ST. LOUIS -- Suddenly being swallowed up by the earth on a golf course's fairway drove a wedge between Mark Mihal and a stellar round.
The 43-year-old mortgage broker was counting his blessings Tuesday and nursing a dislocated shoulder sustained four days earlier when he tumbled into an 18-foot deep sinkhole on the 14th hole of the Annbriar Golf Club near Waterloo, Ill., just southeast of St. Louis.
Friends managed to hoist Mihal to safety with a rope after about 20 minutes. But the experience gave him quite a fright, particularly following the much-publicized recent death of a man in Florida who died when his bedroom fell into a sinkhole. That man's body hasn't been found.
"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 remarked about how awkward it would be to hit out of the odd depression, and then walked over to give it a closer look and took one step onto it.
"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."
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.