When spectators take the hit - six of the worst incidents on the golf course

A small, hard ball can do a lot of damage

When spectators take the hit - six of the worst incidents on the golf course

A small, hard ball can do a lot of damage

Thomas Pieters and the golf fan saw the funny side of a bizarre incident at Ballyliffin during the first round of the Irish Open. The Belgian hit his drive well left of the fairway on the 9th hole and his ball somehow ended up in the fan’s pocket. No playing that ball as it lies.

Amusing it certainly was but it highlights a more serious and dangerous issue. Rory McIlroy proved this on the Saturday of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May. Three errant shots hit three people during his third round. The Northern Irishman did well to remain composed as he still finished the day tied for the lead.

His first shot was more of a slash out of the bushes on the 6th hole, when the ball skinned off the club onto a woman’s hand. The second strike came much later on the 17th hole, where he hit a steward in the back. 

Remarkably, the steward had been hit by Sam Horsfield only moments before. The final incident occurred on the 18th where a woman was hit on the head near the green. This final incident proved to be the worst as blood was drawn.

“When you see blood, the one on 18 shook me a little bit, but she reassured me she was okay,” said Rory, afterwards. 

“It’s never nice. I remember playing the final round here in 2014, and Pablo Larrazabal hit a lady on the left-hand side of 11 and basically didn’t hit a shot for the rest of the round. 

“It’s tough. You can say sorry and maybe give them a glove but that’s not going to do anything for them. I’m just thankful my ball didn’t go where it was heading and I just hope they’re okay.”

Rory was castigated on social media for not shouting “fore”, especially on the final hole, but he had a rational explanation:

“I didn’t think it was going to carry that far,” he said. 


“It was into the wind and it was 275 yards to the bunker with a three wood. I thought it was going to pitch in the bunker. So I didn’t think anyone was in danger. Obviously that wasn’t the case.”

Pat Perez, the American golfer, is a runner-up in the hitting spectator stakes: at the 2017 Genesis Open he hit two people in one round – one in the head, the other in the leg. His lack of consideration for the fans by not shouting a warning was attacked by fans and Professionals alike, including Shane Lowry.

The matter of warning crowds and crowd safety has been a heavily debated topic and the European Tour had to remind players in November 2016, that if they failed to give adequate warnings they could face disciplinary measures. 

Sadly, little has changed and while the first of Rory’s spectator hits was as unfortunate as it was unlikely, there are many other incidents which have left fans stunned… in more ways than one.

Spectator Edwin Curtis was seated near the 18th green when George McNeill’s drive struck him at the Honda Classic in Palm Beach in 2014.
Spectator Edwin Curtis was seated near the 18th green when George McNeill’s drive struck him at the Honda Classic in Palm Beach in 2014.

Here are six of the worst:

1. Keegan Bradley

On the first day of the President’s Cup in 2013, hit a poor drive into the gallery, striking a man on the head. The microphone picked up the cracking sound as the man collapsed to the ground. Bradley didn’t shout ‘Fore’. An identical scenario and result happened with Robert Allenby at the Australian Masters in 2010.

2. Tiger Woods

Tiger hit a spectator on the side of his neck with his opening tee shot at the 2010 Memorial Tournament. He didn’t shout Fore and cynics would say that by hitting the spectator, Tiger avoided the dangers of the creek in the trees. It is one of the rationales given as to why Pros don’t shout a warning.

3. Six years later, at the same tournament, Phil Mickelson hit Course Marshall Joshua Stanfield in the head.

 Stanfield, standing inside the ropes, said he knew the ball was coming in his general direction but didn’t take evasive measures. At least his hat helped to absorb the impact. The ball deflected off his head and into the rough on the other side of fairway. “If your head was a touch softer I’d be in the fairway,” Phil joked as he approached, handing over a glove and making his apology. “Yea, it hurt, but it was worth it to me,” Stanfield said afterwards.

4. Ernie Els

At the 2014 Open Championship, at Royal Liverpool, hit a spectator in the face with his opening tee shot. Ernie was visibly rattled by the incident and struggled thereafter, missing numerous short putts and playing the front nine in seven over par – including a triple bogey on that 1st hole. He still wasn’t in a great state during his post round interviews, clearly affected by how much blood was involved. The spectator in question required stitches to his chin but was released from hospital that same day.

5. Unfortunately for Ernie, he was at it again when he hit a spectator on the second day of the Masters in 2016. He’d recorded an abysmal 9 on the par four 1st hole the day before and no doubt that was playing on his mind as he pulled his approach shot into the crowd on the same hole. Golf fan, Luke Fewel, was hit on the temple but was not hurt seriously. Els made a double bogey from where the ball finished… a full three shots better than the day before.

6. Philip Reid, golf correspondent for the Irish Times, was hit on the fly by Dustin Johnson at Royal Birkdale, just last year. Reid was standing well wide of the 9th green, in front of gorse bushes, when the ball struck him high on the cheekbone. He – or at least his cheekbone – prevented the ball going into the gorse. From TV coverage it appeared that Johnson did not shout Fore. Reid was more forgiving, saying that in the wind and at such a distance no one could hear a shout of warning.

But Pros get hit, too: in 1998, it was Pro golfer Frank Nobilo who got hit in the head with a golf ball. The wound around his left eye required 30 stitches. Nobilo was on his way to the practice range riding in a buggy when he was struck.

There are many more such incidents – Rory hit someone in the head in 2012 – and while fans are informed that they enter golf courses at their own risk, there is no excuse for deliberately or carelessly putting them in jeopardy. 

A small, hard ball can do a lot of damage and you only have to see the photo of Philip Reid’s face to realise that one day soon there will be a very serious incident indeed.

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