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Healing hands come up trumps on PGA Tour

U.S. golfer Tiger Woods holds the trophy after winning the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, California January 28, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Bl
U.S. golfer Tiger Woods holds the trophy after winning the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, California January 28, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Bl

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Twice Masters champion Bernhard Langer has visited them on a regular basis, as have fellow former world number ones Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh.

Without their help, players such as American journeyman Kris Blanks and Australian left-hander Greg Chalmers would have been forced to pull out of several tournaments in which they ended up faring well.

The people in question are the five physical therapists and four athletic trainers who ply their trade on a daily basis on the PGA Tour and its senior equivalent, the Champions Tour.

"Almost everybody on tour walks through our door at some point during the season," PGA Tour physical therapist Jeff Hendra told Reuters. "I always tell people we have three groups of golfers on tour.

"Our regulars come in every day regardless. Whether they have an injury, an ache or pain or if they are as healthy as they can be, they are in. And they are the guys that I love because they stay on top of things.

"They do what we call pre-hab. They do the work before they get injured. So when they do get injured, we know them very well, we know their bodies. We know how they move, where their restrictions are."

Hendra said the second group of players visited the state-of-the-art clinical trailer, which has become a permanent fixture at every PGA Tour event, only when they were injured while a handful very rarely made an appearance.

Without the help of Hendra and his co-workers, scores of players would almost certainly have been forced to withdraw from events because of back trouble, shoulder injuries, hand and knee problems or various other ailments over the past decade.

In many of these cases, however, physiotherapy treatment throughout the week of the tournament has come up trumps.

"Five or six years ago at the Players Championship, Bernhard Langer was struggling with some back pain and we treated him all week," Hendra recalled of Germany's former world number one.

"He came in on the Tuesday of that week saying, 'I don't know if I can play. I think I may have to withdraw.' But we treated him and he got progressively and significantly better as the week went along.

"In fact, Bernhard put himself in contention on the Sunday but then trailed off toward the end of the day."

Tour veteran Langer, who developed back problems at the age of 19 during an 18-month stint as a member of the German Air Force, tied for 15th at that Players Championship in 2008 despite closing with a 77.

SIX-MONTH ABSENCE

Burly American Blanks, twice a runner-up on the PGA Tour without yet claiming a maiden title, played his first event on the U.S. circuit in more than six months at last week's Phoenix Open after battling a left shoulder injury.

"Kris had been out for a significant amount of time and was toying with the idea of surgery but we got him playing in Phoenix," Hendra said. "I think the last time I saw him was at the Canadian Open in July.

"At Q-school in December he was really struggling but my co-workers helped him along. He not only finished the six rounds, which is a grind, but played outstandingly and kept his card."

Blanks, who announced in August he would miss the rest of the season because of his shoulder problem, tied for fourth at the PGA Tour's qualifying tournament to regain his card for 2013.

Australian Chalmers, who in 2000 emulated Phil Mickelson, Mike Weir and Steve Flesch by becoming the fourth left-hander on the PGA Tour to win more than $1 million in a single season, is a regular visitor to the clinical and fitness trailers.

"I go in twice a day," said the 39-year-old. "I have some chronic issues, like most golfers. I've got one leg shorter than the other and all sorts of things that I need to get looked at.

"The staff work incredibly long hours ... and I love that you can go in there and get the same service week after week. You can get anything fixed from a blister to X-rays and MRIs referred onward from there.

"So you can get an awful lot done to help you stay in the game longer, and it's certainly done that for me."

Hendra is proud of his working environment in the PGA Tour's clinical trailer which includes three treatment tables, ultra-sound machines and electrical stimulation machines in an area of about 750 square feet.

"Any PT (physical therapist) clinic would be happy to have the equipment that we have," Hendra grinned. "But the main tool that all of us possess is ourselves, our hands. We are all manual therapists."

In a deal announced last week, eyewear retailer Visionworks now sponsors the player mobile health and fitness trailers on both the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour.

The golf swing is hardly the most natural thing for the human body to perform, and it will come as no surprise that the most common complaint among players is back-related.

"Whether they are professional or amateur players, easily half of what we see is lower back pain and it can come from a joint or it can come from muscle," said Hendra.

"The golf swing is extremely unnatural for the body to perform, especially when it's performed 400 or 500 times a day. With that repetition, it's all transferred to the lower back.

"So we try to hammer home the importance of prehab and staying on top of things but it's entirely up to the player. We can only lead the horse to the water, we can't force him to drink."

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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