The pros and cons of paying for a physical trainer on the PGA Tour

June 26, 2019
two young man, 20-29 years old, sports physiotherapy indoors in studio, photo shoot. Physiotherapist massaging muscular patient back with his elbow.

Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images

Most of the physical trainers out here are easy to spot: jacked dudes with no necks walking the range in shorts with calves like cantaloupes. You take one look and think, What could this guy possibly know about golf? But those guys can make a big difference. The most successful season I ever had on the PGA Tour, I paid a physio $60,000 to work with me at every event.

At just about $3,000 per week, what sort of service did I get? This guy worked on me twice a day, so with a couple of practice rounds, that could total 10 to 12 massages at one tournament. It's almost too much, as these sessions are not exactly enjoyable. Before a round, he made sure all my muscles were firing. This could mean chiropractic adjustments, targeted soft-tissue work, whatever it took. After each round, it was a full rubdown from head to toe. Now that I'm in my early 40s, my body doesn't recover from walking seven miles daily like it did when I was 25. Though it's possible to feel achy and shoot a low number, I like my chances better when I'm feeling good.

I'm an unorganized person. Always have been. So the other great benefit of a trainer for me is the routine. I know I need to arrive at the golf course exactly one hour and 45 minutes before my tee time because I have an appointment on that table. Then after my session, I'm going to walk onto the range exactly 55 minutes before my tee time with my chest stuck out, feeling like Superman. Compare that to my natural self, who's liable to get to the course late and rush a warm-up, or arrive too early and mill around not knowing what to do.

Then a few years ago, I really started chopping. I was missing cut after cut, and pretty soon the extra three grand a week got my attention. Along with my caddie, swing coach, flights, hotel, dinners, I was spending about $12,000 per event. Do I cut the expense of the physical trainer until I start playing well enough to afford him, or do I keep paying him to have a hope of competing with the kids?

Don't get me wrong, what trainers get paid on the PGA Tour is very fair. A typical trainer needs at least five or seven golfers as clients to have it make sense. Traveling the tour isn't cheap. Most trainers have advanced degrees where they could easily be making $150,000 running a private practice at home.

It's funny—fans see the checks we cash for wins and top 10s and think pros live free of financial concern. But it's not the case. When I was young, I worked minimum-wage jobs, and though I'm very fortunate to have acquired what I have, my general relationship with money hasn't changed. As in, when I haven't been making it, I feel bad spending it.

During that period when I was really chopping, I realized the day before the Monday qualifier at Riviera that I didn't have any balls in my bag. The Titleist rep wasn't there, so I go into the shop to buy a dozen Titleist Pro V1s. The clerk says, “That will be $65.” I said, “Whoa. OK, I'll take a sleeve.”

I lose those three balls in the practice round. The day of the qualifier, I bum six used balls from another pro. I choose the least-scuffed one and shoot 68 before losing in a playoff. After the round I said, “Thanks, buddy. Those balls aren't bad.”

I've since recovered some status, though I'm not as high as I was. My current physio I'll pay about 25 grand this season to work on me at about 10 events. I'm also trying to be more disciplined with a personal stretching regimen. Am I being tight or lavish? I call it chicken or the egg, but my caddie says the trainer problem is just like the rest of golf: A mindf--k.