The murder victim in Thursday night's much-anticipated CSI golf episode, found slumped in a golf cart with a shaft stuck in his neck, turned out to be an accident victim. The man was done in not by any of the usual suspects but by his own club, which he presumably snapped in a fit of anger and which presumably cut his carotid artery.
"It's not just an urban legend," the CSI detective says gravely. "There are at least four reported cases worldwide of golfers who accidentally killed themselves while breaking clubs."
Well, yes and no. This type of accident is rare, but it's almost never deadly, making it practically an urban legend. Golf.com found media accounts of four fatalities similar to the one in Thursday night's CBS drama, two of them in 2005—recent enough to have perhaps sparked an idea for the CSI show:
• 1951 Edward Harrison was playing golf in Kenmore, Wash., when the shaft of his driver broke and lodged in his groin, presumably severing the femoral artery. According to the April 1998 Men's Health, he staggered 100 yards, collapsed and bled to death.
• 1994 Jeremy T. Brenno, 16, of Gloversville, N.Y. (near Albany), slammed a bench with his 3-wood after missing a shot on the sixth hole at Kingsboro Golf Club. According to The New York Times, doctors at the club and at Nathan Littauer Hospital tried to save him, but the club's shaft had pierced his heart.
• 2005 Rafael Naranjo, 15, of Gardner, Mass., playfully swung a found 5-iron at a fire hydrant and died when the club's shaft broke off and lodged in his neck.
• 2005 Chandler Hugh Jackson, 12, a standout baseball player in Frisco, Texas, went into a gully to look for his stray tee shot when his 9-iron somehow snapped. No one saw what happened.
The shaft, according to a lengthy account on chandlersfoundation.org, "entered just below his Adam's apple, angled sharply downward after glancing off a bony protrusion of his breast plate, and completely sheared off his carotid artery and partially sliced his aorta."
All of these are freakish accidents. The National Golf Foundation does not keep statistics on golf accidents and fatalities, so I called a longtime friend, Robert Lally, who is retired after 30 years as an ER doctor, for some perspective on accidental self-inflicted golf deaths.
"It would be a very rare occurrence," said Lally, who added that he never saw any such accident in three decades. Whether the club was broken out of anger or because it was defective, Lally said, it would still be difficult to "impale yourself with sufficient force."
"An opening of a superficial artery like the carotid would be most likely," Lally continued, "because to get to the heart you have to go through the ribs, which is another high chance event."
More likely is for a broken shaft to do permanent damage but not kill the victim, who may not have even been the club-thrower.
Rick Pearce of Hamilton, Ontario, had to have surgery to remove part of a broken club that had lodged in his temple in 1991. This after one of Pearce's playing partners, angry about his tee shot, "wrapped his club around a tree," Staff Sgt. Bob Buck said in media accounts at the time.