Golf is tough in its way, but unlike American Football, the only head injuries are psychological
Top golfers can last longer than other sportspeople but they also have to know when to ease off
Edoardo Molinari of Italy has been plagued by a wrist and now hand injury for the past couple of years. It is important for golfers to recogni z se when less practice is actually a better way of being to be successful. Photograph: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
The American College Football season has started up in the past few weeks. I am not a fan, but did watch the arrival of the Clemson team at their home ground for their opening game.
From the top of the stadium, in gladiatorial fashion, they charged down what looked like a steep ski-run and on to the pitch amid deafening appreciation from the 80,000-plus crowd.
I realised I was fretting unnecessarily on their behalf when I saw the impact they endured when the game finally started for real.
The helmet designed for security from head injuries is actually part of the problem when you end up ramming into your opponents with it.
Little wonder the NFL recently paid out over three quarters of a billion dollars in compensation to victims of one impact too many.
Naturally, I was in America for one of their more sedentary sports, golf, and the slow motion images of frontline impacts between bull-like combatants made me very grateful for being involved in a non-contact sport. Golf is potentially more dangerous for unsuspecting spectators than those who play.
It has always fascinated me how trusting spectators are of professionals at a tournament when I see them hanging over a rope 270 to 300 yards from the tee, which is the distance a tee shot will fly through the air for the average pro.
I know if I find myself on the other side of the ropes during play I either stand short of 250 yards or past 310 yards, out of the landing zone at least. You won’t get hit full pitch and are thus less likely to get maimed if a ball is mis-directed.
I know it may sound a bit paranoid but I have seen people getting struck by a golf ball in full flight and it is a very messy business. If you did, it would ensure you would steer clear of the pitching zone for the rest of your days.
Such is the modern pro’s dedication and diligence there is a good chance he will suffer some sort of injury before he makes it on to the course.
No matter how good golf is for enabling older people to play competitively until late in life, the repetition of the swing can ultimately lead to injury.
With today’s golfer’s penchant for physical fitness some of the injuries sustained can happen in the gym.
The Swede Peter Hanson has endured a very difficult year on the course due to an injury he developed trying to become fitter. Many players simply use the gym to try to avoid injury from playing.
Edoardo Molinari has been plagued by a wrist and now hand injury for the past couple of years. As soon as the wrist injury healed he developed a thumb problem, for which he had surgery last month. This of course further delays a comeback for the Italian.
It is difficult to criticise dedication and a strong work ethic but it is important for golfers to recognise when less practice is actually a better way to be successful.
But it is virtually impossible to persuade hard-working golfers they need to spend less time on the range. It seems the longer golfers last, and there are not many sports where you can spend two decades at the top, the harder they work in order to defy natural decline.
When you see the tragic end to a young sportsman’s life highlighted last week by the Belfast coroner’s judgment in the death of Benjamin Robinson due to traumatic brain injury from a heavy collision during a rugby match, you realise how safe golf is; the greatest risk being the over-indulgence of ambitious players who spend too long on the driving range and push their bodies too hard in the gym.
The only type of head injury they are likely to suffer is the psychological damage the game can wreak on you if you compete at a high level of intensity over a couple of decades. There is no doubt it takes a very balanced golfer to come away unscathed from the mental torture of trying to make cuts week after week.
That is why many of them will pounce on mind coaches in order to regain mental equilibrium.
It is also the reason so many of them have their own physiotherapists on tour, who make sure they exercise enough, and not too much, in order to stretch their careers at least until they near 50 and can re-invent themselves on the Champions Tour.
Such longevity is not realistic for those young American Football players who look like they would be happy to be able to walk straight by the time they end their time on the pitch.