just trying to keep up with him," David Stasiak said. "He's got to give me some strokes."
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* Speaking of the Porter Cup, the annual qualifying tournament will be held Monday at Niagara Falls Country Club.
The first 96 entrants will compete in stroke play for eight tournament spots.
* The Monroe was won by Thomas Pieters, the reigning NCAA individual champion from the University of Illinois. He shot 8-under 272 over four rounds. St. Francis graduate Billy Hanes finished in a tie for 52nd.
* Story suggestions and any other notes of interest are welcome at the email below.