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Former Yellow Jacket charged with killing bird with golf ball

POSTED: March 17, 2008 5:00 a.m.

ORLANDO, Fla. — When pro golfer Tripp Isenhour lost his temper and beaned a shrieking hawk in December, he might have thought the incident, like the bird, was dead and buried.

But the outburst has earned him misdemeanor charges and a torrent of criticism from animal advocates and bird lovers across the nation. If convicted of cruelty to animals and killing a migratory bird, he could face up to a year in jail and fines.

“It’s just senseless when people kill wildlife when they are doing nothing but being themselves,” said Lynda White, EagleWatch coordinator for the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland. “They are noisy birds. It’s part of their nature.”

The fatal swing — on his 10th attempt to hit the bird — took place on Dec. 12 while Isenhour was taping his “Play Like a Pro” video at the Grand Cypress golf course.

The PGA Tour late Thursday sent a written apology from 39-year-old Isenhour.

“As soon as this happened, I was mortified and extremely upset and continue to be upset,” the statement from Isenhour read. “I want to let everyone know there was neither any malice nor deliberate intent whatsoever to hit or harm the hawk. I was trying to simply scare it into flying away. As evidenced by our family having adopted three cats from a local shelter, I am an animal lover. We ask that everyone accept my sincerest apology, and please be respectful of my family’s privacy.”

According to documents from the investigation, the Orlando golfer was reciting lines when the federally protected, red-shouldered hawk started making its “kee-aah” sound from about 300 yards away.

“It wasn’t that extreme,” said sound engineer Jethro Senger, who reported the incident to authorities a few days later. “Initially, it was causing us to stop rolling a few takes.” That’s what appeared to set Isenhour off, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports.

The golfer — who went pro in 1990 — hopped into a golf cart and drove closer to the feathered creature perched in a tree. For 10 minutes, while the crew waited, Isenhour hit several golf balls toward the bird. He eventually gave up and returned to the set.

The bird then flew closer to the crew and landed in a tall pine tree about 75 yards away. Again, the hawk began to screech.

Isenhour — who earned $471,000 last year and ranked No. 152 on the PGA Tour — started hitting drives at the bird, getting closer with each swing, witnesses told investigators.

On Isenhour’s 10th swing, the ball hit the bird, causing it to fall more than 30 feet to the ground. Isenhour yelled, “I didn’t think I would hit it,” according to reports.

Famous golf coach David Leadbetter — who didn’t witness the episode — said the odds of a golfer making that shot are one in several thousand.

Grand Cypress officials said they were not aware of the incident until they were alerted by investigators days later. “It’s an unfortunate situation,” said Stephen Merriman, a spokesman for the Golf Club at Grand Cypress. “It’s completely between the guests and the state.”

When the bird fell from the tree, Senger and others ran to its aid.





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