I was walking to my car, not far from the 14th fairway, just a few steps from my front door – which meant I once again was cognizant of the possibility.
The possibility of getting hit by an errant shot.
I have walked in that same parking lot thousands of times the last four years and can count on one hand the number of times a golf ball has landed somewhere near me. Even though I think about it every time when I’m out there during the day and make it a habit to never look up, it becomes a more fleeting thought when it almost never happens.
And then …
The ball made an explosive sound as it landed on the carport right above my head and bounced 50 feet away. Another golf ball for me – that’s a good thing – but I might have gotten nailed if not for that overhead protection.
It got me thinking about one of the unspoken dangers of our great game and how we need to do everything possible to prevent it.
I have never gotten hit by a ball in more than 50 years of walking around golf courses, so I don’t know what it feels like. But I’ve seen it a few times, and I know how lucky I am.
The worst was when I was playing with a friend while growing up in Illinois. We were on the first hole, and my playing partner wanted to show me his new setup.
I don’t know what possessed him to try this, but he opened up his shoulders and the clubface and looked as if he was aiming dead right – he was that concerned about hooking the ball too much to the left.
But then, instead of putting a hook swing on it and going inside out, he actually swung more outside in and somehow shanked his drive on an ugly parabola in the direction of a nearby tee … right where an unsuspecting woman was standing.
There wasn’t even time to yell “Fore!” It nailed her right on the arm. She went down.
We both ran over there, but she insisted she was OK. Talk about putting a crimp in your round as soon as it starts. It happened so suddenly.
The second-worst time I saw it was when a friend tried to hit a shot past a tree and instead hit the tree dead center. The ball bounced back and hit him in the nose. He was fortunate it wasn’t broken.
As soon as it happened, I thought about how many times I’ve tried to hit the same shot and how many trees I’ve hit. I am so lucky. I’ve been a knucklehead out there, trying to hit a shot I had no business trying, and I easily could have gotten a ricochet right in the forehead.
But that’s about all I’ve seen. Sure, I’ve heard the whistle of the ball a few times as it zipped past, and I’ve seen people get hit by a softly bouncing ball now and again. Nothing beyond that.
We must remember, however, that people have died on the golf course after getting hit by a ball. It’s rare, but it happens.
And the one thing that strikes me (no pun intended) is that we can make it even rarer if we just take a little extra care to watch out for our fellow golfers.
It starts with awareness on the part of the player hitting the shot, not just the people within striking distance. I make it a policy to never walk ahead of someone hitting, especially on the right. As I’ve proved, shanks happen.
But I also take a look around when I’m the one putting club to ball. The last thing I want to do is hit someone. The absolute last thing. I would rather shoot 100 than hit someone.
Many golf courses have vastly reduced the chances of getting nailed by having the next tee be so far from the green. It didn’t used to be that way. The No. 1 place of danger in the past was the next tee when it was only a few yards from the green.
Finally, there’s the simple act of yelling “Fore!” It’s almost a cliché. We hear it all the time from bozos driving past the course and thinking it’s funny to yell that in our backswing. But that little word can save an injury or, maybe, save a life.
You still might get hit by an errant shot, no matter how careful you are. Golf balls travel a long way, often in the wrong direction, and you can’t prevent everything.
But you sure want to try. The only time this game should really hurt is when you hit a miserable shot or miss a short putt. Let’s all take extra care to make sure that only our egos get bruised out there.