To protect against those bloodsucking pests, Walker wore long socks and an invisible armor of bug repellent. On the eve of his first round, he was standing on the trampled grasses behind the 18th green talking about the pleasure of playing an entire round without feeling poorly.
At one point, his wife, Erin, who had been listening at his side, reached up and anxiously flicked a particle off his neck. It turned out to be a piece of dirt, not a tick. “The long grasses here have me paranoid,” Erin Walker said.
Jim Furyk, the 2003 champion, said the tick menace made him feel itchy. By Wednesday, he had flicked two ticks off his body, he said, worried because he has seen the damage they can cause. His agent, he explained, contracted Lyme disease while following Furyk at the 2004 United States Open at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, N.Y.
Despite a prompt diagnosis, which is essential for the most successful treatment, “he was sick for the better part of a year,” Furyk said, adding, “It’s nasty.”
Dr. John Oertle, a Lyme disease specialist at Envita Medical Center in Scottsdale, Ariz., said diagnosing and treating the disease was a challenge because it progresses in stages, produces symptoms that mimic other disorders and can affect many parts of the body, including the heart, liver, brain and central nervous system.
“It becomes this downward spiral,” Oertle said in a telephone interview, adding, “It can become almost a deterioration of the body from the inside out.”
Oertle daily sees patients whose high-octane lifestyles have sputtered to a halt because of changes in their body that they did not understand and tried to push through, only to see their symptoms worsen.
“They’re suffering, but they don’t know what’s happening,” he said. “They feel like it’s all in their heads and they’re going crazy.”
Private by nature, Walker is willing to open up about what he went through in the hope of easing the suffering of others with Lyme disease. His ordeal came on the heels of a highlight reel of a summer in which he won his first major title and represented the United States in his second Ryder Cup.
In the fall, Walker accompanied a friend on a hunting trip. Shortly after his return, Walker developed flulike symptoms that lingered well into the winter. He underwent numerous checkups and tested positive for mononucleosis, but his malaise resisted the prescribed treatments.
Walker felt like a smartphone stuck at a 5 percent charge. He could not renew his energy stores. No amount of rest or anti-inflammatory drugs provided relief.