Orlaith Buckley, the physiotherapist for the Senior Tour, is acknowledged in winning speeches so often, it is a wonder she has not begun demanding a winners’ commission fee. But watching the legends of the game defy their age year-in year-out is reward enough for the Dubliner.
When she began treating some of European golf’s biggest names, Buckley admitted she was star struck meeting her childhood heroes. As the years went by, however, she became the heroin in their very eyes.
While golfers are at an advantage with regard to the longevity of their trade, it is not without its perils and the metronomic and repetitive nature of the golf swing can result in some debilitating injuries later in life if not treated properly.
That is where Buckley comes in, and her success in keeping the Senior Tour stars in tip-top shape is reflected best in the praise and respect she commands among the players, whom she now not only counts as patients, but also as friends.
“I have to say meeting some of the players for the first time was a lot like meeting childhood heroes,” she admitted. “But we’re friends now after looking after them on a day to day basis for so long.
“I think for me the most enjoyable part of the job is applying the trade, educating them and getting the longevity out of this sport.
“With golf, you’re blessed that you can start at 18 months or two years old, like Rory McIlroy for example. Then you see the likes of Bob Charles, who was still beating his age in his early 70s and is still capable of doing it even now. There are very few sports where you can have a career that spans your entire life.
“With the physicality of the game and the changes that have been made in fitness across all ages in golf, there are more scenarios where injuries can occur in the senior players. So we need to teach these guys how to get on with their game while managing the injuries their bodies might suffer from wear and tear.
“We don’t get many acute injuries with senior golf. It’s more related to swing biomechanics and break down over time especially when tournaments occur back to back, although you get the odd ankle twist in a rabbit hole. But most of them are wear and tear injuries, tendinopathies or other injuries related to altered swing mechanics.
“It’s not just about treating the injury; it can often be more to do with finding the root cause of the issue. Then we can work with the player to resolve any physical limitations and put a stop to what is possibly precipitating the injury in the first place.”
Buckley, who has been a qualified physiotherapist for 16 years, has always been a keen golf follower and, like so many budding players, was inspired by an experience at a European Tour tournament many years ago.
“When I was 14 I saw the physio unit at the Irish Open,” she recalls. “That’s when I decided that that was the kind of physio I wanted to be.
“I saw it once or twice again after I qualified and I was inspired by it somewhat. I watched the members of this tour in their prime on The European Tour and when I saw the physio unit I realised that there was a whole other side to the game. Even then, it was only in its infancy and the amount that it has changed since is phenomenal.”
Like the professional game as a whole, the Senior Tour has come on leaps and bounds in terms of player fitness and health, and Buckley has been hugely impressed by the dedication and competitiveness of the over-50 stars.
“We’ve definitely moved away from the days when players just focused on their technical game and hit vast numbers of balls in practice during their career on The European Tour and are moving into the realm of players who always included fitness in their regime,” she said.
“The likes of Bob Charles, Bernhard Langer and Gary Player stood out in their day because of their dedication to exercise and fitness but that’s becoming more of the norm now.
“We’ll also have players such as Miguel Angel Jiménez and Colin Montgomerie who are playing on the main tour as well as the Senior Tour, they’re double-touring basically. That brings another challenge in managing ongoing injuries.
“Then you have the likes of Steen Tinning, who in the years between his European Tour and Senior Tour careers became a triathlete and Iron Man, so he brings a different set of injuries again to the fold, so we’re definitely getting fitter guys coming through at 50 and the overall level of fitness across all players has improved. It’s a new challenge and great to see.”
New challenges are what still drive Buckley after all these years. It’s no wonder, then, that she fits right in on the Senior Tour.