Use your head, and not to catch golf balls

Man with hand on face

• Never assume other players see you, even if you’re standing in their fairway. Wait until they hit or make sure they acknowledge your presence.
• Know where you are. If you’re on the right side of your fairway, chances are golfers coming up the adjacent hole will hit it in your direction.
• When you hear “fore,” don’t assume it’s not meant for you. Always protect yourself, even if it means backing away from the ball.

On Sunday morning at Phillips Park Golf Course in Aurora, I was hit in the head with a golf ball.

I was lucky.
Fortunately for me, the gentleman yelled “fore!” and I immediately covered my head with my hands and turned my back towards his group. Seconds later, I was hit.

The base of my left thumb absorbed much of the impact, though my left ear and side of my head were a little tender the next 24 hours.

If the guy doesn’t yell “fore,” I might have taken it square on the forehead.

Though I didn’t start playing golf regularly until I was 20, my dad told me as a teenager to always yell “fore” when I hit a shot offline.

I’m thankful that gentleman was also taught to warn others.

Dr. Tom Scaletta, a chief physician and medical director of the emergency department at Edward Hospital, has known of golfers treated at the hospital for head wounds caused by a golf ball.

And during his 15 years in the field, Scaletta has seen some of the worst cases.

“Golf balls are pretty high velocity, generally speaking, and the energy is very focused,” Scaletta said. “So (when) the golf ball, which is a hard object, hits … the skull, it can actually punch out a circle of the skull and cause a depressed skull fracture and bruise the brain or cause bleeding right underneath this injury.”

As co-author of “Emergent Management of Trauma,” Scaletta wrote that one of the highest risks for intracranial injury is a “highly focused blunt trauma” like a “hammer/golf ball strike.”

The highest risk for a highly traumatic injury due to a golf ball strike are players who somehow walk directly in front of a tee shot, or those on the driving range that sneak out in front of their station to snag an extra ball.

Balls that are popped out of a bunker, or in my case, tee shots that are on their way down, are less of a risk for a punched out skull. But the danger is high nonetheless.

“It depends on the velocity, but it could kill people,” Scaletta said. “That is very, very uncommon. It’s uncommon to get hit in the first place and it’s really uncommon to have a devastating injury but it could happen. There’s a continuum. It could just be a bump on the head or a punch-out type skull fracture. It’s not always a trivial injury.”

The word “fore” has been around for centuries, with the United States Golf Association theorizing it may have been used since the 1700s. We’ve played with friends who don’t yell it and we’ve all had our close encounters because others haven’t. I can only strongly suggest to make it a habit. After all, it’s a lot less painful to get that into your head than a golf ball.

Contact Jim Owczarski at [email protected] or at (630) 416-5107.

• This par-4, 433-yard (from the back tees) gave the Illinois State Mid Amateurs fits the last two days. White Eagle assistant pro Ryan Glembin, breaks No. 11 down for the average player:
“It’s got to be a controlled drive off the tee because they have to watch out for the bunkers on the left side. Either they have to play it down the right side and carry them or possibly lay up short. On the approach you’ve got to be careful of the deep bunker in back of the green. You really don’t want to be hitting a bunker shot coming across the green to the water. The green is broken into two parts and slopes down to the water. There’s really nowhere to bail out. You’ve got to be committed when you go towards the green. Par is a good score on this hole.”