In many ways, the growth of The European Tour can be measured by the expansion of the Tour’s physio service, which has grown from its humble beginnings as a two-man band to the state-of-the-art, high-tech unit in operation today. The mobile physio service was the brainchild of two Belgians, Guy Delacave and Kris Huizenga, who in 1990 established what has now, 24 years later, become an integral part of The European Tour. Whereas today The European Tour’s Physiotherapy Unit employs six full-time and a further eight part-time staff members across the three Tours, and travels more than 30,000 miles to over 30 countries across Europe every year, back then Guy and Kris drove to a select few tournaments in their own cars, unpacked their equipment and set up a makeshift physio unit in the clubhouse.
Having retired after attending his final event at the Trophée Hassan II a fortnight ago, Kris reflected on where it all began.He recalled: “The first tournament Guy and I did was the Belgian Open in 1990, which was won by Ove Sellberg. We drove there in our own cars, and used all our own equipment. Then in 1992, Guy got Gatorade to sponsor us, and that allowed us to travel to tournaments in a bus. It soon became very popular so we started taking on more members of staff, and it went from there really.”
One of the main reasons for the unit’s increasing popularity was the fact that Seve Ballesteros and Bernhard Langer were both regular customers from the start.“They really helped us out a lot in the beginning, and opened a lot of doors for us,” Kris explained. “They were always coming to see us for treatments so when the other guys saw two of the greatest golfers in the world visiting us, then obviously they started coming to see us too.”
The dynamics of the relationship between physio and player are a great leveller; thus, even though Seve had by that time won five Majors and was one of the most recognisable figures in the sporting world, in many ways it was the Spaniard who deferred to Kris and his colleagues. “What can you say about Seve that hasn’t already been said? He was probably the most charismatic person I’ve ever met,” said Kris.“I feel privileged that I got to know the real Seve – it doesn’t matter how good a golfer you are, when you’re standing there in your underpants, you feel as human as anybody else! He was always very grateful to us, and very generous too. One day he came in to see us with a crate of wine for each of us, and the bottles had our names on them. I’ve still kept one bottle to show off to people when they come round.”
As for his favourite tournaments, the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship was always a keenly-anticipated port of call, not least because Kris and co. were afforded the opportunity to rub shoulders with the great and the good from the worlds of celebrity and sport – and even the monarchy. He said: “That tournament was always a lot of fun, because we got to treat the celebrities as well as the golfers. I had my photo taken with Prince Andrew and I also got the chance to meet my idol, Sir Bobby Charlton. “I’ve been a big football fan from a young age, and I watched the FA Cup Final on TV every year. I remember watching Sir Bobby play for Manchester United in the early ‘60s and thinking what a great player he was, so it was a real privilege to get the chance to meet him some years later.”
Now that he has called time on his career, Kris will have plenty of opportunities to indulge his twin passions of football and cycling, and also spend more time with grandson Jack, who is five months old. Kris with HRH Prince Andrew at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship whilst he will naturally miss the camaraderie of life on the road and the friendships he has forged in his 24 years of dedicated service, latterly as the unit’s driver and logistics manager, he can take a great deal of satisfaction from the lasting legacy he and Guy have left on The European Tour. He said: “I’m obviously very proud of how much the physio unit has grown since we started it up all those years ago. I made a lot of friends in that time, and have some great memories. One in particular stands out from the early days.
“After his first victory on the main Tour at the Loch Lomond Invitational in September 1996, Thomas Björn travelled together with us in the physio bus from Scotland to The K Club in Ireland for the European Open.“On the Monday morning, I remember being parked amongst some other cars waiting to drive onto the ferry over to Ireland, and in the car next to us the driver was reading the sports section of the newspaper. He was looking at a big picture of the winner holding the trophy, without realising that Thomas was virtually sitting right next to him!”