When You’re on the Back Nine
Robert A. Hayden, DC, PhD, FICC
“Golf is played by 20 million mature American men whose wives think they are out having fun.”—Jim Bishop
Healthcare is a serious topic, particularly nowadays when it is dissolving before our eyes. Because it is so serious, I have decided to depart from the morose and share something almost frivolous. Almost.
When I was new in practice about 20 years ago, a senior golfer came to me with the shoulder problem. I worked on him that afternoon and called later that evening to see how he was doing. His wife answered the phone and told me he was doing quite well and was in the backyard talking over the fence with the neighbors. Then she lowered her voice, as though he might hear, and said, “You have to get him back on the golf course. I can’t live with him like this!”
Yes, I discovered quickly that golf, like heroin, nicotine, and pecan pie, is quite addictive among susceptible people. To a football fan like myself, it seems almost silly to walk around in a pasture and knock a white ball into a whole. To the golf addict, however, it can be quite serious.
I was told that a foursome teed off one beautiful afternoon and returned to the clubhouse with only three of them. A club employee asked where their fourth player was. After exchanging some glances, one of them said quietly, “He passed away on the fourth hole.”
“That’s awful,” observed the employee. “That must have been a shock.”
“It was worse than that. From then on, it was ‘Hit-the-ball-and-drag-George.’ We are all exhausted.”
This story was told to me as a joke, but after meeting several very competitive senior golfers, I find it disturbing. It could be true. Nothing should interrupt golf, much less pre-empt it. If there is anything almost as important, it can be dealt with after the back nine, right?
Over the past twenty years, I have learned some things about this sport and the requirements of one’s body. A golfer must have a good stance, so support for the arches is important. We have put many in custom orthotics to augment their base of support. We adjust the joints in the feet and ankles to keep them supple.
Knees and hips must be properly aligned. The pelvis and lumbar spine are particularly important for the power of a good drive. Shoulders must be in good adjustment with the ball and socket joint as well as the joint between the collarbone and the shoulder blade (the acromioclavicular, or “AC” joint). Elbows should be able to comfortably lock, and wrists should be well-adjusted to maximize the grip.
The neck should be supple so that the head can be turned in time to see a ball roll into the rough or plop into a water trap. I think even the temporomandibular joint is important in golf so that one can properly lie about the score.
The exercise is critically important. Even if a senior golfer uses a golf cart, there is important exercise in the swing. That activity keeps muscle tone from the toes to the fingers, improves balance, and maintains range of motion in the shoulders and arms. As the late Paul Harvey once said, “He who rests—rots!”
Who knew that golf is such a total body sport?
There’s more. The importance of golf does not stop with the body. It gets social, psychological, and spiritual. It’s not just a game God uses to punish people who retire early—it has value!
When I said I take care of senior golfers, I mean golfers well into their ninth decade of life. A senior golfer may have outlived a lot of his or her friends, so the relationships with golf buddies take on new meaning. Friendships are forged while people argue about their scores. One fellow told me his wife wanted to be buried (after her demise, presumably) on the seventh hole of her husband’s favorite course so that he would visit regularly. Socialization is just that important.
Golf is an opportunity to wear sporty clothes. Those outfits mean that someone is still able to compete, and I think some people wear them with pride. Nothing says “I still have a pulse” like a smart pair of cleats.
This sport keeps some people mentally active with the mathematics of it. Some golfers will tell you that the sport is 90% mental, and the other 10% is also mental. It is also said that when your partner says he can’t remember whether he shot a six or seven, credit him with an eight.
I think there is a serious emotional component to golf. It gives a senior something to which to look forward, to anticipate, to plan. As I get old myself, I understand that living in future tense keeps one optimistic and hopeful. If a sport can do that, we should support it anyway we can.
Golf is also good for business. Deals can be made on the fairway. My colleagues who play golf with attorneys get paid on injury cases. I do not play golf, and, well, I will leave it at that. Ask me privately for the rest of that thought.
My role as a chiropractor when it comes to senior golfers is simply to keep them on the golf course. We use adjustments, stretching, ultrasound, electrotherapy, lasers, orthotics, and magic to keep them playing. That will make a friend of the golfer as well as the golfer’s spouse. And if I can improve his or her score, there will be a ton of referrals coming.