The Man Behind The PGA Champ - How Marc Wahl Played a Hand in Jimmy Walker's Triumph

While there are many ways to win on the PGA TOUR, one thing we know is true in almost every victory; behind every championship performance is a championship team.  

Jimmy Walker's victory on Sunday at the PGA Championship was no exception.  Walker is supported by his caddy (Andy Sanders), swing coach (Butch Harmon), family, trainer (Craig Brown in San Antonio) and, last but certainly not least, his TPI Certified therapist, Marc Wahl.  

Wahl is among the most respected PT's on TOUR and a key reason why Walker has been able to make 24+ starts/year since joining the PGA TOUR in 2010.  It's not a surprise that Walker was quick to credit him.  Wahl was also one of the first to greet Walker as he walked off the 72nd hole.

We talked to Wahl on Sunday night and he was generous enough to give us a bit of a behind-the-scenes look at his work with Walker.

Wahl and Walker started working together at the Players Championship in 2010.  Walker had been complaining of neck pain which Wahl was able to address through several weeks of intensive manual therapy.  

Walker had struggled with minor disc issues in the past and his swing puts more strain on his neck than most.  As you can see in this swing sequence via Golf Digest, Walker keeps his head down after impact for as long as anyone on TOUR.  

Said Wahl, "Watching his swing you can appreciate the stress that's put on his neck.  It's certainly been an area of his body that we monitor closely, but, thankfully, it hasn't been a serious issue since 2010."

Of all physical attributes, durability is one of the most underrated in sports.  The ability to tee it up is the most important KPI for a physical therapist working with a TOUR player.

"I look at Jimmy like a racecar," says Wahl. "He's already in the race.  I don't need to make major changes, I just need to keep his tires fresh and the engine running efficiently."

During a tournament week, Wahl might see a player like Walker as often as twice a day.  During the PGA Championship, Walker tweaked his neck a bit playing with his son.  Here's a hyperlapse of one of Wahl's 40 minute treatment of Walker. 




"When I evaluate players, I give them a red light, yellow light or green light.  Red light players have issues that are often accompanied by pain and need to be addressed immediately.  Yellow light players are issues the team will monitor and actively treat.  Green light players are physically prepared to win.  Our goal is to maintain them at that level."

Wahl does the majority of his evaluations after FedEx Cup season.  If there are issues, he'll re-screen during the season.

"The first time I took Jimmy through a TPI screen he crushed it.  He has tremendous mobility.  What sets Jimmy apart from other exceptionally mobile athletes is that he demonstrates strength at end range."

"At the beginning of every season I perform screens on Jimmy, including FMS, Y-Balance Test and TPI's baseline tests for strength and power.  Jimmy scored off the charts this year.  He was mid-20's in his vertical jump, med ball chest pass and sit up pass.  I knew we didn't need more power, just to maintain where he was at." 

If there are specific issues, Wahl will perform the SFMA to tease them out (which is taught in TPI Medical Level 2).

In an interview with the San Antonio Express News last fall, Walker mentioned that he was going to increase his fitness regimen in 2016 in hopes of preventing fading at the end of the year.

Walker increased his time with his trainer during the (short) off-season and has made an effort to maintain his fitness to finish the season strong.  It seems to have worked.

“I’d always come back [from off-season conditioning] feeling put together and stronger,” Walker said. “I just didn’t keep up with it throughout the year, and I could tell it had an effect on my body. I’m making a conscious effort to stay on top of that more.”

Walker's swing instructor Butch Harmon asked him to strengthen his core to improve his stability and control in his swing.

“One of his problems is that he’s incredibly flexible,” Harmon said. “Most people would love to have that problem. But because he’s so flexible, his swing tends to get a little long and loose at the top.” 

"Our team communicates openly together," said Wahl.  If Butch notices something in Jimmy's swing, he'll ask me to be aware in our treatment.  If I notice something with Jimmy's body, I'll alert him.  I've probably had my hands on Jimmy for over 1,200 hours.  I can usually tell if something is off and Jimmy trusts Butch, Craig (his trainer) and myself in the process."

Like a number of the medical staff on TOUR, Wahl looks after multiple players each week. In addition to Walker, Wahl was working with Brandt Snedeker, JB Holmes and Brooks Koepka.  The fact that Koepka even played (much less contented) is a minor miracle, and one that Wahl played a hand in.

For those not aware, Koepka had to WD from the WGC-Bridgestone in Akron because of an injured ankle.  He was diagnosed with strained ligaments and couldn’t load on right side. When he returned home to Florida, Dr. Ara Suppiah (a frequent Golf Channel contributor) set him up with an MRI and he immediately went to see David Donatucci and Barrett Stover at Florida Institute of Performance

When he arrived on site at Baltusrol, Wahl went to work.  

"I worked really hard on breaking up the adhesions and getting talus to slide the way it should.  We worked really hard on Monday."

Still, Koepka said the discomfort was so significant that there was a 70% chance that he wouldn't be able to play.

"We continued to work through the week and started to see improvement.  I used a modified high ankle sprain tape job and we found something that worked for him.  I don’t know how he played so well.  Regardless of whether or not there was pain, he hadn’t hit a meaningful golf shot since the U.S. Open. Huge credit to Brooks for a gutty performance."

"If it wasn’t for the work that David Donatucci had done over the last two weeks, we wouldn't have been able to get Brooks ready," said Wahl. "David gave us an excellent palate to work with."

The PGA TOUR season can be a grind.  It's filled with highs and lows experienced by players and the teams that support them.  As Wahl says, "It becomes more than just a job.  You're not rooting for your client, you're rooting for your friend."

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