Recently I slipped down a flight of stairs in the most South African way.
It was raining lightly and I had been to a braai (yes, we do that, even if it’s not sunny) and I was saying my goodbyes, while carrying ‘takeaway’ meat from a host who, as usual, had cooked too much. Wearing my flip-flops I slipped on the stairs and fell squarely on my back.
Basically, I had a clean break to five ribs and my scapula (shoulder blade) and despite being discharged from ER I had to return two days later and was admitted to hospital for more scans and tests after coughing up blood, which went on for 10 days, as well as blood in my urine. And so on. And the pain … well, nearly three weeks later, it was still rather sore.
However, I’m told that things will heal, eventually, although any future career as a bikini swimsuit model has been ruled out.
Now, though, comes a bigger worry. What’s going to happen to my golf game? The broken ribs are all down the left side and at the back and the scapula on the left is also broken. I’ve played hundreds of shots in my mind – why have they all been trying to smash the ball down the middle of the fairway? – and each time I can’t imagine doing so without intense pain.
Google hasn’t helped because the recommendation is to not pick up a golf club and have a swing until things have completely healed.
It’s only now that I’m realising the stress that a golf swing puts on the body. And it’s made me marvel even more at how someone like Tiger Woods has defied all the odds and logic, to return to the highest level after what he has put his body through.
Apart from his various surgeries and injuries, Tiger rebounded from a near-fatal car crash in February 2021 to play at last year’s Masters. The 15-time Major champion was in obvious pain as he walked Augusta National for all 72 holes, with his Saturday and Sunday scores being six-over 78s.
Ben Hogan got hit by a bus in 1949 and probably should have died from his injuries, but 16 months later he won the US Open.
Such stories used to make me say ‘wow, incredible’, but it’s only after experiencing a small degree of misfortune, in comparison, that has made me marvel at the mental resolve of those who have defied death to wield a golf club at that level again.
Here I am worried that the next time I swing a club I’m going to pop ribs and ‘snap’ them all over again. I’m thinking that my backswing and followthrough is going to be even shorter than it has become over the years and my mind is stopping me from even imagining a full swing at the golf ball.
Yet, then I think of Hogan and Woods and it puts things into perspective.
What are five broken ribs and a broken shoulder blade in comparison to what those giants endured? There were genuine fears for either of them ever walking again. Here I am, playing at a level where I’m trying to win bragging rights and a beer at the 19th, when those immortals cheated death and then had the resolve to fight back against the best professionals of their generation.
So, this month’s column is a shoutout to all of those mere mortals among us who have fought adversity, illness and injury to get back on to the golf course again.
And perhaps, finally, it will allow me to put my ego in my pocket and work on my short game more. As the expression goes, it’s not how you start, but how you finish.
– This column first appeared in the May 2023 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine.