Mark Mihal was having a good opening day on the links when he noticed an unusual depression on the 14th fairway at Annbriar Golf Club in southern Illinois. Remarking to his friends how awkward it would be to have to hit out of it, he went over for a closer look.
One step onto the pocked section and the 43-year-old mortgage broker plunged into a sinkhole. He landed 18 feet down with a painful thud, and his friends managed to hoist him to safety with a rope after about 20 minutes.
They used a rope because none of the players had a dude retriever in their bags.
But Friday's experience gave Mihal quite a fright.
"I feel lucky just to come out of it with a shoulder injury, falling that far and not knowing what I was going to hit," Mihal, from the St. Louis suburb of Creve Coeur, said before heading off to learn whether he'll need surgery. "It was absolutely crazy."
Golfing with buddies, Mihal was waiting to hit a shot when he noticed a bathtub-looking indentation about knee deep just behind him on the fairway. At just one over par for the round, the golfer with a 6 handicap was on a roll.
Then the ground gave way beneath him.
"It didn't look unstable," Mihal said. "And then I was gone. I was just freefalling. It felt like forever, but it was just a second or two, and I didn't know what I was going to hit. And all I saw was darkness."
His golfing buddies didn't see him vanish into the earth but noticed he wasn't visible, figuring he had tripped and fallen out of sight down a hill. But one of them heard Mihal's moans and went to investigate.
"He just thought it was some crazy magic trick or something," Mihal said.
Mihal is debating a return to Annbriar.
"It's a great course. I love the course," Mihal said, having played Annbriar a couple dozen times during the past decade. "But I would have a tough time probably walking down that hole again."