Originally featured in the January 2012 issue of AVIDGOLFER Magazine. Story by Jonathan Wall
When three-time PGA Tour winner Ryan Palmer first told noted sports chiropractor Dr. Troy Van Biezen he wanted to play in the Mercedes Championship, the doctor thought he was crazy.
Palmer’s goals weren’t over-the-top, mind you. Having won the 2008 Ginn sur Mer Classic, he had every right to tee it up in the winners-only event. But after going under the knife to have shoulder surgery, including partial rotator-cuff repair, less than a month after his November victory, the thought of having Palmer ready to play in a tournament that was six weeks away seemed unlikely.
Palmer was coming off one of the best seasons of his career, and the goal at that time was to get him healthy and conditioned for a season without pain. At least that was Van Biezen’s goal. Palmer, on the other hand, had other ideas.
He was determined to play in the season opener. After a couple weeks of coaxing, Van Biezen finally agreed to help Palmer rehab for the tournament and less than 48 hours after surgery, the two were doing Active Release Therapy. Within four weeks, Palmer had already moved to hitting a 3-wood with instructor Randy Smith.
The progress Palmer had made in a short period of time was a borderline miracle. With the hard work nearly done, both figured they were in the clear. But Palmer’s rehab hit a setback that Tuesday morning when, just days before the tournament, he called Van Biezen to give him some bad news.
“I remember him calling and saying, ‘We have a problem!’” Van Biezen said. “I asked what was wrong and he said, ‘I can’t move my arm. I pulled my arm out from under the covers last night, felt a ‘pop’ and now the entire arm has seized up.’”
Normally this is the point in the story where Palmer and Van Biezen head back home to Dallas to figure things out, but after conferring with the doctor who’d worked on Palmer’s shoulder, Van Biezen received the green light to proceed with rehab just 48 hours before the first round.
Working on the shoulder every three hours on Tuesday, Van Biezen had Palmer healthy enough to hit the range by Wednesday afternoon, and even go after the ball with a driver at 90 percent.
Incredibly, Palmer managed to play all four rounds of the tournament, while Van Biezen sat on pins and needles watching, hoping his client’s shoulder would hold up for not only the Mercedes Championship, but the rest of the season. Thankfully, it did.
“The week was insane … just absolutely insane,” Van Biezen said. “I still don’t know how we got to that point, but we did, and Ryan was able to play. At the end of the day that’s my goal, to get these guys as healthy as possible as fast as I can.”
Welcome to a typical, crazy week in the life of Dr. Troy Van Biezen, the head of ChiroSport Specialists of Dallas, and arguably the top sports chiropractor in the country.
While he may not be jet-setting to Hawaii with clients on a weekly basis, Van Biezen spends much of his time making critical chiropractic decisions on some of the world’s best athletes.
There’s a reason why Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton and PGA Tour winner Steve Stricker put their trust in Van Biezen’s hands. His knack for getting athletes healthy in a short amount of time is a big reason why he’s one of the most trusted, and respected, doctors in his profession.
“I learned quickly with professional athletes that you better fix them fast or they’re not coming back,” Van Biezen said. “So there’s a little bit of pressure there. But with my current system I have in place, I can usually get them feeling better soon after we start working together.”
Van Biezen understands the importance of keeping his clients healthy at all times, because there was a point in his life where he would have killed for the same kind of care.
Growing up in Canada, Van Biezen had aspirations of playing in the NHL, but a serious back injury in his late teens forced him to consider if he had a future in the sport. After being told by a family physician that he needed to have back surgery, he was nearly ready to give up hockey.
That’s when a close friend suggested he get a second opinion from a chiropractor.
“At that time I had never heard of a chiropractor,” Van Biezen said. “I decided to go see a well-known sports chiropractor who was actually working with the Calgary Flames at the time, and he told me that based on my injuries he could have me 100 percent in 6 to 8 weeks. I was floored.”
Working with a chiropractor allowed Van Biezen to play professionally overseas for four years before moving to Texas to pursue his Doctor of Chiropractic Degree from Parker College.
“After being told I needed back surgery and then finding out there was another option out there, I knew I wanted to be a chiropractor,” Van Biezen said. “I felt a calling to help others so they didn’t have to suffer like I did at one point in my life.”
Over the years, Van Biezen has helped hundreds of athletes, working as the Active Release Doctor for the Dallas Stars and other professional sports organizations. But along the way his business grew beyond the ice and field to the golf course, when, eight years ago, Van Biezen started working with local Dallas resident Harrison Frazar.
Dealing with a number of ailments at the time, Frazar was extremely impressed with the progress he and Van Biezen were making on his body in a short amount of time. He was so amazed, in fact, that he suggested Van Biezen consider joining the PGA Tour’s medical staff.
Despite thinking the offer was a joke at the time, Van Biezen received a call two months later from the Tour that began a whirlwind nine-year career as one of the top doctors on staff.
“It was certainly crazy at times,” Van Biezen said. “I was traveling to tournaments 20 weeks out of the year, and trying to balance my practice in Dallas at the same time. I’d normally get to the Tour’s medical trailer on Tuesday before a tournament started and be there until Sunday. Each day was usually 13-15 hours long, and I’d probably see up to 50 guys per day.”
At the time Van Biezen was starting his job on Tour, he was building a golf client base back in Dallas that included Tour players Brian Watts, Kris Cox, Justin Leonard and Frazar. But as soon as word got out that he was working wonders with a number of the big names in the Tour van, business started to boom.
The main reason Van Biezen was so in-demand was due in large part to the Active Release Techniques (A.R.T.) that allowed him to analyze a golfer’s body by looking at the muscles, instead of the joints, to get to the root cause of the pain in problem areas like the lower back, wrist and hip.
“Traditional chiropractic is where you learn the manipulation and how to adjust joints in the body,” Van Biezen said. “The biggest thing doctors are missing is what controls the movement of those joints: the muscles. If you have muscle tightness, imbalances come into play. If you have one muscle that’s tight and another that’s weak … well, I need to release the tightness in that one to pull your pelvis back into alignment. I could adjust you all day, but if I don’t treat the muscle dysfunction you’re never going to see results.”
The use of the A.R.T. method soon had Van Biezen working with a number of high-profile names, including current LPGA star Michelle Wie.
“I still remember the first time Michelle’s father, B.J., called me,” Van Biezen said. “I kept getting phone calls from a guy who claimed he was her father. I thought someone was jacking with me at the time. Finally I listened to another message and B.J. says, ‘Troy, I need to talk to you. Call me.’”
After Van Biezen realized the calls weren’t a joke, B.J. Wie had him on the next plane to Hawaii less than 48 hours later to help Michelle with hip and wrist issues.
Up until when Wie started at Stanford, Van Biezen was working with arguably the most talented junior player on a regular basis. While he was confident in his A.R.T. techniques, the doctor learned a memorable lesson with Wie at the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic that’s stuck with him ever since.
Complaining of hip pain prior to her anticipated start, Van Biezen worked on Wie before the round to give her full range of motion. But as he quickly realized after seeing her first couple of shots, there was a fine line between enough and too much range of motion.
“[Michelle] had so much range of motion that the first three tee shots were spraying everywhere because she had so much movement that her body was in complete shock,” Van Biezen said. “So I learned. Your body has to adapt to that new range of motion, so you have to be careful.
“I still remember Vijay [Singh] glancing over at me with this look like ‘I don’t know what the heck is going on, but something doesn’t seem right.’”
Aside from working with Wie, Van Biezen guesses he’s had 10,000 golfers – professional and recreational – on his table in the last 10 years. After starting the business working with hockey players, he’s quickly become the go-to-guy for golfers of every skill level.
As years passed and Van Biezen started to build a rapport with a number of players on Tour, he started to consider the possibility of leaving his job as part of the Tour’s medical staff.
“I kept talking to some of the guys I worked with on a weekly basis during the Tour season, and they kept telling me they wanted me to work for them exclusively,” he said.
After giving it some thought, Van Biezen made the decision to start working exclusively with, among others, Stricker, Palmer, Ben Crane, Gary Woodland and Zach Johnson.
“It still means I’ll be out on the road a lot, but the nice thing is I’m able to dedicate more time to these particular guys and my young amateur players,” Van Biezen said. “That’s something that really makes me happy since they’re the group I really enjoy working with the most.”
Van Biezen’s stable of amateur golf clients is a who’s who list of rising stars. He currently works with two-time U.S. Junior Amateur champion Jordan Spieth (currently a freshman at the University of Texas), former No. 1-ranked junior Anthony Paolucci (USC), Cody Gribble (Texas) and Kramer Hickok (Texas).
The one thing that surprised Van Biezen the most when he started working with some of golf’s best amateur players was how uninformed they were about their bodies. As he said, the lack of knowledge was putting them at a great disadvantage and leaving them open to early injuries.
“You’d be surprised how many good, young players come in here and just shrug their shoulders when I ask how they’re feeling,” Van Biezen said. “North American players in general are fairly clueless when it comes to understanding how their bodies operate.”
Van Biezen noted that players from Europe and Australia have an idea of how to maintain their body for a lifetime in the sport by the time they turn 14 or 15.
That lack of knowledge forced Van Biezen into action over the last couple of years. He currently works with the Northern Texas PGA and hosts a yearly summit for junior golfers where he brings in current and former PGA Tour players to talk to kids about the importance of staying healthy and maintaining the body.
But Van Biezen’s programs have been making an impression on more than just junior golfers. Even some of the most respected golf instructors in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are coming to him for guidance.
“The great thing now is I’ll get a call from Tim Cusick or Cameron Doan, and they’ll tell me about a junior player they have that’s currently struggling with wrist pain or hip pain,” he said. “I have them come to my office, we get them checked out, and then build a program for them to make sure these issues don’t become permanent and force them to alter their swing.”
With the help of infrared cameras at his office, Van Biezen is changing the way golfers look at their swing. Currently dubbed “an MRI for your golf swing,” the infrared cameras are set up around a turf mat that allows Van Biezen to see how a golfer’s body works.
By getting an inside look at how the body twists and turns during the swing, Van Biezen can design a plan of attack to improve problem areas, like a tight hip, that could keep a golfer from reaching their full potential.
After years of perfecting the system, the cameras and the technology he has in place also allow him to get to the bottom of why golfers are experiencing pain in various parts of their body.
The system has been such a huge hit with his PGA Tour clients that TaylorMade started working with Van Biezen to design a performance institute – along the same lines at the Titleist Performance Institute – that utilizes the infrared cameras to not only improve the body but the swing as well.
It’s clear from everything that’s going on in Van Biezen’s life that he’s exactly where he hoped he’d be at this point in his career. But despite the notoriety he’s received, he said most A.R.T. doctors are still being overlooked for the work they do.
“A.R.T. guys are in the trenches working on athletes, getting them ready before NFL and NBA games, but we never get the credit,” he said. “You always see the orthopedic and the athletic trainer, but you never hear about or see the A.R.T. guy behind the scenes. But it is what it is.”
While most may be getting overlooked, Van Biezen is blazing a new path for A.R.T. doctors, making sure those at the top of the sports world realize there’s a new breed of chiropractor that’s making a big difference in the lives of athletes around the world.
“Even [PGA Tour commissioner] Tim Finchem had no idea what we were doing for the guys on Tour,” Van Biezen said. “If people at the top don’t know, you can be darn sure everyone else doesn’t have a clue. Will that change? I don’t know. But I hope it does.”
If anybody can make that change happen, it’s Dr. Troy Van Biezen.