A year ago, Matthew Doyle was in absolute agony. The femoral bone in his hip had deteriorated. It was bone against bone, and the pain was excruciating.
Doyle, 13, of Madison, Connecticut, suffers from Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease, a rare degenerative bone condition in which the blood supply to the femoral head is cut off, causing it to die and regenerate. Eventually, Doyle will need hip replacement surgery. Problem is that he is in his growing years, so reconstruction of his hip is bound to happen first.
During regeneration, Doyle’s bone didn’t grow back properly. Instead, it shaped like a mushroom, resulting in side effects that range from difficulty walking to unbearable pain.
Wanting to compete in sports, Doyle was permitted by his doctor to play golf, with the use of a golf cart to get from shot to shot. Doyle is competing for Team Connecticut through Monday in the PGA Junior League Golf National Championship presented by National Car Rental at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. He made the All-Star Team after joining a local team captained by now PGA Vice President Suzy Whaley.
FULL COVERAGE: PGA Junior League National Championship | Photos
Golf is the only sport I can play with my hip,” says Doyle. “Sunny days, warm days, there’s nothing that can beat it.”
“We as a team consider him as one of our golfers and don’t look at anything as a physical limitation to what he can do,” said Whaley. “He inspires us because we know he is playing in some pain and that he doesn’t have the opportunity to make the hardest swing he wants to because of that.”
Despite shooting 4-under par for their nine holes of scramble team play, Matthew and playing partner Michael Hanratty lost their opening match to Illinois’ top team Saturday.
“We played really well,” said Doyle. “We played our hearts out.”
Then, Doyle and his Sunday morning teammates, Mia Hidalgo and Cullen Laberge, stormed from behind to tie their match, rallying with three birdies. Doyle closed Sunday with a vengeance, sinking an eagle putt on the final hole against Team California.
It’s a far cry from countless hospital and doctor visits to children’s hospitals in Hartford, Boston, Philadelphia and New York City. To put it lightly, Matthew is an inspiration to kids and parents alike.
“I’m extremely excited to be part of this 10-player team and one of eight teams here from across the U.S.,” he said. “Earlier in life, I didn’t think I could do this, but I did it.”
Doyle was diagnosed with Legg-Calve-Perthes at age 3. Over the past 10 years, he lost 100 percent of his femoral head. It’s grown back but not the way it should.
“Any layperson could look at his hip on a X-ray and say, ‘That’s not right,’” said his mother Jenny Doyle. “He’s a walking miracle to me.”
Whaley explained to Doyle’s parents that one of her daughters had issues with her hip.
“She had me at hello,” said Matthew’s dad, Mike Doyle, smiling.
“Suzy and her husband Bill (Whaley, PGA) were amazing with him,” added Jenny. “They gave Matthew pointers for what to do when he is in pain.”
The pain can come out of nowhere, both off the course and on.
“He has two swings, one his normal swing and one his pain swing,” explains Mike Doyle. “When he is in pain, he just hits a fade.”
Matthew estimates he uses his “non-pain” swing 70 percent of the time and his “pain swing” the other 30 percent. Yet, like Erik Compton and his hero Casey Martin before him, Doyle dreams of overcoming the odds to play on golf’s biggest stage.
“I’d love to make the PGA Tour,” says Matthew. “The chances are small, but if I put my mind to it, anything can happen. If I am not a PGA Tour player, I want to be a PGA Professional. If not that, then I will design and own golf courses.”
To have a rare condition makes it confusing to explain to other kids. Sometimes, Matthew needs an early break, and other times, he is visibly limping.
“The kids ask, ‘Don’t you feel bad? You broke your leg.’ They don’t understand,” says Jenny Doyle. “It’s in the silent disease category.”
Doyle also laments that there is not one definitive way to solve the Legg-Calve-Perthes mystery. Two children with similar symptoms and treatments can have opposite outcomes.
The Doyles say that their story is inspiring others to take up the game of golf. She regularly posts on Legg-Calve-Perthes social media support groups stories of how golf gives Matthew an outlet to pursue his dream they didn’t believe was possible.
“Other parents are telling us we’re inspiring them to get their kids to try golf,” explains Jenny Doyle.
To learn more about Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease, visit The National Osteonecrosis Foundation at nonf.org/perthesbrochure/perthes-brochure.htm.
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