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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 13, 2008

Golfer's shot killing bird talk of clubhouse

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By Bill Kwon

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

PGA Tour player Tripp Isenhour is charged with killing a protected migratory hawk with a golf shot. It occurred while filming a golf video.

AP FILE PHOTO | Jan. 28, 2006

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Dave Winfield

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The biggest golf story in recent weeks hasn't been that of Tiger Woods and Lorena Ochoa smoking the field or Ernie Els winning a PGA Tour event for the first time in four years to finally get back to Kapalua, Maui, for the next Mercedes-Benz Championship and, here's hoping, sticking around to play in the Sony Open in Hawai'i the following week.

No, it's about Tripp Isenhour, a golfer you've probably never heard of. And for good reason. He played two years on the PGA Tour without much distinction and is struggling to regain his playing card. The poor guy never got so much attention for a single golf shot until the one that killed a protected, migratory red hawk.

Isenhour said it was a "one-in-a-million" shot, although he lowered the odds and raised the ire of bird lovers everywhere by whacking five or six golf balls at the pesky hawk before nailing it.

Apparently miffed that the hawk was noisily bothering a golf instructional video that he was filming, Isenhour repeatedly took dead aim at the hawk, which had forced his camera crew to do several takes.

The 39-year-old Isenhour was charged with cruelty to animals and killing the bird, protected as a migratory species by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They're misdemeanors that could carry a maximum penalty of 14 months in jail and a $1,500 fine.

Isenhour said he was "mortified and extremely upset" by the incident, adding that there was no malice or deliberate intent to harm the hawk. "I was trying to simply scare it into flying away."

Bloggers have flogged Isenhour and have asked PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem to take some kind of appropriate action, perhaps one as severe as suspension.

Unfortunate as it is, especially for the hawk, nothing will come of it.

Isenhour will get off the same way that Dave Winfield did in baseball's most famous bird killing. That occurred during a 1983 game at Toronto when Winfield, then an outfielder with the New York Yankees, threw a baseball at a seagull, killing it. There were 36,000 witnesses, many of them outraged.

The Ontario police booked Winfield for animal cruelty, even bringing in the dead bird as "exhibit A."

Killing a seagull is a violation in Canada, but if the intent is just to scare it away, as Winfield insisted it was, it's not a violation. So the charges were dropped. But it's a misdeed that Winfield can't ever escape. Despite being a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame with a career 456 home runs and 1,883 RBIs, Winfield will always be remembered as the guy who killed a seagull.

Sometimes, birds just get in the way. Just ask Randy Johnson when one of his fastballs hit a dove in midflight, leaving nothing but feathers in front of home plate in an Arizona Diamondbacks spring game in 2001.

They're the two leading examples of baseball's "fowl" balls.

Golf, though, is replete with them. After all, it is a game of birdies, eagles, albatrosses and now hawks, thanks to Isenhour.

I personally have seen a fellow member of the Korean Golf Club kill three birds with errant golf shots, which has to be some kind of club record. All by accident, of course. Let's just say he has a wild swing.

Greg Nichols, Ko Olina Resort general manager, recalls the time when a member of the Congressional Golf Club in Bethesda, Md., clubbed a goose with one of his irons when it honked and caused him to miss a shot.

Jim Leahey remembers playing a round at Barbers Point with Dawn Patrol, a golf club of media types formed by the late Advertiser golf writer Monte Ito. A bird chirped at the top of the backswing of one player, who then hit his ball out of bounds. Irate, the guy blamed the bird for his going OB and started throwing rocks at it. Surely, malice with intent to kill. Thankfully, he missed. "A marshal almost chased us off the course," Leahey said.

But you know what's great about golf? Especially with birds all over the place? There's a rule governing when your ball hits a bird in midflight. Rule 19-1 regarding a ball in motion deflected by an outside agency, a bird in this case, states that it is a rub of the green and the ball must be played as it lies with no penalty.

Of course, golf is such a complicated game that it requires rabbinical rules. So there are two exceptions to 19-1, one of them involving a ball in motion after a stroke on the putting green. If an outside agency, let's say a bird again, deflects the ball in motion, the shot is canceled. The ball is replaced and replayed. Of course, there's an exception to that as well. A worm or an insect is not an outside agency. Go figure.

Anyway, getting back to Tripp Isenhour.

My only question is, who'd want an instructional video by him?

Bill Kwon can be reached at bill kwonrhs@aol.com