North Xtra: Butler golf pro is back in the swing

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Rob McClellan was tired of shuttling his high school sweetheart in and out of the hospital, entering with hope and exiting with confusion and anxiety.

It was draining to see every test turn up negative while having every doctor be at a loss over why his wife, Kim, had lost the ability to eat. No matter what the issue was, it would have been better to have just known.

Kim had lost 20 pounds, had her gallbladder removed and couldn't drive a car, yet nobody knew why she couldn't digest food. It didn't make sense.

Summer is the busiest time of year for Rob, 32, a golf professional at Butler Country Club. Things get even more hectic with his two children, ages 4 and 7, out of school, but with Kim, everything seemed manageable. She would stay home with the kids while he was at the club, and the whole family would go with Rob to most of the Tri-State PGA Tournament events he was competing in.

They made it work.

McClellan had a successful season in 2012, where he won three major tournaments and was perhaps the hottest pro-am golfer in the area. That was before March of this year, when Kim began to have trouble digesting food after both the kids caught the flu. Without her at full strength and unsure of her future, hitting a ball with a stick didn't seem all that important.

They had started dating in high school, just two years after Rob started golfing. She was always there, through it all. Golf wasn't on his mind, and as he struggled through the first part of the 2013 season, it showed.

"I went through the toughest three months of my life with two little kids and my wife in the hospital," McClellan said. "When you have a stay-at-home wife and work as much as I do over the summer, I kind of rely on her to take care of the kids. It's tough when you have a 4 year old and a 7 year old always asking where mommy is."

One of the family's favorite summer trips was to Nemacolin. Rob would play in the tournament while the family relaxed at the resort. It's his favorite part of the summer, but this year, he had to go alone.

"I was up there for three days by myself," he said. "It was kind of depressing, because everyone else was up there with their families and I'm just up there playing golf. It's like, 'This isn't really that important.'"

About a week before McClellan entered a one-day Tri-State event in Wheeling around late June, the family finally got some good news. The doctors finally knew what Amy had, even though they couldn't pinpoint exactly why it happened.

The rare disease is called post-viral gastroparesis, which basically paralyzes parts or all of the stomach and makes digestion nearly impossible. The weird part was that the disease usually strikes people who are diabetic. Kim isn't diabetic.

"The unknown was the scary thing," Rob said. "We had no clue what was going on. They finally figured it out ... it's a really, really rare disorder, what they diagnosed her with."

Once they figured out the problem, Kim's health began improving rapidly. She's out of the hospital and off a feeding tube, and has gained a couple pounds by sticking to a strict diet of bland foods.

And as Amy's health improved, so did Rob's golf game. He won the one-day tournament in Wheeling, and then blew away the rest of the field at the Tri-State PGA Pro Championship at Oakmont. His final-round score of 69 was the only registered tournament score below 70 on a course that routinely sees professional PGA players shoot in the high 70s.

Amy isn't back at 100 percent yet. Rob estimates she's at "about 80," so she won't be able to make it out to Philadelphia this week, when he's competing in the Pennsylvania State Open.

Before Oakmont, McClellan had been struggling with his driving. After his Aug. 5 round, he switched drivers in mid-tournament -- almost unheard of in golf circles. He's excited to be out on the course again for the first time in more than three months. It's not just he isn't worrying anymore -- it's also that golf just doesn't mean as much as it used to.

"A burden has been lifted," he said. "My mindset has been a little bit different. It kind of puts things in perspective a bit. Golf wasn't the most important thing over the last three months of my life. ... As long as I've been playing golf seriously, she's been there, through it all."


Everett Cook: and Twitter @everettcook


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