By: Mary Milewski
For Scott Verplank, staying on top of his diabetes with frequent blood glucose testing means staying on top of his game for the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour.
When Scott Verplank tees off, he has more to consider than the other golfers he’s up against on the course. From 32 years of having diabetes, Verplank has learned that he must test his blood glucose often because of its impact on how he feels—and his success on the course.
His strategy of testing frequently is working. Verplank recently represented the United States in the 2005 President’s Cup, alongside Tiger Woods and 10 others.
“I’m a nut about testing because I have to know what my blood glucose level is to perform my duties as a professional golfer and to give myself my best chance to perform well,” says Verplank, who uses a OneTouch Ultra glucometer for its speed and accuracy. “I test 10 times a day—every hour on the course. I’ve got to know what’s going on.”
Good BGs Are Worth a Million
There’s a lot riding on every one of Verplank’s golf games—another reason that his testing regimen is so important. Verplank’s game brought him more than $2 million in tournament winnings, which ranked him 19th on the 2005 PGA Tour Money List at press time.
Stress, tension and all the emotions he feels during a tournament—and even on normal practice days—all have an effect on blood glucose.
“I can’t always control when there’s going to be extra stress or adrenaline,” Verplank says. “Testing is my best remedy to stay on top of my control, and then I adjust my insulin and food to [my results] while I’m out on the golf course.”
Diagnosis and a Coma at Age 9
When Verplank was diagnosed, standard diabetes care left little room for flexibility. He attributes this to the lack of technology available for fast and accurate tests.
Verplank recalls feeling very sick and missing school for about a week. His mother thought it was the flu. Even after a visit to the pediatrician, it was a friend of the family who suggested that his condition might not be the flu.
“So Mom took me back to the doctor,” Verplank says. “I remember walking in. He looked at me and told my mom to take me to the emergency room. I remember sitting there in the back seat. My chest was pounding, my heartbeat must have been at maximum for a 9-year-old. I had terrible chest pains. That’s the last thing I remember. I was in a coma for a long time.”
When he woke from the coma days later, Verplank was told he had diabetes.
“I was a little guy sitting there, and they told me I couldn’t have ice cream anymore,” he says. “That was 32 years ago. It’s amazing which things stay in your mind.”
Back then, he says, the available information and technology were poor compared to today. He was started on pork-based insulin and told he couldn’t eat candy.
“The instructions were, We’re going to teach your mom and dad how to give a shot to an orange,’ ” he says. “And that’s all it was.”
The Tournament Challenge
Now, with the help of technological advances, Verplank is able to stay on top of his testing to be sure his diabetes stays in control for his game.
“I check 10 minutes before tee time, targeting about 150 before going out to play,” Verplank says. “I’ve been playing professional golf almost 20 years, but I still have an adrenaline rush on the first hole, so I always have to take a little insulin at the second hole.”
Once every so often, his blood glucose does the opposite, so he still must test on the second hole.
“Adrenaline and stress can change my blood glucose quite a bit,” he says. “I get on less of a rollercoaster after the round is underway. I continue to check and adjust to stay steady throughout the day.”
Amazingly, he says, at the President’s Cup tournament in Washington, his blood glucose number went down before the second hole. “Unfortunately, it affected me for a couple of holes.”
Verplank can’t take time out during a tournament for some apple juice or a sports drink. “I can drink it, but I can’t stop and sit down for 10 minutes,” he says. All snacking and testing is done as he walks down the fairway. “I don’t stop the game for anybody. I may not feel good for a couple of holes, but the game goes on.”
The Final Score
Verplank says he’s been fortunate. “My eyes are good and my overall health seems to be pretty good. I don’t have a lot of signs of any kinds of complications—just normal signs of being 41,” says Verplank, whose A1C is usually 6.7% or 6.8%.
“I thank the technology, testing supplies, pump and improved procedures for helping me stay stable versus going downhill.”
His Message to Others
Each individual has to be aware of his or her own diabetes and take charge of it, Verplank advises. “People with diabetes should get advice from doctors and experts, but ultimately, you have to apply it to yourself and make your own decisions based on what’s important to you and what you’d like to accomplish. Everyone’s goals are different— just like their dreams and aspirations are different.”
Verplank often meets children, parents and grandparents who were recently diagnosed with diabetes. His message to them is to have patience.
“I try to tell them to take care of themselves, and then they can do whatever they want,” he says. “I’ve been lucky that even with diabetes, I’ve been able to pursue a childhood dream and get to live it. Hopefully, one day they’ll find a cure; but in the meantime, you can live with diabetes and you can control your own life and your own destiny. You don’t have to let diabetes control you—you have a better chance to be in charge of it.”
Verplank uses a Medtronic MiniMed Paradigm insulin pump with NovoLog insulin. His pump is programmed to deliver a .5 unit basal for 12 hours during the day and a .6 unit basal from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
“I bolus according to what I’m going to eat and my number prior to eating,” he says. “On a normal day I take about 32 to 34 units. On tournament days, I’m more in the mid- to high 20s. I’ve been lucky to be able to keep it down. Since I switched to Novolog, I’ve been able to take less insulin. I’ve gone down about 3 or 4 units a day, which is fairly significant over the long haul. It just works very efficiently in my body.”
Balancing Meals on the Road
Maintaining a balanced diet is a great challenge for Verplank while he travels with the PGA Tour.
“Balancing my diet on the road, in different cities and different restaurants and on different time schedules each day, is definitely the hardest part,” Verplank says. “But I try to eat a balanced meal whenever I can.”
Verplank tries to eat a good breakfast on tournament days and snacks as necessary while he plays.
“One reason I test a lot is because I may tee off at 8 a.m. one day and at 1:30 p.m. the next day. So it’s hard to be on exactly the same insulin regimen every day when I’m doing completely different things,” he says. “Fortunately, I’ve been doing it so long that I know the ups and downs.”
Non-tournament days feature workouts every morning, preceded by a higher-carbohydrate breakfast. He then eats a lunch with more protein and fewer carbohydrates and a normal dinner. “
I don’t snack really, except on the golf course,” he says. “I enjoy a nice meal before I go out and start the day. When I’m out on the course, I often eat a sandwich halfway through the day.”
Verplank says he has enjoyed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches since he was a little kid. “I’m pretty well versed in how it affects my blood sugar. I haven’t given up a little grape jelly here and there,” he says. “I have a granola bar or a protein bar later in the round.”
Some days he just has to try his best at balancing his medication, carbohydrate intake and exercise.
“I’m human,” he says. “Overall, I have great control over it. But every day is a new day. If you have more good days than neutral or bad days, that’s doing pretty good.”
Scott Verplank—Fast Facts
|Birth date:||July 9, 1964|
|Family life:||Husband, father of four|
|College:||Oklahoma State University|
|Awards and Honors|
|1986||Champion, NCAA Individual Title|
|1985||Golf World Player of the Year|
|Sponsored by Novo Nordisk, Brooks Brothers and TaylorMade|
|On the Course|
|2005||Placed #16 on the 2005 PGA Tour Money List|
|2005||Member of the 2005 United States President’s Cup Team|
|2005||Placed second at the U.S. Bank Championship and The Players Championship|
|2004||Finished second at the Ford Championship at Doral; followed up with a T3 at Bay Hill|
|2002||Ryder Cup Team Member|
|2001||Tenth on the PGA Tour Money List|
|2001||Winner Bell Canadian Open|
|2001||Eight top 10 and 16 top 25 finishes to include T5 Tour Championship and T7 PGA Championship|
|2000||Winner RenoTahoe Open|
|1998||PGA Tour Comeback Player of the Year|
|1998||Winner World Cup of Golf—Individual Title|
|1998||Ten top 10 finishes, 18th on the PGA Tour Money List|
|1988||Winner Buick Open|
|1985||Winner of the Western Open as an Amateur|