Player Has Had Near Misses With Death
By Ken Klavon, USGA
Fort Worth, Texas – If Ronnie Tumlin were a cat, his nine lives might near be exhausted.
At 59, the St. Augustine, Fla., resident has sashayed with death more times than he cares to admit. Fortunately, something or someone has always stepped in. That’s why he walked away from the USGA Senior Amateur Sunday disappointed, yet not despondent, knowing he won’t qualify for match play after shooting a pair of 79s.
“I’m a streaky player,” he said. “When it’s off, it’s off big time.” A double, triple and quadruple bogey sank his chances Sunday at Shady Oaks Country Club. Still, he’s lucky to even have such an experience. That’s because he’s been shot, seriously cut, run over, bit by an eel, stung by a jellyfish and suffered a horrific shoulder injury while skiing.
The most serious of these incidents occurred when he got shot at 17 years old. An acquaintance’s shotgun accidently went off while they were bird hunting. Tumlin, just 20 feet away from the blast, took it right in the gut.
“I just happened to be in the way,” he said through a gap-toothed grin. “The best way to describe it is getting hit with a bullwhip. It knocked me back and I couldn’t get up.”
It took paramedics more than an hour to get him to the hospital because the incident happened in a desolate Florida area. An emergency medical technician feared he wouldn’t make it. When doctors looked at Tumlin’s wound, the shell had fragmented lead balls throughout his body. Had any one of them punctured an artery, he would have died. To this day, he still has some of them in his body. It took him a year and a half to recover enough to swing a club again.
After playing at the University of Southern Florida, Tumlin decided to remain an amateur. He’s proud to say that he’s been a lifelong amateur. Along the way, he’s won more than 100 tournaments between Georgia and Florida and polished his game enough to compete in larger events, such as five USGA championships.
In 1988, however, his game underwent an overhaul. Not by choice, though. While skiing in Vail, Colo., Tumlin stumbled going about 5 miles an hour and landed awkwardly on his left shoulder. The prognosis? He broke his left shoulder in three places as well as the socket, which required pins and screws to be inserted.
“That changed my game,” he said. “I went to a rolling hook from a power fade.”
Several years later Tumlin absorbed another setback. An avid spear fisherman, he dove to the bottom of the ocean off Daytona Beach and reached into a hole. Except it wasn’t the fish he had been tracking. Instead, when he pulled his right hand out, he felt something sharp pierce his skin. A mooray eel had latched on, causing several deep gashes that went to the bone. He used bleach to clean the wounds before he could get to a hospital, where doctors could only compress the hand because the bleach had destroyed the surrounding tissue.
“I’ve done a lot of crazy things,” said Tumlin.
Maybe so, but he couldn’t be blamed for the latest escapade a month ago while in the Florida Keys. This time a jellyfish got under his shirt, wrapped around his back and chest, and stung him. He nearly went into shock as he was rushed to the hospital. He feared he might die because it hurt so bad, more so than nearly getting blown away by a shotgun 42 years earlier.
The pain was so intense that he couldn’t stand. A doctor had to make him unconscious for six hours.
“Their poison attacks the nervous system,” said Tumlin. “I hurt bad. For two weeks you’d feel like you would be getting electrical shocks.”
Tumlin obviously has no idea what’s in store for him, but as long as it involves golf – and not near-death experiences – he’ll take it.
Which has him thankful he can at least still head home after missing a cut.
Ken Klavon is the USGA’s Editor of Digital Media. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.