Healing touch

senior players championship

Two physical therapists help keep players on the course

October 12, 2008|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

In life, every man reaches the point when the body simply refuses to do the mind's bidding. Maybe this happens in the form of a stiff knee, a sore back or a gimpy elbow, and maybe it is a gradual change, not dramatic, but it is inevitable for each of us.

On the Champions Tour, two men try to beat back Father Time every day. You probably don't know their names, but Paul Schueren and Doug Miller might be two of the most important people at Baltimore Country Club this week.

They're the physical therapists tasked with helping the Champions Tour players - all of them 50 years old and up - work through the daily aches and pains that are a constant part of an aging athlete's life. The Champions Tour is the only successful professional sports league that gives athletes a chance to compete into their 50s and even 60s, and so there is an added emphasis on keeping the body from breaking down.

That's why more than half the players on tour make the daily trek to the fitness trailer, where Schueren and Miller help the golfers stretch, repair soft-tissue injuries, guide their workouts and, in some sense, turn back time.

"I wouldn't even be out here if it wasn't for those guys," said Fred Funk, who at age 52 has fought through knee pain the entire season and struggled yesterday with a 72. "I usually spend a lot of time in the workout trailer, but now I'm in the rehab mode. I have them work on my back because I've been favoring my knee so much. They help me a lot."

Times have changed in the 25 years that Schueren has been working as a physical therapist on both the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour. In the 1980s, when he started, there was only one trailer and he had to drive it from tournament to tournament. Often, he would call ahead and ask whether any players wanted a physical therapist on site. Plenty of the time, no one did.

"Twenty-two years ago, a guy would peek in the door, look around, then leave," Schueren said. "They didn't cross the threshold very often. Now, a tournament becomes very unhappy if we're not there, players and everybody. We're definitely a fixture."

The two trailers have professional drivers now, and Schueren and Miller fly more often than not. These days, it's not unusual to see eight or nine players in line in the morning, waiting for treatment or a turn on the treadmill. Bruce Vaughn, Larry Mize, Bernhard Langer, Denis Watson and Scott Simpson are just a few of the players who make it a priority, almost on par with hitting on the range.

"Just like in any other sport, there are gym rats who see it as relaxing and blowing off steam," Miller said. "And there are other people for whom it's misery to do the simple little things."

"Some guys only want to put in 15 minutes, because that's their attention span," Schueren said. "Some guys will work out for an hour. But that 15 minutes can be very beneficial if it's consistent."

It's a given that players on the Champions Tour are always tinkering with their swings, trying new equipment and searching for a tip that will boost their game. And in some respects, it's no different when it comes to sports medicine. Everyone is looking for an edge. A few years ago, magnetic bracelets were all the rage, with late-night infomercials trumpeting the healing power of magnets.

Now, it's electrotherapy, and devices that try to increase the blood flow to muscles and joints. Both R.W. Eaks and Bruce Fleischer were singing the praises of those devices last week.

"Things, like pieces of equipment, come to us all the time," Schueren said. "I've never come across anything that would make you worse. If it's something that's going to make you commit to exercise and I don't think it's going to hurt you, then it's OK. I don't think there is a single thing though that is going to be heads and shoulders above everything else. There's no magic bullet."

For the most part, pre-round stretching and avoiding overuse are the biggest keys. D.A. Weibring, who shot 66 yesterday and is one shot behind leader Nick Price, wears a brace on one of his wrists and tape on the other, in part because he still has torn ligaments from a high school basketball injury. But he also goes to the trailer to get his back stretched out most mornings.

"We all have our aches and pains," Weibring said. "I think it's just an issue of being 55."

"Some golfers are very stiff and tight," Miller said. "Others are unstable as far as their joints are concerned. It's very individualized. What's more important than anything is the consistency of the program."

There is a lot of satisfaction, however, in helping a player feel like his old self again and then watching him shoot a low score.

"I think they're very appreciative of what we do," Miller said.

As he was darting off to do laundry, Schueren laughed when he heard that he and Miller are sometimes referred to the unsung heroes of the Champions Tour.

"Oh, we sing," he said. "Trust me."

Today: Final round (first tee 8:30 a.m.)

Where: Baltimore Country Club at Five Farms

(East Course), Timonium

Inside: Price leads by 1. PG 15

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