For golfers, medical care is key to healthy competition

Marc Wahl travels from state to state, and from tournament to tournament in his RV, making sure that some of the best golfers in the world are healthy enough to compete at the highest level.

The physical therapist from Cutchogue studies their swings using the latest technology, and uses preventative methods to help avoid injury. Sometimes, he said at the U.S. Open, he even tries to change the way they stand, all in an effort to make golfers stronger. Such is the high-stakes life of a golf medical professional, where even small adaptations can lead to big wins.

On Thursday, 156 golfers will vie for the U.S. Open title at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, and nearly every athlete in attendance has some version of the care that Wahl provides.

Wahl, 52, himself is taking care of five top-tier golfers, including last year’s winner, Brooks Koepka. And even those who don’t have the resources for a personal physical therapist or massage therapist or chiropractor, have the not-insignificant help of the Open itself, which provides 132 medical professionals as part of its wellness unit.

And though Wahl does travel about 30 weeks a year in his RV, this week at least, he gets to be home. He once had four physical therapy practices on the North Fork, he said, but those were sacrificed for this new practice of keeping athletes in top shape.

“I try to unknowingly get them to do five things at once,” he said, noting he tries to incorporate exercises into everyday activities, like how his golfers stand on the green while waiting for someone to tee off. Most golfers at this level, he said, are reluctant to change their very profitable swings, even if they are inefficient, so he works with them to help make them stronger, or to fix whatever physical issues may arise.

Golfers such as Koepka and Jimmy Walker have had major success under his care.

“The top 50 players in the world have healthcare people that follow them,” said Dr. Jeff Poplarski, an Amityville-based chiropractor who heads the U.S. Open’s wellness unit. This unit is independent from the work of medical professionals such as Wahl, who are hired by individual golfers.

“Tiger [Woods] has a chiropractor and [Jordan] Spieth has a chiropractor. We [the wellness unit] take care of golfers No. 51 to 156. Kids and some European players, they have nothing, and we get to help those.”

Poplarski’s unit includes chiropractors, massage therapists, physical therapists, hyperbaric specialists and more. Poplarski, who is heading the unit for the 14th year in a row, said in addition to golfers, his group treats caddies and volunteers.

For Wahl, who has doctorate and master’s degrees in physical therapy from Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, all this started with just a few tournaments in 2008. He turned full time in 2010.

He used to fly, stay in hotels and eat on the road until he realized the lifestyle wasn’t sustainable, or healthy. Four years ago, he got the RV, which is only 20 feet long, and he travels with his partner, Hanna Senesac. Neither the RV nor his home in Cutchogue has much furniture. He prefers squatting to sitting, so there’s no need for chairs.

“We do things a little differently,” he said.

And though unconventional, their way of life influences how he treats players. He likes things to have multiple functions, and thinks it’s important to fix issues at the root.

“To give somebody a calf stretch to do, they’re not going to be able to do enough of those to offset the type of shoe they’ve been wearing since infancy,” he said. “So we have to say, ‘OK, what can we have you do that could make a difference, because otherwise, it just is not going to do what we have to do.”

He tries to explain it further, but his cell phone rings. It’s Koepka, and Wahl has to run. For the man in charge of helping to keep the best at their best on one of golf’s biggest stages, there’s little time to idle.

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