Taking Complete Relief

I don't know about any of you, but I have a low threshold for pain. I am not the strong, silent type; I am the weak, noisy type. I'll yell like a toddler until somebody gives me something strong enough to take away the pain.

I remember one particularly nasty shoulder injury that I was forced to play through due to my unfortunate financial circumstances at the time. In my infinite wisdom, I decided I would "numb it up" and then go whack a few to see how it would hold out.

Now, this was not an Advil or Tylenol situation, no sir. I'm talking about enough Percodan to make Donny & Marie seem painless. Anyway, that morning I found out why they warn on the bottle that you shouldn't operate heavy machinery while under the influence. I swear, I could have made Arnold's tractor fly.

My shoulder was perfect, but unfortunately for four hours, I felt like an intergalactic space fairy from the planet Nad. Judging by my first few divots, I had been sent to Earth on a turf-collecting mission.

Once I got used to the lightheadedness, though, I hit the ball really well. But for the life of me I couldn't imagine trying to compete like that. I can hear it now: "What the hell happened to Feherty?"

"I've no idea, sir. He shot 66, signed the card, 'Batman,' and then threw himself off the clubhouse roof. Funny thing is, it didn't seem to hurt him."

I'm not alone in this kind of behavior. Golfers have always played through their injuries and these days, it's getting easier to do, what with all the facilities on Tour.

The fitness trailer is staffed by expert therapists and stocked with bandages, lotions, potions, and ointments for, as my Auntie Jean used to say, "Colds, sore holes, and pimples on the willy." I have no idea why she used to say that, but I digress.

Actually, now that I come to think of it, maybe she had a point. Some of the more common golfing ailments are the ones you never hear about.

You'll read about Freddie's back or Greg's shoulder, sure. But what about the guy who's been up since 4 a.m. playing the bathroom bugle? I'm sorry to bring up such an indelicate subject, but hey, one dodgy oyster and it could be you. In fact, the chances are you've been that soldier.

I could tell you horror stories about the Safari Tour, as could anyone who ever played it. Zambia, Nigeria, Kenya, and what was then Rhodesia were my first experiences of foreign golf and very foreign food. It's a whole new golfing experience trying to play golf in 100 degree-plus temperatures when you have cold sweats and projectile diarrhea. Every swing is an adventure.

I can remember one round where I walked all 18 holes in the address position because that was the only way I could ensure that nothing below my waist would touch anything else. I would have given my left nostril for a tube of Auntie Jean's ointment, but then, the Safari Tour is a whole other column.

Unfortunately, the slightest physical defect can affect a person's golf swing. A split fingernail, a minor neck crick, or a sprained eyelid can play havoc, but such is the delicate nature of the game. Most golf injuries are sustained during the course of play or practice, but not all of them.

Take the case of Loren Roberts, a man who at his angriest looks like he might be capable of tearing a piece of toast in half. He recently broke two ribs with a self-inflicted sneeze.

What immediately sprang to my evil mind was this: He was lucky. If it had been a fart, he might have shattered his pelvis.

Sam Torrance, veteran Ryder Cupper and my dear old roommate in Europe, was, and probably still is, the world sleepwalking champion and captain of the Scottish synchronized sleepwalking team. During the 1993 Ryder Cup at The Belfry, Sam was snoozing peacefully in his hotel room beside his lovely wife Suzanne.

Suddenly, he sat bolt upright in bed and stared around the room. He was fast asleep with his eyes wide open and in full ninja mode (try to picture Chris Farley here). He mistook a medium-sized potted Yucca tree for a masked intruder, tackled it, broke his toe, and his heart, for alas, it caused him to miss the final-day singles matches.

For months afterwards, he was unmercifully ribbed by his colleagues. Every time he hit it into the trees, someone would say something like, "Careful, Sammy. It's a jungle out there."

Even Ben Crenshaw pulverized his foot after applying it to a trash can. It must have been a very naughty receptacle to make Gentle Ben lose his head like a hot bottle of Guinness.

I don't care what anyone says, we're always going to hear about bad backs, wrists, and elbows, and we're never going to hear about bad fronts, even though there are a number of them out there.

However, the most commonly pulled muscle on the golf course is between the ears. I know the ego resides in there somewhere, surrounded by thick bone, but somehow it still manages to get bruised.

This, of course, leads to all kinds of ailments of the cerebral kind. The most common of these is WMS, or Why Me Syndrome, also known as the Whining Flu. This affliction affects the temporal lobe so that sufferers are under the delusion that they receive 10 times more bad bounces than does the average golfer. They think they are being victimized by some greater power, which of course they are, just like the rest of us.

The only cure for this all-too-common malaise is for the patient to be dragged up an alley by his most frequent playing companions and beaten severely about the head and shoulders with a blunt object. An old persimmon driver works nicely.

It worked for Woody Austin, who is back on the PGA Tour after taking the cure at Harbour Town almost two years ago. And, it worked for me (you see where I am now).

As luck would have it, the source of most of our problems is also the answer to them. Every great champion has, from time to time, benefited from a bout of this malady: the superiority complex.

Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie, Tiger Woods, and David Duval, to name but a few, have in their finest moments believed themselves to be just plain better than everyone else.

This is a trait they shared with me, for I, too, believed them to be just plain better than I was. I found this to be comforting in a way.

A very strange way, but what would you expect from the likes of me, a man who also finds it strange that injuries never affect good shots. I don't ever see anyone doubling up in agony after hitting one to three feet. But I have been sent hobbling off into the woods after clanking one off the bottom groove or near the hosel.

That's why I could have won the '94 British Open but for a ruptured gornacle (don't ask).

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