No, thank you. Marc Wahl cringed at the thought of being described as a golf doctor, and that’s not meant as disrespect for what doctors do. It’s more about what he does.
“I don’t even know if I’d call myself a physical therapist any more, quite honestly,” said the Cutchogue physical therapist.
So, just what does Wahl do?
“I’m probably the best in the world at getting somebody to the tee box to play golf [when] they’re injured,” he said in a 55-minute interview Friday. “That’s what I have done best.”
For 14 years, Wahl, 56, has been working with professional golfers, helping them deal with ailments, aches and pains so they can compete. He has worked more than 300 PGA Tour events, servicing over 40 players. For the past three years, he has worked exclusively with Brooks Koepka, and his aim is to trim his workload down from as many as 30 to 10 tournaments a year.
“I’ve slowed down to just working with Brooks,” he said. “I tried to retire and he kind of put the golden handcuffs on me and said, ‘No. What do you want to do?’ So, I was like, ‘I’d like to do like 10 tournaments a year. I’d like to be able to drive to them. I don’t really want to fly too much.’ He said, ‘All right, whatever you want to do.’ It’s been better for me, really good for the family not to be on the road as much.”
That’s a big component for Wahl, who has four children, two with his partner, Mattituck native Hanna Senesac.
Wahl (Mattituck High School Class of 1983) is a graduate of Touro College School of Health Sciences in Central Islip with a doctorate in physical therapy. The former North Fork Physical Therapy owner now specializes in keeping Koepka on track to play in tournaments, operating somewhere between art and science.
“It’s a different way to do physical therapy,” he said. “It has its upsides and downsides, clinically. Like clinically, I’m really, really good at what I do … but if you ask me to rehab a stroke patient, I’m lost these days. It’s been so many years since I’ve dealt with the general population, so many years since I had to deal with insurances and that type of stuff … The downside for me is that I’m not as well-rounded as I used to be. I’m really good at some stuff. You know, that’s just kind of how it gets. When you get to be like world-class, you have to specialize. You can’t be kind of good at a lot of things. You got to be amazing at one thing.”
Koepka clearly values Wahl’s expertise. In a 2018 interview with The Suffolk Times, Koepka said Wahl is a part of “every decision that goes into my body. He’s on the phone and texting with my doctors. I actually speak with him more than anybody else.”
It’s literally a hands-on job for Wahl, who describes his maintenance work as akin to “changing the oil and rotating the tires.” He said, “For these guys at this level, the insurance of just having me around is worth it.”
With the force golfers exert when they strike the ball, perhaps it’s no surprise that Wahl said lower back and neck problems may be the most common ailments he comes across, but he has also seen shoulder and wrist problems. “I’ve seen a couple of careers stop because of wrist injuries,” he said. And any golfer who swings a clubhead as powerfully as Koepka does is going to experience hip issues at some point, he said. It all comes with the territory.
Over the years, Wahl has worked with big-name golfers such as Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Matt Kuchar, Jimmy Walker, Brandt Snedecker and, of course, Koepka, who he first met at a tournament seven years ago.
Koepka, 32, is one of the stars of the game, having posted eight PGA Tour wins and seven international victories. Among his triumphs are the U.S. Open in 2017 and 2018 and the PGA Championship in 2018 and 2019. His career earnings, as listed by the PGA Tour, are just under $38 million.
Koepka made news last week when The Associated Press reported that he would be joining the new Saudi Arabia-funded LIV Golf series. LIV (the Roman numeral for 54, as in the number of tournament holes it plays as opposed to the typical 72) features 48 players competing in a 12-team field and offers players guaranteed money.
“I think it’s the right move for him,” said Wahl, who flew to Portland Monday for the second LIV Golf tournament, which starts today (the first tournament was held in London three weeks ago). “He’s got his legacy. He’s 32 years old. He’s had problems with his body. The thing is that it can go for these guys at any moment out there, and then the PGA Tour is just going to forget about you.
“On the PGA Tour, which I’m sure is how it’s supposed to be, it’s ‘what have you done for me lately?’ And if you’re not relevant today, nobody really cares. There’s no guaranteed money up front like there [is] in every other sport for stars. So, if you are done, you’re done. That’s it. I think this is the way that this sport is going to change, just like every other sport changed.”
Will Koepka’s move to LIV change Wahl’s role in any way?
“I honestly don’t know yet,” said Wahl.
One thing Wahl believes golf fans may not fully appreciate is how a pro golfer’s lifestyle can be a grind with the travel, practice rounds, pro-ams, training, physical therapy, media and sponsorship responsibilities.
“It’s an interesting thing where it goes from a game that every amateur out there loves it, can’t get enough of it, you know,” he said. “So kids that are going to attempt to play golf for a living, from the time they’re, you know, 9 years old and on up … they’re probably playing 36 holes every day they possibly can. They play golf, they play golf, they play golf. They love golf, they love golf. And then they make it. Not all of them, but many of them don’t love golf any more. It’s a job now. They got to go out and do their job.
“That’s kind of the downside of it. The upside is you have people that reach the pinnacle of their career. It’s exciting to watch that.”