Couples may have found cure for back pain

Fred Couples hits a shot on the second Fred Couples hits a shot on the second hole during the second round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga. (April 8, 2011) Photo Credit: Getty

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HARRISON, N.Y. -- Fred Couples went to Düsseldorf, Germany, six weeks ago with his career on the line. His chronically bad back had become even more painful since last October, and he had to do something about it. It wasn't just his golf that was impacted, it was his life.

On the eve of the opening round of the Senior Players Championship at the Westchester Country Club, Couples Tuesday described the trip to Germany as "the last get-go."

Couples has been one of the most popular players in the game for the better part of three decades, and certainly the Champions Tour was looking to him for a major boost when he turned 50 and played his first season as a senior last year, winning four times.

But last October his back, an issue for most of his career, became unbearable. He limped through the first part of the 2011 season, playing only six Champions Tour events and five events on the regular tour. He showed he can still compete, but he hasn't won.

He wouldn't think of skipping the Masters no matter how bad his back was, and it was bad. "At Augusta I would sleep after I played, from 5 to 7, because I was so tired, then I would have dinner then back to bed and watch TV or stare at the ceiling," Couples said.

Then at the Champions Tour event in Birmingham, Ala., in May, he finished 63rd.

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"I said I'm not doing this anymore," Couples said. "We knew of this guy in Germany, decided to go. He told me a couple of things. In his opinion he thought it would help, and if it didn't I should come right back and do it again, and if that didn't work then I should have surgery."

Couples saw Dr. Peter Wehling, who uses a blood-work procedure know as Orthokine. It involves extracting anti-inflammatory proteins from the patient's own blood and injecting them into an infected area. Couples said the PGA Tour approved the procedure, and that he had five treatments in six days.

"That was the last hurrah of trying to give something a shot," Couples said. "I've gone to Oregon and I've gone to New York, Cincinnati, and Waco, Texas, and Columbus, Georgia. I worked with [therapist] Tom Boers for seven, eight years. When he looks at you and says he can't help you anymore, then you go to the next guy and that was in Waco, and wow, it feels good for a year and half. Then you go to the next guy."

The next guy was Dr. Wehling, and Couples is encouraged though far from ecstatic with the results. "I will go back one more time. I am hoping that it's seven or eight months," he said. "I have never felt better, ever. I can't remember feeling that good."

But?

"I feel a little stiff, but that's the way I've felt my whole life," Couples said. "I don't feel as good as I did two weeks ago, but I can hit the ball and play, and that's why I'm here."

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