Pain just part of the process for the Champions Tour elite

June 29, 2012
Larry Dorman, PGATOUR.COM

PITTSBURGH, Pa. -- At one time or another this week, almost every one of the 81 golfers in the field at the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship will have visited one of two fitness trailers parked about 50 yards from the clubhouse at the Fox Chapel Golf Club.

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What draws them to the specially outfitted Allegheny Sports Medicine trailers that are fixtures at both Champions Tour and PGA TOUR events? Pain. It is something the vast majority of Champions Tour players -- and maybe half the PGA TOUR players over the age of 35 -- never leave home without. For the over-50 set on the Champions Tour, it is a constant companion, like a golf glove or a large bottle of ibuprofen.

"We are all hurting out here," said Bill Glasson, 52, who was tied for fourth place with Mark Calcavecchia after the second round of the season's third major. "If we were horses, they'd have shot us by now."

Just a little bit of gallows humor there from Glasson, a seven-time PGA TOUR winner who has undergone 25 surgeries for a laundry list of injuries during his career.

But the truth is that some sort or ache, pain, strain or sprain stalks players all across the Champions Tour. There is proof right at the top of the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship leaderboard. Each of the top seven players has experienced physical discomfort from the long-term effects of swinging a golf club for a living.

Fred Couples, 52, the tournament's halfway leader at 11-under 129 after shooting a 7-under 63 on Friday, has chronic pain in his lower back. Experts say that is one of three most commonly injured areas of an elite golfer's body, and it is one Couples has fought off and on for almost his entire playing career.

Joe Daley, who trails Couples by one at 10-under after shooting 64, spent almost two years rehabbing from four herniated disks that surfaced in 2003 during a trip to a tournament in Kuala Lumpur.

Tom Lehman, last year's Player of the Year, was limping on his arthritic right knee during both the first and second rounds, but his 67 on Friday left him at 7 under and in solo third place. Like most of the players on the Champions Tour, he declined to use the injury for any kind of excuse, even though he was lying on his back getting electro-stimulation on the knee in the trailer at the time.

"Nothing," he said, waving his hand dismissively. "It'll be fine."

The scar circling the front Glasson's neck was from his last surgery, performed more than three years ago, in which surgeons performed a fusion at three levels of his cervical spine. Not visible were the scars on his lower back from the fusion done around the same time. That surgery had to be redone when doctors discovered the hardware from the fusion was irritating some nerve roots in Glasson's spine.


When someone pointed out to Glasson that he was in pretty good spirits for a guy who was flat on his back for almost two years, he flashed a toothy smile and said, "I'm not dead. I hurt a little bit, but I'm not dead yet."

Calcavecchia, who shot 65 on Friday, used to joke about needing "a bowl of Advil" for his ailments when he was on the PGA TOUR. On the Champions Tour, he is still laughing through the pain.

"I've been wearing a wrist brace," he said earlier this week. "My wrist hurts, my fingers are hurt. I wake up in the morning and I can't hardly squeeze my fingers."

He held up his right hand, pointed at his middle finger and said, "I had four shots of cortisone in this finger. Now this finger (points to the ring finger) starts to act up. If my hand's gone, I'm completely screwed."

The hand is still there, and so is the short game touch that has always been an integral part of Calcavecchia's success. Modern medicine is an amazing thing, as evidenced all around the grounds this week at Fox Chapel. After the first round, Bruce Vaughan, the tournament leader, and Fred Funk, who was in second place one stroke back, had more in common than their spectacular golf.

Both men have had knee replacements, not among the most common of the fixes performed on Champions Tour golfers or among the injuries helped by the array of physical therapists, personal trainers, chiropractors and nutritional consultants available to players through the PGA TOUR's partnership with Allegheny Sports Medicine.

"Among the incidence of injuries we track, low back is No. 1," said Dr. Thomas Hospel, a PGA TOUR consultant and the owner and CEO of Physiofitness Associates, which staffs the fitness trailers. "Cervical is No. 2 and thoracic is No. 3 within the spinal area."

Shoulder and knee injuries are No. 4 and No. 5, added Hospel, whose company has been tracking PGA TOUR and Champions Tour injuries for the last four years. He also said that, not unexpectedly, there is greater incidence of hip injuries on the Champions Tour. The best preventative against all these injuries is for golfers to increase their core strength and their flexibility.

Getting a consensus among the large group of independent contractors like the Champions Tour players is almost impossible. But the turnout this week and every other week at the fitness trailers is proof that they're just about all-in when it comes to fitness.