To combat the encroaching complaints of old age–and the complaints are many–players are going beyond the pragmatic scope of Western medicine into the existential realm of homeopathic remedies, alternative medicines and herbal diets. The hottest trend of all is the wearing of magnets; an estimated half the players perform with thin disks taped surreptitiously under their shirts and trousers. The magnet proponents drown out the dwindling group of copper-bracelet fanatics, whose wrists, alas, have at last grown greener than the content of their money clips. Floyd is so dubious about copper, he reportedly won’t even carry pennies in his pocket.
To those accustomed to the conventional world of sensible diets, drugstore vitamins and simple exercise, some of the New Age stuff has to be seen to be believed. Chi Chi Rodriguez, approaching 65 and struggling to remain competitive–in truth, to compete at all, after having angioplasty late in 1998–has traveled to Germany periodically to receive injections of hormones extracted from a lamb.
“I believe lamb cells are the future of medicine and that I will live to be 120 years old,” he says. “See, your cells die as you get older. Genetically, a lamb is the closest thing to a human being next to a monkey, so when they inject those cells, your body doesn’t know the difference. About a month after injecting the lamb cells, I feel great. Many powerful people get these shots, you know, people you don’t hear about.”
Rodriguez also has received Chelation therapy, which involves hooking an IV to his arm and introducing medicines that cleanse the blood of toxic elements, in his case lead. “Whatever works in your brain works on your body,” he says. “In Haiti, witch doctors have been known to hold a rooster in their hands and tell their subject, ‘When I snap the neck of this rooster, you will die.’ And they snap the rooster’s neck and the subject dies. That’s voodoo. That’s how it works.”
Is it the old mind-over-matter trick, the placebo effect, at work? The medical community views many alternative medicine treatments as brummagem, but Rodriguez says it couldn’t be so with lamb cells, because when someone asks what score he just made on a hole he spasmodically bleats, “Four-r-r-r-r.”
Seeking a more rational practitioner of New Age medicine, we sought out Bob Charles, who at age 63 is reputed to be as toned and fit as most PGA Tour rookies. Stripping to his waist as he prepares for a workout in the fitness trailer, you see that it is so–he is as lean as a whippet, his skin uncommonly taut, the whites of his blue eyes clear as porcelain.
“I exercise, get my rest, watch what I eat, and I take deer velvet,” says Charles without a trace of self-consciousness. “Deer velvet consists of the blood and tissue from a fresh deer antler. It’s filled with nutrients, vitamins, minerals and natural anti-inflammatory agents.”
Charles begins coasting along effortlessly on a treadmill inside the fitness trailer, distractedly watching “Tommy Boy” on videotape. After several minutes he is scarcely winded. He tells us that deer velvet is manufactured in his native New Zealand, though it has been in use in Asia for thousands of years. “Traditional medicines may provide you with relief, but alternative medicines are curative,” he says. “They strengthen your immune system.”
Charles also takes ginger, garlic, ginkgo biloba, bee pollen, and, for good measure, a multivitamin. “My eyesight is better now than when I was 45,” he says. “I feel wonderful.” He has won more than $8 million on the senior tour, which must make him feel wonderful as well.
His mention of ginger is familiar to us, for another player, Dale Douglass, 63, had explained earlier in our investigation that, in addition to placing a magnet on his left wrist to increase circulation and reduce pain, he also was told–by his accountant, no less–to apply gingerroot to the wrist. “The magnet was working, no doubt about it,” says Douglass, “but I needed a bit more. My friend told me to place the gingerroot in a microwave oven, heat it, and then apply it to my wrist. The idea is that the elements inside the gingerroot will be absorbed through my skin and would make my wrist feel better.” Douglass pauses, as if wondering whether to tell the rest of the story.
“The darned microwave oven heated that gingerroot the way it does a hard-boiled egg–you know, cool on the outside, steaming on the inside,” he sighs. “I pressed that root on my wrist and just scalded it real bad.” Douglass showed us the wrist, which was heavily bandaged.
We were explaining the Douglass story to Bob Charles when Orville Moody, an herbal-remedy man himself, came along. Old Sarge, 65, caught only the tail end of the story, and when it was finished, he eyed us suspiciously. “I want you to explain to me how Dale was able to turn on the microwave oven with his hand inside and the door open,” he said.
Poor Moody. Long the sufferer of the most pathetic case of putting yips in history, his twitches drove him from the PGA Tour long ago. (His most famous miss came at the 1973 Bing Crosby National Pro-Am, when he blew a two-foot putt for victory on the last hole.) But he regained his touch when he joined the senior tour, using the extra-long putter to devastating effect. In 1989 he was second on the money list. The problem, Moody says, is that his nerves eventually became so fried that he started yipping with the extra-long putter, too. What to do? “I started taking kava kava for my nerves, and it works,” he says. “My stroke is smoother, and I sleep better, too.” It turns out Moody also takes St. John’s wort, folic acid, echinacea (for his immune system), grape-seed extract and, of course, a multivitamin.
The number of players who ingest supplements of one kind or another are considerable, but they are dwarfed by the magnet crowd. Jim Colbert and Bob Murphy are its most vocal proponents, though players such as Floyd, Douglass, Dana Quigley and Jim Ferree use them as well. Magnets are even gaining popularity among younger pros. John Huston sleeps on a magnetic mattress, Olin Browne won the MasterCard Colonial in May with magnets on his elbow, and the LPGA Tour’s Donna Andrews has used them on her back.
The chief benefit of magnets is their reputed ability to relieve pain–users and manufacturers are careful to assert they are not curative–and on the senior tour, physical pain is rampant. Bad backs, aggravated by 40 years or more of full-time twisting, are common. Wrists and elbows have absorbed the shock of millions of hardpan-thumping iron shots, and throb as a result. There are a lot of sore necks, though the best guess as to why is from looking down so much.
“I used to be a doubter–oh, yes,” says Murphy, 56, the winner of 11 senior tournaments. “But to those who talk about the placebo effect, I can only say, I have been wearing ‘placebos’ for five years now, and they have changed my life.”
Murphy’s body is tattooed with magnets, which he shows off with gabby pride and enthusiastic conviction. There are three magnets of varying sizes on his back, held in place by a Velcro belt. There are two tiny magnets on his elbow, six more in a wrist bracelet and yet another on his left knee. He admits he is utterly dependent on magnets to perform, so much so that he carries an 18-pound, magnet-laced mattress cover wherever he travels.
“The mattress pad I use at home is bigger; it weighs 45 pounds,” he explains. “It’s thicker, has more penetrating power. My wife doesn’t like it so much, because of the tremendous increase in blood circulation you get. The circulation makes your body hot, you see, and you sweat. It isn’t a light perspiration, either. It’s the same as if you’d played a set of tennis or a round of golf on a hot day.”
We ask Murphy if people find the magnet therapy odd. “We’re determined to back up our claims,” he says. “We’re not claiming it cures anything. We’re saying it decreases swelling, and when you do that, you decrease pain. When you decrease pain you increase movement, and when you increase movement you increase circulation. When you increase circulation you increase the flow of oxygen to the afflicted area, and that encourages healing. That’s what we want to prove.”
Dizzied by the chain of events Murphy describes, we ask him who he means by “we.” He refers us to Bill Roper, the founder and CEO of Tectonic Magnets, one of the larger manufacturers of magnetic products in the nation. An effusive, raspy-voiced character, Roper, 73, was CEO at Borden for four years in the early 1970s, whereupon he retired and founded Tectonic in 1994. His company did $500,000 in business its first year and has since exploded, with earnings this year expected to be near $10 million. That makes Roper a magnet magnate, and he may get richer after his company goes public in the near future. And Tectonic is not the largest magnet manufacturer–that honor goes to Nikken, which has had more success internationally.
Roper tells us what everyday users can’t–that magnets are composed of “lodestone of the earth,” a substance found only on certain parts of the planet. It is blended with a magnetic element known as ferrite. It is Roper’s mission to convince the public that all magnets are not created equal, that his products, with their careful balance of polarization, gauss (strength) and penetrating power, are superior to the rest. “Last year, 17 new companies popped up out of nowhere,” he says. “Not to belittle them, but their magnets barely stick to a refrigerator.”
Roper points to a double-blind study performed on dogs plagued with osteoarthritis (casino tycoon Steve Wynn’s dog, Rambo, was a recent client), and how 76 percent of the animals wearing magnets improved. “Dogs don’t know about placebos,” Roper deadpans.
Magnets have been used by animal trainers for more than a century, especially horse trainers. Gary Player has used magnetic leg wraps, boots and blankets on his racehorses, though he yields on assessing their effectiveness for now. Player, incidentally, has tried magnets himself, though he doesn’t any longer, because, he says, “There is absolutely nothing wrong with me.” He is an exception.
Murphy does not get paid to endorse the Tectonic magnets he wears, nor does Jim Colbert, 58, another Tectonic man. It is more than enough, Colbert says, that he is able to play golf at all after having to quit the regular PGA Tour four years earlier than he wanted to, at age 46.
Colbert, for some reason, speaks haltingly at first, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, shuffling about in a small circle. He admits that credit must be given to the HealthSouth fitness trailers and their treadmills, weight machines and squadron of physical therapists. He doesn’t question that a regular exercise program, combined with the increasingly healthier cuisine available in the player dining areas and a sharp reduction in the intake of cigarettes and booze, has improved the health and extended the careers of many seniors. But in his case, it always comes back to magnets.
“At age 16, I couldn’t play for a whole summer because my back hurt so much,” he says. “But I haven’t missed a day of golf due to pain in five years, all because of these magnets.” As Colbert’s talk grows with evangelical momentum, you notice he has stopped fidgeting. He is stationary now, his inner stars in alignment.