My Five: Golf's Most Damaging Injuries
June 07, 2011
Ben Hogan (Multiple)Although Hogan's magical season of 1953 came four years after his car accident, the injuries he incurred left him a physically compromised player. Hogan was permanently bothered by lingering effects of the broken clavicle, fractured ribs, complex pelvic fracture, eye and facial injuries, and fractured left ankle he suffered from the head-on collision with a bus. Most significantly, the tying off of his vena cava caused him chronic leg fatigue that forced him to play a limited schedule. No longer the power player he was in the late 40s, when he said he played his best golf, Hogan was forced to emphasize precision. Considering that he never won another major after his Triple Crown, there is little doubt he was robbed of strength, stamina and an even greater record.
Lee Trevino (Back)Although never a long hitter, Trevino's stocky, athletic body was tremendously strong through the ball as he won five majors through 1974 with relentlessly pure ball-striking. But after being hit by lightning at the 1975 Western Open, Trevino's back and legs were permanently weakened, causing him to lose much of his speed and impairing his uncanny ability to hold the clubhead square for so long past impact. He underwent several back and neck surgeries, but would finally conclude that "I was never the same." In response, Trevino compromised much like Hogan, becoming ever more accurate and a master of course management. He managed to win eight more times on the PGA Tour after the lightning strike, the last time the 1984 PGA Championship at age 44, his sixth and final major and his 29th career victory.
Jerry Pate (Shoulder)Jerry Pate was the brightest young star of the 1970s, having won the 1976 U.S. Open at age 22 and exhibiting one of history's most aesthetically pleasing swings. He contended in several other majors and in 1982 won the Players Championship. It was his eighth career victory, but sadly, his last. Pate tore cartilage in his right shoulder hitting some impromptu 1-irons without warming up while preparing for the 1982 British Open, and made the damage worse by delaying surgery until 1985. He would soon tear the rotator cuff, requiring two more surgeries. "I couldn't hit the ball 220 yards, my shoulder hurt so much," he said. "It was the long, slow death of my career." In 2003, Pate came back to play the Champions Tour, where he has won twice.
Paul Azinger (Cancer)Azinger was the self-described "most confident player in the world" in 1993. He had won his first major that year, the PGA Championship, giving him 11 career victories. He had also proven himself a Ryder Cup stalwart. But he'd played with a worsening pain in his right shoulder, and discovered in December that the cause was non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a form of cancer. Azinger underwent six months of chemotherapy and five weeks of radiation. When he came back to the PGA Tour in late 1994, he knew that competitively, something had gone out of him. He went winless until 2000, when, fueled by the memory of his recently-departed friend, Payne Stewart, Azinger was flawless as he won by seven in his last hurrah on the regular tour.
Ken Venturi (Hands)After several years at the top of the game followed by a precipitous slump, Venturi had spectacularly revived his career in 1964 with an emotional victory at the U.S. Open at Congressional, as well as two other wins. But the next year, Venturi was afflicted with circulatory problems in his hands that cost him strength and feel. "When I tried to play," he said, "it didn't even feel as if I had a golf club in my hands. It might as well have been a broomstick." Eventually his condition was diagnosed as a rare form of carpal tunnel syndrome. He found some temporary relief from surgery and medication, and in 1966, won the Lucky International on the course he had grown up on, Harding Park, his 14th career victory. But the hand problems soon recurred, and Venturi was forced to retire.