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Golf: Golfing injuries are entirely in the head

EVEN THOSE of us who have a passion for golf and thrill to the exploits of great players have to concede that the strain it imposes is almost entirely mental.

The game is played at a walk and the most terrifying thing a golfer sees is wind bending the pin, a downhill putt or rough that resembles an abandoned garden. A golfer's idea of trauma is a ball plugged in sand or falling short into water.

You don't need a cuts man, plastercasts or treatments for concussion. You bleed where nobody can see it. You don't have to run fast, hit hard. You get to keep all your teeth. You don't need a helmet, shin pads, chest protectors, gumshields or the presence of a neuro surgeon.

When a golfer says "Something terrible happened to me yesterday", he doesn't mean severed ligaments, a ripped knee cartilage, a busted collarbone. You don't come across old golfers whose speech is slurred or who have brows thickened by scar tissue. It doesn't take a week for a golfer's bruises to heal, the blood to clot.

Golfers hit a little white ball with instruments that wouldn't look out of place in an exhibition of space technology. A lot of the time they get to play in locations that can only be found in the upmarket section of travel brochures. They don't even have to carry their own equipment. Their clothing is fashion co-ordinated. The best of them earn millions without ever having to fear that injury could bring about premature retirement.

This isn't to take a swipe at professional golfers, but simply to put their frequent complaints into perspective: the state of the greens, narrowly cut fairways, pin placements.

Another thing about tournament golf is that youth has no dominion. The end of a career doesn't come at a time when people in other walks of life are upwardly mobile. Thanks to the popularity of the US Seniors Tour there are plenty of superannuated players still earning in multiples of seven figures.

There are young and youngish stars presently firing the ball around Wentworth in the Volvo PGA Championship but until Sam Torrance, 46 in August, dropped three shots at the 16th he was right up with them. Even after falling off the leader board, back to three under, the veteran Scot is not entirely out of contention.

With a total of 21 tour victories, eight Ryder Cup appearances and prize- money well in excess of pounds 4m, Torrance probably takes comfort from the philosophical air that he now conveys on the golf course.

Despite losing a shot at the previous hole, things were still looking good for Torrance, playing with Bernhard Langer and Jose Maria Olazabal when he teed up at the 16th. Torrance's mistake then was not to go with his first instinct. After thinking seriously about a three wood he decided on his driver, hooked left into trees and had to play three from the tee. A triple-bogey seven dropped him back to three under.

Named along with Ken Brown as one of Mark James's lieutenants for the Ryder Cup in Boston later this year, Torrance has given up drink but not ideas about making the team. Yesterday, he needed the cigarettes and his golf bag. Seven missed fairways, three failed attempts to get up and down from greenside bunkers.

After getting away with a mis-hit fairway wood from the rough at the 18th you could imagine Torrance humming: "But I'm still here." He didn't know exactly how but of course he's seen it all before.

Seen Langer in a threatening position, too - with the first-round leader and three-time winner of this tournament coming in at eight under, just two shots off the pace.

The unfailing impression is that Torrance still enjoys his golf, something that cannot presently be said about Nick Faldo, who is four years younger.

Maybe if Faldo had a wider view of life he would find it easier to overcome the demons that now haunt him on the fairway.

Yesterday's round of 74 after going off at one over the cut mark left Faldo nowhere. Trudging the course with a heavy stride, bereft of the old certainty, Faldo's loss of form is a reminder that time does slow respectfully to a crawl for all of them.