Sports fans who like their competitions to resemble splatter movies tend toward incredulity when they hear how professional golfers get injured. "Whaddya mean he hurt his wrist swinging in deep grass? Where was he, at the city dump? You sure there wasn't an old carburetor in there or somethin' ?"
And, in truth, injuries on the PGA Tour can seem invisible. With all the obvious mental pain being inflicted, it's rare to catch a professional limp, wince or flinch. But, in fact, nearly all pros with any years on them have some chronic physical malady to deal with. And a problem that in another sport might call for a little tape and some ice could effectively end a career in golf.
Last year the PGA Tour was particularly injury-laden. Beyond the non-golf-related maladies of Paul Azinger and Phil Mickelson, back problems sidelined such prominent players as Fred Couples, John Daly and Vijay Singh. For an idea of how beset some players are, 1994 was one of the healthiest seasons of 34-year-old Bill Glasson's 11-year career, yet it still included elbow surgery.
At last week's United Airlines Hawaiian Open, at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, the injury onslaught continued. On Tuesday the longtime caddie of Peter Jacobsen, Mike (Fluff) Cowan, went chasing after Curtis Strange to avenge a prank and pulled both his hamstring muscles. Explained Jacobsen, "The last time Fluff stretched was when he got pulled out of the womb." On Wednesday, Singh was playing with his son in the Pacific surf when he fell on some coral and cut his left forearm so severely that he had to wear bandages for the entire tournament. "Vijay's inner gyroscope is not yet aligned," commented Mac O'Grady, Singh's new swing guru. Then on Friday the 13th, defending champion Brett Ogle lent some gore to the proceedings. On the follow-through of a recovery shot, the shaft of his five-iron hit a tree and broke. Part of the shaft cut Ogle's left forearm, while the head of the club flew back and hit him near the left eye, bruising his left temple and putting a deep scratch in the lens of his sunglasses. "I'm shaking like a leaf," said Ogle after getting to his feet. "I thought I had lost my eye."
But Hawaii is nothing if not therapeutic, and as 36-year-old John Morse was getting well with his first Tour victory, there was a lot of other healing going on, particularly among a group of long-suffering veterans: Steve Jones, 36; Dan Pohl, 39; Andy Bean, 41; Jerry Pate, 41; and Don Pooley, 43. In recent years all five have spent more time in physical therapy on the sidelines than on the golf course, and all have had to consider calling it quits because of serious injuries to parts of the body where pro golfers are most vulnerable—hands (Jones), elbow (Bean), shoulder (Pate) and spine (Pohl and Pooley).
Yet they all came to Hawaii professing to feel better than they have in years and eager to rejoin the battle as full-time players. All but Pate made the 36-hole cut of one-over-par 145, with Pohl and Jones showing they still may have the game to win.
"I feel so encouraged, because coming down the stretch my body held up like it had never been injured," said Pohl, who finished in a three-way tie for fourth, with Azinger and Glasson, five shots behind Morse. "I think each one of us that's been hurt has gone through an awful lot, but I also think that with our perseverence, we've got a lot of golf left."
While their names haven't been on the public's lips a lot lately, these guys are far from nobodies. Before their injuries this fivesome won a total of 27 events on the PGA Tour. Bean, with 11 victories, has the most, while Pate, with eight, has the most noteworthy, the 1976 U.S. Open and the 1982 Players Championship. Pohl was on the 1987 Ryder Cup team, with Bean, and won twice in 1986; Jones won three times in 1989; and Pooley took the 1987 Memorial, as well as the 1985 Vardon Trophy for low scoring average on the Tour.
But all five fell prey to the kind of injuries that hit many pros right around the prime of their careers. "The problems often occur because golf pros are peaking between the ages of 35 and 40, when most people are most susceptible to injury in the back and joints," says Dr. Peter Mackay, a chiropractor who has worked extensively with Tour players. "The postures and repetitive action of a Tour player's golf swing create a lot of wear and tear, but players tend to get so caught up in the demands of playing competitively that they don't maintain the kind of fitness it takes to keep their bodies from breaking down."
Certainly Pate, Bean, Pooley and Pohl fit that profile. Their problems flared up during the 1980s, when Tour players were just beginning to engage in stretching and strengthening the body parts most at risk. The veterans now serve as cautionary tales for younger pros, who as a group are more fit than their predecessors.