Golf shot to the nose is a $40,000 winner

July 24, 1995|By MIKE ROYKO

Most golfers would agree that it was no one's fault but her own when Jeannine Pelletier managed to hit herself in the nose with her own golf ball

That's not an easy shot. I've played for years without coming close, and my nose is surely a more prominent target than Mrs. Pelletier's.

Not that I'd want to do it. Nor did Mrs. Pelletier. But in golf, as in life, stuff happens. And here's how it happened to her nose.

On the course she was playing in Fort Kent, Maine, old railroad tracks cut across the fairway on the first hole.

The tracks are on a rise about two feet higher than ground level.

Thus any decent shot should soar over the tracks. In fact, a miserable shot, if chunked high enough, should clear them.

And the rules of the course allow a golfer whose ball lands near the tracks to toss his ball across.

A player can also do as Mrs. Pelletier did when her ball was near the tracks. She played it from right there.

But she skulled it much too low, an embarrassing hackers' shot. And it hit the track, whizzed back and smacked her nose, ruining any chance for a gracefully posed follow-through.

The rules of golf are quite strict. You aren't supposed to hit your nose with your own ball. Had this happened in Scotland, where they have proper reverence for the game, a golfer would have scrambled to his feet and said something like: "My ball struck my nose. Under the ancient rules of this honorable game, I do openly declare a two-stroke penalty on myself. Anybody got a spare hanky?"

That's the rule and it is a good rule, harsh as it might appear. It's good because it encourages players to develop the judgment and subtle skills needed to avoid hitting themselves in the nose.

But this isn't Scotland. We have different rules of sportsmanship. So Mrs. Pelletier reacted in a way that has become almost pure instinct in this country. She hired a lawyer and sued the golf course for the damage to her nose.

Her husband also sued, although it wasn't his nose. But he said that his wife's injury caused him to suffer a lack of consortium.

For those who are not familiar with legal terms, consortium means . . . well, I'm sure you can guess what it means. I shouldn't have to draw you a picture.

Actually, I wouldn't know what kind of picture to draw of a man who lacks consortium because his wife was hit in the nose by a golf ball. I've been around the block a few times, but I'm not aware of any consorting that involves the female nose. But in life, as in golf, it's different strokes for different folks.

A trial was held. Mrs. Pelletier's lawyer argued that the golf course management hadn't done enough to warn players that if they banged a ball off the old railroad tracks, it could fly back and hit them in the nose.

Once again, if this were Scotland, I can imagine how jurors would have reacted. They would have been laughing and hooting and shouting: "Aye, there, lassie, any fool knows that you shouldn't be bouncing balls off railroad tracks, outhouses, stray goats, American tourists or your caddie's head. It is not the proper way to play the game. Now go take some lessons and learn how to hit the ball up in the air and your nose will be safe from harm. And your poor husband will no longer be pining for the consortiums that are due any man, although, we do not know what your nose has to do with it. Must be a fussy fellow."

But in this country, many juries seem to believe that if a person sues for just about anything -- coffee in the lap or a golf ball in the nose -- he or she should not go away empty-handed.

Or maybe this Maine jury was made up of the kind of awful golfers who are constantly bouncing balls off trees, their carts or each other.

Whatever their thinking, or lack of same, they awarded Mrs. Pelletier $40,000.

Each week on the professional golf tour, many outstanding golfers play four splendid rounds and receive a lot less than $40,000. So that's a hefty sum for one terrible shot.

However, the jury denied her husband any damages for the consortium he missed because of his wife's nose. I guess the jury couldn't figure that one out, either.

The golf course appealed the verdict, but this week the Maine Supreme Court agreed with the jury. Probably a bunch of hackers there, too.

This ruling could have far-reaching ramifications for golf courses everywhere.

If they are responsible for balls bouncing off railroad tracks, what about golf courses that have hundreds of trees?

Will it be necessary to put a sign on each and every tree saying: "Warning. If you bounce a shot off this tree, it could be harmful to your eyes, ears, nose and throat. Do not hit bad shots."

But they also denied Mr. Pelletier any damages for his lack of consortium.

That's also typical of our society today. A guy just don't get no respect.

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