According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, extreme heat caused more than 8,000 deaths in the U.S. between 1979 and 2003—more than hurricanes, tornadoes, lightning, floods and earthquakes combined. Many golfers are struck down by heat-related illnesses, they’ll feel a little funny but try to fight through it which is obviously the wrong thing to do! Take Michelle Wie: On a humid, 88-degree July day in 2006, the then-16-year-old was hospitalized when she collapsed after nine holes during the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ill.
Susceptibility to heat is linked to changes in a person’s internal thermostat. In hot weather, the body regulates its core temperature by pumping blood to the skin’s surface and by stimulating sweat glands to initiate evaporative cooling. Heat syncope, or fainting, can occur when too much oxygen-carrying blood is diverted from the brain. Heat cramps may happen when the muscles don’t receive enough blood, or when heavy sweating depletes electrolytes, which muscles need in order to relax after contracting. Heat exhaustion, however, doesn’t occur until the body’s core temperature begins to rise, while heatstroke happens when your internal temperature hits 104 degrees; the high fever that ensues can lead to death.
John Adams, an athletic trainer on the LPGA Tour, says humid days are the most dangerous. “Humidity doesn’t allow sweat to evaporate, which is what cools you down,” he explains. Adams recommends monitoring the heat index—a measure of how hot it feels when you combine air temperature with humidity. Also, bear in mind that some medications can interfere with the body’s temperature-regulating mechanisms. LPGA Tour players can serve as heat-savvy role models. “They’re forever slathering on sunscreen,” Adams points out. “They’re in great physical condition, and they almost always wear hats and sunglasses. They drink lots of water and sports drinks, both on and off the course. And on really hot days, some walk under umbrellas for shade.”
Tracy Ray, MD, a physician at the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., agrees with such measures. “It’s important to keep sunlight from directly heating up your skin,” he says. “You’ll stay cooler wearing a loose-fitting, light-colored, long-sleeved shirt than a black, sleeveless top.” Play early or late in the day; if you must be outside in high heat, play just nine holes or take a cart to decrease exertion.
Golfers should treat a hot day on the course as an extreme activity. “Hikers plan ahead and take water, boots and sunscreen to the mountains,” Stearns says. “Golf is no different. You need to be prepared for the environment you’re entering.”.
Click here to check out our other blog for some helpful tips on staying hydrated!