Pow! Down goes Tiger Woods, out of the Kemper with a bad back.
Bam! There goes Ernie Els, a WD at Westchester. Meanwhile, in
Columbus, Ga., mild-mannered Tom Boers helps put golf's bad
backs back in business.
When Els, wincing with back spasms, withdrew from last week's
Buick Classic after nine holes, Davis Love III had three words
of advice: "Go see Tom." Els rode his private jet home to
Orlando last Thursday and on Friday flew to Columbus for a
session with Boers, who is fast becoming one of the most
important healers in sports. Neither an M.D. nor a chiropractor,
the Netherlands-born Boers, 45, is a physical therapist whose
work on Fred Couples's back helped Couples return to form after
years of spinal miseries. "I was at the Masters with Fred," says
Boers, "and I'll be at the Open, fine-tuning him, loosening him
up and restoring the functioning of his back." Boers works with
tennis's Steffi Graf and San Diego Padres pitcher Kevin Brown as
well as Love, Brad Faxon, Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman. "He
doesn't use ice, heat or machines," says Faxon. "He straightens
your joints with his hands."
Boers (left) tells Larry Mize and other pros not to
let back trouble sneak up on them.
(Michael A. Schwarz)
Boers believes that swinging a golf club can be hazardous to a
pro's career. If it is true, as he claims, that "each player has
a finite number of healthy swings left," many pros are risking
their livelihoods by pounding hundreds of balls at the range
every day. Air travel can make matters worse for those whose
backs tend to stiffen up. Els's schedule over the past month is
a case in point, with flights from South Africa to Dallas, then
to England, to Columbus, Ohio, to Orlando and to New York City.
He first felt twinges in his back during the European PGA in
May. The pain got worse at the Memorial, and he faked his way
around Westchester during last Wednesday's pro-am, hitting one
more club than usual and swinging more easily than ever, but
there was no faking it during Thursday's first round. "I was
hitting it 230 with a big slice, and it got worse as the round
went on," he said.
"He's really hurting," said Boers after treating Els last
Friday. "It may not be wise for him to play in the Open." On
Sunday, when Els told Boers he was feeling considerably better,
they settled on a plan: Els would drop by to pick up Boers on
Monday morning. They would fly together to San Francisco, where
the back man could treat both Couples and Els. All signs were
go, but the decision on whether Els would defend his Open title
could not be made until the therapist examined him on Wednesday.
With the world's top player joining his client list, the back
man is sure to have more pros than ever knocking on his door.
"It's not my goal to be the spinal guru of the PGA Tour," says
Boers, who works at Rehabilitation Services in Columbus. "I'm an
employee in a practice. I have regular patients. But I'm also a
golfer, and I'll admit it's a treat to work with Tour players."
Boers may soon need his own trailer at Tour stops. He can back
it up to the back nine, call it the Backmobile and be a hero to
millions, or at least to dozens of guys who make millions.
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Issue date: June 22, 1998