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The dangerous game of golf

I have never understood the appeal of golf as a spectator sport. It seems to take forever for the players to hit the ball, and even then you can’t even see the ball’s trajectory or where it lands. But the big tournaments draw big crowds, even though you can see only a tiny bit of what is going on. At least with other slow games like cricket and baseball, you can see the entire action. I also find it hilarious that there has to be pin drop silence when a golfer is about to hit a stationary ball, when in tennis or baseball the players have to hit a ball traveling at around 100 mph with crowds screaming in their ears.

Some time ago I was visiting the home of a friend who, along with some of the other guests present, plays golf and the TV was on because they were showing a major championship tournament and so I watched a bit of the game. I noticed that when the players hit from the tee, the spectators lined up forming two thick lines that defined a narrow alley. The players would whack the ball hard to travel straight down that alley on its way to the green.

I mentioned at that time that this seemed awfully dangerous. What if a player mishit the ball slightly to the right or left and it hit a bystander standing so close? It could easily prove fatal. My friends laughed it off and said that these were professional players who do not do such things. I was not convinced. Even the greatest players in any sport can mess up for all manner of reasons, such as an insect going into their eye, an involuntary twitch, or because they are distracted by an unexpected noise. (At one time, there was a mysterious person who would loudly shout “You da m-a-a-a-n!” at major golf tournaments just at the moment when a player was about to hit the ball. He was never caught as I recall.)

So it did not surprise me in the least when I read that former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice had injured a spectator by doing just what I feared might happen. Of course, Rice is not a top-ranked professional golfer but from what I understand she is a fairly decent amateur player. While pros might be less likely to mishit, they hit much harder and such an error by one of them off the tee could prove fatal. And according to the same article, it is not uncommon for even experts like Tiger Woods to hit players, though it did not say if it was off the tee.

Golf may be the one sport where it is more dangerous for spectators than for players.

Comments

  1. Acolyte of Sagan says

    I was in the clubhouse at my local course one day when a player came rushing in, yelling loudly that he needed a doctor urgently. One chap stepped forward and introduced himself as a doctor, and asked what the problem was.
    “I sliced the ball badly and hit a woman standing just off the fairway; she’s hurt pretty bad” he said.
    “Where did you hit her?” asked the doctor.
    “Between the first and second hole” said the man.
    “Blimey!” said the doctor, “That doesn’t leave much space for a plaster”.

    I’ll get my coat. TAXI!

  2. nohellbelowus says

    Ah… finally a blog post pitched directly into my wheelhouse. *Clears throat*

    I also find it hilarious that there has to be pin drop silence when a golfer is about

    to hit a stationary ball, when in tennis or baseball the players have to hit a ball traveling at

    around 100 mph with crowds screaming in their ears.

    A couple of comments.

    The golf ball may indeed be stationary, but when you swing at a golf ball, you are certainly

    moving. It’s the relative motion/rotation of your chest and shoulders with respect to your

    head (and hence eyes) that is largely responsible for the difficulty of properly striking a golf

    ball. It’s not something commonly discussed on golf broadcasts, but one can perform the experiment

    at home. Stand over a golf ball, and swivel your shoulders 90-degrees while keeping your head as

    still as possible. The golf ball will appear to “rotate” relative to your head, so that it is no

    longer “in front” of you — it is now located somewhere below your left shoulder. This can be quite

    disturbing to novice golfers, and it takes intense and dedicated practice to minimize this

    distracting illusion.

    The orientation of the chest and shoulders is a visual cue humans (unconsciously) employ to

    determine what is “in front” of them (and what is behind them and to the side of them). Think about

    it… what other references do you have? You can’t see your own head, so you must either use the

    orientation of your feet, or your chest and shoulders, to determine “where you are”.

    As far as noise, and you noted this yourself in a later sentence, it isn’t necessarily the level of

    crowd screaming — which pro golfers can easily deal with if the background noise is relatively

    “constant”. It is the unexpected “surprise” noises that are very tough to ignore. This is not

    difficult to understand. (The great Earl Woods used to jingle the change in his pocket during

    Tiger’s tee shots, as well as other more insidious tactics, as a form of training for his young

    prodigy.)

    …and even then you can’t even see the ball’s trajectory or where it

    lands.

    Yes, you can! And it is an incredible sight, for those who have properly

    positioned themselves directly behind the pro golfer. When struck by a professional, the

    golf ball literally takes off like a rocket and holds tenaciously to its line, its furious backspin

    providing aerodynamic lift, and then it lands on a distant green like “a butterfly with sore

    feet” — in Lee Trevino’s memorable phrase.

    Watching golf on TV is a different matter, and the shots are not nearly as exciting, visually.

    And according to the same article, it is not uncommon for even experts like Tiger

    Woods to hit players, though it did not say if it was off the tee.

    Yes, hitting

    spectators with tee shots is the most common mishap. 300 yard drives have much less directional

    precision than iron shots from the fairway. In fact, I can’t even remember when I’ve seen a pro hit

    a spectator with an iron in-hand.

  3. TGAP Dad says

    I myself witnessed at a young age – 10 or so – a golfer at an adjacent tee hit by an exceptionally hard, but wayward tee shot, directly in the forehead. He never regained consciousness during the time it took the ambulance to arrive, about 20 or 25 minutes. (This is in the days before cell phones or 911 services. Someone had to run back to the clubhouse and look up the number for an ambulance service, then wait.) It made a profound impact on me, despite my young age.

  4. Jockaira says

    In automobile racing and airplane pylon racing there have been appreciable casualties over the years, but the sport most hazardous to spectators and fans is undeniably fútbol or soccer. It’s not unusual to read of a dozen or more body bags required after a game. To be sure, most of the carnage is not due to spectators being hit by stray sports equipment but rather fights among themselves. At many games, special policía riot squads are assembled to deal with forseeable violence, sometimes directed at players and especially referees.

  5. slc1 says

    Considering the number of spectators on a golf course during a professional tournament, it’s surprising how few times one gets hit by an errant shot.

  6. slc1 says

    Actually, a spectator is more likely to get hit by a foul ball while at a baseball game then he/she is by an errant golf shot. My mother was once hit on the thigh by a foul ball at at Dodger Stadium.

  7. Doug Little says

    Absolutely second everything you said also being an Sunday hacker myself it’s hard to have an appreciation for the game and an awe at how good the pros are, without getting out there and trying to learn, and I’m not talking about going out once or twice but actually trying to improve over time.
    One of the hardest, most frustrating and sometimes rewarding games in the the history of the human race, that takes not only physical conditioning but also a mental conditioning as well.

  8. SabsDkPrncs says

    My dad and I have a long-standing debate about whether golf or NASCAR is the best sport for afternoon naps. It never gets resolved because both of us tend to nod off in the middle of the arguement. One day we may call it a draw.

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