Golf is so ingrained in his DNA, even nearly dying won’t keep CJ Lee from competing in the 119th Utah State Amateur, the world’s oldest continuously played golf event and one of the most grueling tests of the game anywhere.
You see, Lee, winner of the Salt Lake City Amateur, the low amateur at the Provo Open and BYU’s low scorer at the NCAA regional at Stanford, could use another liter of blood. He’s fighting back from a strange, life-threatening intestinal malady that put him in the ICU of an Arizona hospital three weeks ago. He should be resting, sitting in the shade, sipping lemonade, watching the Golf Channel and eating steaks to hike up the iron content in his body’s chemistry.
Instead, Lee will tee off Monday just after 2 p.m. at Hubbard Golf Course at Hill Air Force Base, part of an army of golfers who will descend there and at the Ogden Golf and Country Club this week. Lee is one of a dozen favorites to dethrone his teammate, reigning champion Patrick Fishburn, whose defense takes place on his home course.
CJ, put the clubs down, take a break.
He can’t. He’d get the twitches, go through withdrawals, start to feign putting with a broom.
“I just worry about the heat because it’s so hot out there,” said Lee. “I need to keep myself hydrated, and that’s hard because I rarely think about drinking water when I’m on the course.”
Back on June 19, Lee was playing in Arizona at the Southwest Amateur at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale. He was in the top 10 but the night before his Friday round, he became nauseated in the middle of the night. He threw up. The host he was staying with heard him, checked on him and told him he looked like death warmed over, his face the color of a scorecard. She wanted to call the tournament director and have him pull out.
Lee decided to play. It was all he could do to get out of his cart and make a swing. His vision was impaired, he had a tough time putting. He had a medic follow him and so did the tournament director. He had caddies help him up hills and drive carts. All his energy was used in just taking shots. He gulped down 10 bottles of water. Lee shot 69-72 at the Southwest. When he finished his final 18, Lee was in bad shape. He vomited blood and the host took him to the emergency room where he was immediately taken to ICU in critical condition.
“The doctors told me my blood pressure was low and my blood count and heart rate were high. They told me I could not fly home and I needed to see a gastroenterologist. I did and he said I needed a procedure to look into my stomach to see if I had a bleeding ulcer or what.”
Lee ended up having the procedure, the first surgery of his life. Doctors discovered he had blood vessels in his lower intestine that had burst and were bleeding. He’d lost so much blood he was anemic and his life was in danger. His hemoglobin count was at a six when normal is about 14 to 15. “I’d lost about 60 percent of my blood. With IV’s for hydration and blood transfusions, he began to bounce back. The dizziness and light-headedness subsided. He was in the hospital for two nights and three days.
“It was horrible, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t get any sleep because I was so uncomfortable and every two to three hours they’d come in and take blood samples. For me, I’m not a fan of needles and for them to come in and prick me with a needle, I wasn’t very happy.”
On Monday afternoon, Lee was released and he went home to hydrate and recover. He still doesn’t know what caused it all.
That lasted two days.
By Wednesday, Lee got on a plane and flew to Georgia for the Dogwood Invitational Golf Tournament. There, his teammate Zach Pritchard and his parents helped take care of him.
See, he’s addicted. “I know it was dumb,” he said. He predictably struggled in Georgia, shooting around 73s. “It was humid and hilly and I didn’t do well.
“I’m limited as to what I can do. The heat gets to me. I have to be careful, keep hydrated. If I make it to match play in the state am, I’ll then have to walk and I don’t know how that will go. I have made strides and I have improved. I’ll need to pace myself the whole way. I’m just happy to be healthy and standing up again.”
So now comes the hallowed Utah State Amateur this week.
CJ is taking iron supplements and eating a ton of meat. He’ll be ready.
He tees off at 2:15 at Hill Air Force Base, the hottest part of the day.
“My family’s worried and so am I to tell you the truth. But this is the big dog tournament of the year, and my goal is to meet Big Fish in the finals.”
Good luck, Mr. Lee.
Find the shade and ignore those F-15s taking off close to 14 and 15.