ST. LOUIS — Mark Mihal was having good opening day on the links when he noticed an unusual depression on the fairway of the 14th hole 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 was plunging 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. But Friday's experience gave Mihal quite a fright, particularly after the much-publicized recent death of a man in Florida whose body hasn't been found since a sinkhole swallowed him and his bedroom.
"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, told The Associated Press before heading off to learn whether he'll need surgery. "It was absolutely crazy."
Mihal said it was a real downer on what had been a fine outing.
With winter finally nearing an end, "it was the first day to get to play in a long time," he said. "So I wasn't expecting too much."
Golfing with buddies, Mihal was waiting to hit his third shot, some 100 yards from the pin on the par 5, 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.
Mihal said he was completely surprised when the ground gave way beneath him.
"It didn't look unstable," he 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."