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When Lightning Strikes…

Tuesday, March 26, 2019
Tony Jimenez

Tony talked to former Reuters golf correspondent Tony Jimenez about the day a bolt of lightning sent an eight-iron flying out of his hands:

“Seeing that clap of thunder shake up Nacho Elvira in the middle of the Spaniard’s backswing at the Maybank Championship in Malaysia on Sunday took me back to the most frightening incident of my career.

It came in 1975, during the Western Open at the Butler National in Chicago. I hit an eight-iron and as the ball landed on the green, there was a bolt of lightning that lifted the club clean out of my hands and carried it fully 30 feet away. I was okay, thankfully, although to this day I can recall the nasty burning taste I had in my mouth when it happened.

There was a bang and it was such a shocking thing. It all happened so quickly. It was over in a flash but it was one of those things that was hard to digest. We all started to run for cover and then another bolt of lightning hit the course.

I was playing with Bobby Nichols and I tell you, I’ve never seen a grown man as frightened as he was. Bobby had a metal plate in his head, I believe it was the legacy of an operation he’d had as a youngster, and he was rolling around on the floor like a ball.

He got up with a look of terror on his face that I’ve never forgotten.

There was mayhem all around us. Ambulances arrived, the site was evacuated, because of course it’s just as dangerous for the spectators as it is for the players, and it was all quite scary.

Lee Trevino and Jerry Heard were struck and Lee was just grateful to be alive. I don’t think he was making too many quips that day. He was burned on his back and Heard was also burned where the handle of his putter was resting.

Lee, Jerry and Bobby had to be taken to hospital and only Jerry was allowed out in time to continue playing in the tournament.

It was a wake-up call for all of us and a reminder of how dangerous it can be playing golf in conditions like that.

As for events on the PGA Tour last week, it was good to see Paul Casey making it a hat-trick of European victories by successfully defending the Valspar Championship.

Are there any Americans playing on the PGA Tour these days?

Seriously, though, it was a surprise to see Dustin Johnson shoot a 74 in the final round but his power wasn’t any advantage the way that course plays at Innisbrook. It was a bit of an old-fashioned set-up, the rough was up, the greens were dried out and the pins were hidden.

I played with Casey the last time I competed in The Open, at St Andrews in 2005. His swing has improved since those days.

He used to have a distinctive weight shift to his right side on the backswing. I always thought that looked a bit suspect but he’s eliminated that in the last three or four years. He’s now developed a proper turn and is enjoying probably the best spell of his career.

Some people have called him a choke merchant but that’s not fair. Everyone chokes from time to time. No one should use that term. If they do, it shows they don’t know just how difficult this game is.”