Where over-50 golfers go to work out the kinks

Two Player Performance Center trucks are present at every PGA Tour Champions event to help over-50 golfers try to keep in top shape for the tour.
Two Player Performance Center trucks are present at every PGA Tour Champions event to help over-50 golfers try to keep in top shape for the tour.

If anyone who wants to try and stay perpetually young, or hold off the aging process as long as possible, it’s the golfers on the PGA Tour Champions.

They’re all 50 and older. Most have various physical ailments. Their sport puts a lot of torque on the body and over a lot of years.

Back, shoulders, knees, elbows, hands, hamstrings … once you get past 50, as most know, things begin to hurt and often in numbers.

Rocco Mediate has had a bad back since he was 28, when he said he was pulling his golf bag out of the car and, “Bang, disk went bye-bye.” Now 54, that’s 26 years of trying to stay loose and flexible enough, and relatively painfree enough, to play golf for a living.

Mediate, competing this week in the SAS Championship at Prestonwood Country Club, spent some time Thursday in a spot most tour players visit – the Player Performance Center. There are two trailers at each tour stop, both sponsored by Massage Envy, huge rigs that house the workout center and physical therapy center.

“These guys know us very well … unfortunately for them,” Mediate said, laughing. “They’re very, very good with what they do. It’s more of a fix-and-put-back-together thing.”

Paul Schueren, a physical therapist, has been with the PGA Tour Champions and PGA Tour for almost 30 years. Kent Biggerstaff, a conditioning coach, spent more than 30 years in Major League Baseball before joining the PGA Tour Champions 12 years ago.

On the PGA Tour Champions, some feel the biological clock ticking from the moment they join the tour. The race against time is on, the window to pile up as many vicrories or winnings as possible.

“The clock is definitely running and 15 years ago the clock ran from about 50 to 55,” Biggerstaff said. “After 55, you were still playing, but the real competitive edge wasn’t there. Now, we’re extending that competitive edge into the early 60s for many of these guys.”

Bernhard Langer, the tour’s leading money winner and Charles Schwab Cup leader, turned 60 in August. He’s also a regular at the fitness trailers.

“After 50, you naturally start to lose muscle,” Biggerstaff said. “Most people lose about one to one and a half percent of their muscle after 50. Those who become successful out here find ways to either make that loss zero or as little as possible with workouts.”

Pro golfers often walk six to eight miles a day, which meets the aerobic needs, he said. Most come to the trailer to work on core strength, balance and flexibility.

“Core strength is extremely valuable in maintaining distance and accuracy,” he said. “The balance comes into play because for all seniors, whether a golfer or not, falling is the biggest cause of injury to seniors in the country, and most of that is because of their balance. Their center of gravity gets off a little, and they’re not able to regain that balance, and golfers are the same.”

Biggerstaff said golfers are often one-sided – for example, one has a strong right side and weaker left side. His job, he said, is to make the difference between the two as small as possible for better balance.

Golfers do a lot of one-leg exercises, he said.

“The glutes stop firing for a lot of guys as they age, and other body parts help to compensate,” he said, noting one-legged exercises force the gluteus maximus muscle to fire.

Biggerstaff said he often opens the conditioning trailer at 5:45 a.m., and already has golfers lined up in carts. Tour pro Steve Flesch tweeted Thursday that it “looked like a drive-thru” and many are regulars.

“A lot of the ‘secret’ is consistency,” Schueren said.

Mediate won six times on the PGA Tour, famously finishing as the runnerup to Tiger Woods in a playoff in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. He has three PGA Tour Champions wins, including the 2016 Senior PGA Championship, a tour major.

“If you’re in reasonable shape you shouldn’t hurt more just because you’re older,” Mediate said. “And you shouldn’t get hurt easier.”

That’s why he’s often at the trailers.

“These guys keep us in one piece” he said.

Chip Alexander: 919-829-8945, @ice_chip

2017 SAS Championship

What: PGA Tour Champions event.

When: Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Where: Prestonwood Country Club, Cary.

Purse: $2.1 million

Defending champion: Doug Garwood

Who’s playing: The field includes Charles Schwab Cup leader Bernhard Langer, John Daly, Vijay Singh and Nick Faldo.

Tickets: $20 daily grounds passes.