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What It's Like to Fall in a Sinkhole on a Golf Course

Two Fridays ago, St. Louis enjoyed golf weather for the first time in months. I was eager to get out and play some golf with my regular foursome, guys I’ve played with hundreds of times over the years. We were set to tee off at one of my favorite local courses, and while I didn’t have high expectations of my game that day, it was going to be great to get out on the course.

I ended up playing well – only one-over-par as I stood in the middle of the fairway on the par-5 14th hole. I laid up my shot nicely, looking at about 90 yards into the hole – a definite birdie chance. I could get back to even par with a good shot.

My playing partners were still busy hacking their shots out of the woods down the hill from me, or at least trying to find their balls among the trees. I wanted to give them a distance to the hole, so I started looking for a plate in the fairway when I saw a weird depression a few feet away. All I could think was that it would be unfair to have to hit out of this if a ball happened to land in it. I started walking towards it, and that’s when all hell broke loose.

The ground collapsed beneath me before I could react. I like to think of myself as athletic with good reflexes and coordination, but I had no chance to catch myself on anything – the ground just disappeared under me. In the few moments I was falling, a rush of thoughts came over me: this is it, I hope I land soon, I hope I land on something soft, that poor man in Florida who’d just died … it’s amazing how many things can go through your head in a split second.

I did land on something soft – mud. It was pitch black and I was in some sort of amazement, maybe shock. I couldn’t see anything, couldn’t hear, and was still trying to assess what just happened. That’s when the pain in my shoulder hit me like a ton of bricks – I couldn’t even move it. Then some dirt fell on me. Then a little more dirt on my legs. That brought my focus in pretty clearly: I needed to get the hell out of here ASAP.

Luckily, I have some unbelievable friends. When I didn’t call back to them with a yardage, they started calling to me. At first they thought I’d just disappeared over a hill, still trying to find a yardage. But then Mike “heard me moaning” and knew something was wrong. He found the small hole in the fairway and ran over to it – looking back, that was probably not the safest thing in the world to do, but that speaks volumes about Mike.

All I could say was, “You guys need to get me out of here NOW.” Did I mention I’m pretty claustrophobic?

Yes, this was my worst nightmare – trapped in a hole underground, with unstable earth all around me. Dirt was still falling on me from above. And I could tell that a few feet away everything seemed … bigger. Or deeper. It was hard to tell for sure. I just knew it wasn’t safe to be where I was, to say the least.

I think the guys were already on their phones to the clubhouse at this point. I heard someone say, “Let me start by saying this isn’t a joke. One of our friends fell into a sinkhole on 14. We need you to bring a ladder, some rope, and call an ambulance.”

Mike, meanwhile, called my wife, Lori. As Lori later told me, as soon as she saw his number on her caller ID, she thought I was dead. “Why would he call me when you were playing golf together? I immediately thought you’d had a heart attack on the course.” Mike was immediately reassuring.

“Lori, it’s Mike. First of all, Mark is OK. He’s fallen in a sinkhole on the golf course and we’re getting him out.” Looking back, I can only imagine what all was racing through her mind.

The next 30 minutes felt like several hours, but things happened fast – if that makes any sense. The guys from the clubhouse brought a ladder, which they lowered down into the hole, propping it up on a mound of dirt a few feet from me… only the bottom of the ladder just reached to about my head level. And I only had the use of one arm. Maybe during the height of my P90X training I could’ve pulled myself up with both arms, and that was awhile ago (note to self: work out more). We thought about lowering the rope down and trying to hoist me out, but I wasn’t going to have the strength to pull myself up or even tie it around my waist. All of this was a no-go.

This is when you truly realize how lucky you are to have good friends. Ed, knowing the entire situation at hand, volunteered to climb down the ladder to get me. And as they say in golf, luck beats good: Ed (a real estate broker) comes from a family of nurses. So as he climbed down the ladder, he was quick to make a splint out of his sweater so I could secure my left arm. He got the rope around me. He pulled me up onto the ladder. And then he did something strange, or what would seem strange to someone who didn’t know Ed. He started asking me a bunch of questions about my state of being. I can’t even remember what all he asked me, but something about blood and pain and days of the week – I have no idea. We were perched on a ladder in the middle of a sinkhole that we had no idea how deep it was.

“Ed. Shut the hell up and get me out of here. NOW.”

The sunlight was blinding as I emerged from the hole, but I was pretty quickly whisked away to the ambulance that was waiting. The pain set in again as the adrenaline subsided. But I finally got to talk to Lori. I couldn’t even get out the words of what had happened, and all I could do was assure her that I was OK and I’d see her at the hospital.

On Wednesday of this week and after an MRI, I found out my shoulder is fractured in two places and I have to meet with orthopedists to determine what kind of surgery and rehab is needed. It sucks, but it obviously could have been so much worse. I’ll be off the course for a few months, but I’m truly blessed and thank God I didn’t meet the same end as Jeff Bush in Florida. Our prayers for the Bush family just seem a lot more relevant now.

What’s been amazing has been all the messages and interest this story has received. We’d always hoped that golfmanna would be a global enterprise connecting us with golfers around the world, but when we posted Lori’s account of the incident on Sunday night, we never expected what happened. We pretty much had every major news outlet in the world contact us, and I’ve certainly never been through anything like the interviews and TV cameras and live shots that followed. I’m sure I’ll look back on it as a great experience, but as someone who doesn’t like to talk a lot, it was pretty stressful. I crashed on Wednesday morning after talking to the Golf Channel’s Morning Drive guys. They say you can’t catch up on sleep, but dammit I’m going to try.

I must have been asked a hundred times if I was going to play golf again. I can’t wait to get back out there and find out myself. It’s hard to imagine my life without the game.

Mark Mihal is a business owner, avid golfer and co-founder of golfmanna, the home of fantasy golf. His sinkhole story has been covered by thousands of media outlets from all corners of the globe. Be sure to sign up for the golfmanna Pick-6 Majors Challenge and the One And Done fantasy game before The Masters on April 11th.

 

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