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Chainsaws, yucca plants and airport trolleys – health hazards of the world’s top golfers

A round-up of news and oddities from left field by Dr Doug Witherspoon

As we bid farewell to the more clement weather and it becomes more challenging to get a round of golf in, perhaps the more accident-prone among us are better off – even for the most skilled and coordinated pro, the strangest injuries can befall them. For the trauma medicine aficionados, here’s a brief round-up of how some of our favourite golfers seem to be so prone to bizarre injuries.

For instance, in 2017 Louis Oosthuizen returned to his home country to compete in the Joburg Open, but the elite sportsman was forced to pull out after jamming his fingers in between some trolleys at the airport. “This morning is even worse than it was yesterday, so I tried to grip a golf club, but there’s no way I can go to my grip position,” reported lucky Louis.

Even less lucky was our own Padraig Harrington, who took one for the team at the FedEx St Jude’s Classic. An amateur hit Harrington on the shoulder with his club, leaving him with six stitches and a temporary panic over whether he would be able to play as a professional again. Padraig’s take on it was thus: “There’s no truth in the rumour that it was the amateur’s best strike of the day. Ironic that a potential injury caused coaching an am[ateur] could have resulted in me becoming a full-time coach.” Just a couple of months before that, Dustin Johnson fell down the stairs at his Augusta home, putting him out of the Masters – rotten timing, as he had won the previous three tournaments in which he played. The tumble, and the resultant tricky low-back pain, put him out of action for a month. Perhaps some of golf’s finest are also not best suited to using dangerous machinery.

It’s a different type of swing. Both Greg Norman and Jamie Donaldson had chainsaw-related accidents; Donaldson almost lost his left-hand little finger, but was stitched-up and back in action after only three weeks. Norman went one better and almost lost his left hand after a chainsaw mishap. His account of the event is precise: “I was about four branches from being done, and there was one branch about chest high, and I cut through and took my finger off the trigger.

The branch was just about ready, was falling straight down, and I went to grab it with my left hand, but it was a little heavier than I anticipated.”
“The weight took my arm, right above where you wear your watch on your left wrist, and took it right into the chains as it was spooling down. I was very lucky in a lot of ways. If the chainsaw was going at full speed, my hand would have been cut off and it missed my ulna nerve and muscles, so I was extremely, extremely lucky in that regard, by fractions of millimetres.”

Keeping Ireland on the map is Rory McIlroy, who missed most of 2015 after a total rupture of his anterior talo-fibular ligament and associated joint capsule damage, whilst having a kickabout with his friends. Even when they go to bed, it’s not guaranteed that pro golfers are safe. Tour veterans Graeme McDowell and Sam Torrance took freak accidents to a new level when they both incurred midnight injuries. Late one night during the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament, McDowell went sleepwalking and woke up in his boxers in searing pain – him, not the boxer shorts – with his hand somehow caught in a door. No broken bones, luckily, but swelling and bruising meant he had to use a 10-finger ‘baseball grip’. He was able to finish the tournament nonetheless.

An even stranger event saw Torrance miss his 1993 Ryder Cup singles match. In the wee hours, Torrance tackled what he thought was an intruder in his dimly-lit apartment, which turned out to be a yucca plant. The yucca plant won the tussle and Torrance was left with a broken toe. As you can imagine, the ribbing he got from fellow golfers was merciless – legend has it that every time Torrance hit a ball near a tree from then on, a cry would go up of ‘Watch out Sam, it’s a jungle out there!’

But the last word goes to legend Lee Trevino, who was struck by lightning whilst playing the – you guessed it – 13th hole. That famous Father Ted episode springs to mind, but incredibly, even at odds of 300,000/1 of being struck by lightning, Trevino has been hit three times during his career. There’s a lot to be said for sticking to the 19th hole.

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