Monday, May 7, 2007

Anger Shatters a Golfer's Life

By Dave Kindred
Golf Digest

I have thrown golf clubs. Three or four times a year I toss my ratzenfratzin' driver. Actually, it is not so much tossed as ejected with prejudice. I surrender to the need to be rid of the traitorous stick, and to be rid of it in a Tommy Bolt second. "A 6-iron?" the Thunder Bolt once said to his caddie. "It's 225 yards. What in the world makes you think it's a 6-iron?" His caddie answered, "Because that's all you have left in the bag. Except for the putter. And it sure ain't a putter."

Before sainthood, Bobby Jones sinned. To miss a simple shot, he said, was to commit a crime. "And when you feel so extremely a fool, and a bad golfer to boot, what the deuce can you do, except throw the club away?"

Henry Longhurst, the late English golf commentator, wrote, "The most exquisitely satisfying act in the world of golf is that of throwing a club. The full backswing, the delayed wrist action, the flowing follow-through, followed by that unique whirring sound, reminiscent only of a passing flock of starlings, are without parallel in sport."

Craig Stadler buries wedges up to their hosels with such exuberance as to create that unique shaft-twanging sound. Even gentle Ben Crenshaw has spoken of his putter as a tree-climbing sonuvagun.

We miscreants find in all these stories a certain amusement. But now comes a different story. This is a cautionary tale of horrific proportions.

It began in April on a municipal golf course in suburban Cleveland when a 38-year-old emergency-room nurse named Darrell Cicero saw his longtime friend Steve Lacey hit a bad tee shot. As the worm burner skittered along, Cicero says, "I may have chuckled."

Then Cicero saw his buddy pivot quickly toward the back of the tee, spinning in his direction. "I knew he was going to throw it. I thought,'Oh, s---.' "

He never saw the driver coming at him. Its metal head hit him flush in the left eye. For 24 hours, in unrelenting pain, Cicero kept both eyes closed. From the left eye, he would never again see anything.

Though Cicero doesn't remember screaming, witnesses say he screamed loudly. He fell to his knees with his hands against his face. He now says he thinks he'd heard a rush of air, the driver in flight, and then heard the sound of footsteps, Lacey hurrying toward him.

Cicero felt a warm and sticky fluid, his blood. He remembers rolling on the ground, numb and nauseous, able to say only two words, saying them again and again: "I'm sick, I'm sick."

A 1997 survey reported 39,472 emergency-room visits for golf-related injuries, 560 of those to the eye. New York authorities, meanwhile, reported an alarming increase in injuries among young golfers. They called it the Tiger Woods Syndrome. The reference is not to the great one's fits of pique but to Tiger-fueled interest in golf among youngsters. Many novices, it appears, walked too near to players making warm-up swings.

Darrell Cicero had done nothing careless. His only mistake was to be on the same golf course with Steve Lacey. For when Lacey threw his driver, he threw it not to be rid of it, nor to achieve Henry Longhurst's ironic satisfaction. He threw it to express rage.

The driver that ripped apart Cicero's face was no longer a golf club. Centrifugal force and anger had transformed it into a deadly weapon.

A man 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, a power-hitting softball player, had spun and swung the driver as he'd swing a bat. One witness says Lacey later estimated that he'd swung the club at more than 100 miles per hour. And let go of it.

They'd been birds of a feather, Cicero and Lacey, running together since meeting on a double date 15 years ago. For 10 months in the mid-'90s, they shared a bachelors' apartment. They worked as bartenders at the same res-taurant. Many times, they played golf together.

Cicero long had seen in Lacey a nasty streak that flared when things didn't go his way -- such as on this April day at the 12th hole of Pine Ridge Golf Course in Wickliffe, Ohio.

Cicero had hit three miserable shots before making a 25-foot putt for a bogey 6. Lacey made a par there, but wasn't happy about it and said to Cicero, "I watched you beat the ball all the way down the fairway, and all I do is pick up one shot." No money was at stake, no trophy, no fame. Just pals trying to break 90.

As they left the 12th green, the big man didn't wait for the bogey shooter. He stormed ahead to the 13th tee, where, Cicero admits, he found a certain amusement in the ensuing worm burner. If Cicero didn't chuckle, he says, "Maybe I smirked." A third player, Ken Siatkowski, heard nothing from Cicero's side of the tee until all hell broke loose.

Lacey's driver struck Cicero's face with such force that it bent the hosel. It shattered Cicero's cheekbone. It exploded his face open from his forehead along his nose to a spot under his left eye. It broke open the eye itself.

Siatkowski is a registered nurse who works emergency-room shifts with Cicero. As he rushed to Cicero, the nurse says, he heard the club-thrower Lacey say, "Oh, my God, just don't tell anyone I did this. Tell them you walked into my backswing."

Lacey did not respond to Golf Digest's requests for an interview. His lawyer, Stephen Futterer, says, "Steve denies saying that."

Cicero's darkest fear is that Lacey intentionally threw the driver at him, maybe because he heard a chuckle or saw a smirk. "I believe he was trying to throw the club pretty close to me, to whiz it by my head," Cicero says. "No way did it 'slip,' like he tried to tell people. He had 400 yards in front of him, but he chose to throw the club behind him."

Futterer says Lacey had no intent to throw the club at Cicero: "What it was, was an accident." Siatkowski also says he had no reason to think Lacey aimed the club: "It could just as easily have come out of his hands and toward me."

Darrell Cicero works at Lake West Hospital in Willoughby. On this day in April, he arrived at his own ER by ambulance.

The doctor on duty, Dennis Dolgan, had worked with Cicero, played golf with him and thought of him as family. Without knowing the severity of the injury, knowing only that Cicero had been hit in the head by a golf club, the doctor practiced ER's black humor. "Driver, or 7-iron?" Dolgan asked, as if club selection might determine treatment.

Then came word from Ken Siatkowski on his cell phone. "It's really bad," he told ER personnel. "Get a helicopter ready. Get a CAT scan ready."

No more jokes. Dolgan ordered Cicero moved from a routine examining room to a trauma-treatment room. There he examined his friend's bloody face. It might have been struck by a madman's hammer. Shining a light into Cicero's damaged left eye, Dolgan saw no reaction and said, "The pupil's blown."

Cicero lay on his back, blood everywhere -- on his shirt, his pants, his golf glove. He heard the doctor's words. He knew they meant the injury had short-circuited the nerves operating the eye. His brain might be ripped and bleeding into the skull cavity.

The CAT scan's good news: no brain injury. Had the clubhead struck Cicero in the temple rather than the eye, Dolgan says, "It might have killed him instantly." That day, and for a long time after, there was no other good news.

Cicero missed 92 days of work. He underwent seven surgeries, five on the eye, one on the cheekbone and one on the nose. He's blind in the left eye and yet may lose the eye itself. There is permanent nerve damage to his face. He is undergoing psychotherapy for post traumatic stress disorder. He spent the night of his fourth wedding anniversary in a psychiatric hospital "because I was having a nervous breakdown."

By the end of the summer, Darrell Cicero had returned to work part-time. He also had played three rounds of golf. These are tentative, frightening steps taken early in a long journey to rehabilitation.

They followed Steve Lacey's arrest. "If Steve had done the right thing and offered to help me pay my bills while I was out of work, I wouldn't have pressed charges," Cicero says.

Lacey pleaded no contest to a charge of reckless assault. He was sentenced to 18 days of house arrest, fined $500 and ordered to do 100 hours of community service (at the Society for the Blind) and undergo anger-management counseling. The judge also said no golf for a year.

Then Cicero's attorneys, Leonard Carr and Bryan Carr, filed a civil suit against Lacey, a 33-year-old bartender/construction laborer.

As for how much money the suit seeks, Leonard Carr says, "Can you quantify a loss of vision? Can you put a number on permanent disfigurement? Whatever we get will not compensate Darrell for the damage done. There's not enough money in this universe."


A man who lost an eye (November 1999) -- Two years ago, when we played a round of golf in Cleveland, Darrell Cicero hoped he might see again with his left eye. He also hoped that he would be compensated for his injuries, and that a man once his friend would apologize.

None of that has happened. Cicero, 40, now has a prosthetic eye; no compensation is possible, because the man who threw his driver into Cicero's face has declared bankruptcy and "has never asked my forgiveness, though I have forgiven him rather than carry that hatred."

Cicero has undergone 14 surgical procedures. A registered nurse, he lost a job after going through rehab for dependence on a painkilling drug prescribed by doctors. He's working again as an emergency-room nurse.

"There I am, saving lives, and when I lose an eye I get no compensation, while a Cleveland football player, Orlando Brown, gets hit in the eye by a beanbag, hires Johnnie Cochran, and sues for $200 million," Cicero says.

Wait. Cicero remembers, he did get compensation. "I call myself a victim of the Ohio Victims of Crime law. After a nightmare of red tape, the state paid one ophthalmologist's bill -- $350 -- total."

Once a 10-handicapper, Cicero now has quit playing "because of a lack of desire and money."

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