By now, you have probably heard of Mark Mihal, the golfer who recently fell 18 feet into a sinkhole while playing his favorite muni course in Waterloo, Ill. Mihal was walking the course with friends and playing No. 14 when the ground literally gave way under his feet.
“I felt the ground start to collapse and it happened so fast that I couldn’t do anything,” Mihal wrote on his website. “I reached for the ground as I was going down and it gave way, too. It seemed like I was falling for a long time. The real scary part was I didn’t know when I would hit bottom and what I would land on.”
Mihal was incredibly lucky; he was one of the few people to fall into the Sinkhole of Golf and come out of it intact. But over the years there have been other “SOG” victims who haven’t been so lucky.
Enjoy my list of the top 5 golfers who have fallen into the Sinkhole of Golf.
No. 5 — Chip Beck
A four-time winner on the PGA Tour, the straight-hitting Beck was hailed for his stellar play and the “War by the Shore I” Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island, S.C., in 1991. But he was best known for being one of just a handful of players to shoot a 59 in competition, with Beck’s coming in the third round of the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational. Perhaps a sign of the horror to come was the fact that that Beck finished third in that tournament. It was in 1997 that Beck fell into the Sinkhole of Golf, missing 46 straight cuts. Rumor has it that Beck escaped and is now leading a happy life on the Champions Tour, where you don’t have nearly so far to fall.
No. 4 — Ian Baker-Finch
The likeable Aussie was a solid player on four continents, with his first PGA Tour win coming at the Southwest Bell Colonial in 1989. By 1991, he appeared ready to establish himself as one of the best in the game, garnering the British Open that year along with three other runner-up finishes. But by 1993, Baker-Finch’s tinkering with his swing led him to the edge of the Sinkhole. In 1995, he fell in headfirst.
In first round of the 1995 Open Championship at St Andrews, he hooked his first tee-shot of the championship out-of-bounds on the left side of the fairway shared with No. 18. To make it even worse, Baker-Finch was paired with none other than Arnold Palmer, who was competing in his final Open. Baker-Finch didn’t know it at the time but it was petty close to being his swan song as well. In 1995 and 1996 he missed the cut, withdrew after one round, or was disqualified in all 29 Tour events that he entered. The more cruel in the press began to refer to him as, “Ian Baker-Flinch.”
Baker-Finch hit the bottom of the Sinkhole in the first round of the 1997 British Open at Royal Troon. He shot a 92 in the first round, after which he curled up in the corner with his wife and caddy and had a good cry. He withdrew and retired from tournament golf. The happy ending came when the good folks at ABC tossed Finchy a long cable with a microphone attached to it, which he used to pull himself out and pursue a career of describing golfers people who have avoided the Sinkhole.
No. 3 — Sergio Garcia
In his teens and early twenties, Garcia was slated as a potential rival to Tiger Woods’ dominance. He burst on the scene in the 1999, turning pro after shooting the low amateur score in that year’s Masters. He won the Irish Open and then set the world on fire in the 1999 PGA Championship, taking eventual champion Woods to the limit as he scissor-kicked his way into the hearts and minds of golf fans all over the world.
Garcia seemed a lock to win multiple championships even in the Woods era, but it was not to be. One of the most memorable moments of Garcia’s career is the footage of him re-gripping as many as 60 times over a shot at the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black. The brutally honest New York crowd ribbed Garcia mercilessly for his time-consuming psycho-crutch.
But it was Garcia’s reputation as the worst young putter under pressure in a generation that consigned him to his place in the Sinkhole. While he has shown signs of life and has won in Europe and in the States, it is his lack of major championship success that keeps him underground. To his credit, while in the Sinkhole, Garcia managed to dig a tunnel that exits into Europe, where he has appeared every two years for the Ryder Cup as leading player and spirited assistant captain.
No. 2 — John Daly
Just hearing the name evokes visions of long drives and bad pants. Long John is perhaps the most regrettable victim of the Sinkhole. A strapping Arkansas country boy, Daly has been called a player with more natural ability than Woods himself. Daly was a complete unknown at the beginning of the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick when he entered the event as he ninth alternate; by the end of it he had won his first tournament, his first major and he was he most popular golfer in the world. Daly combined impossibly long drives with the soft hands of a surgeon; he also had a world-class mullet.
His second Tour victory was also his second major, a playoff win in the 1995 British Open. But unfortunately, the tales of woe for Daly far outnumber the tales of victory. Daly didn’t fall into the Sinkhole; he jumped into a Ford F-150 and drove into at 100 mph. Despite a valiant rescue attempt by Ely Callaway, Daly has remained mired in the Sinkhole. He literally has more ex-wives than wins since then. He has gambled away more than most pros will ever earn. But he is remembered as one the few people who seemed to have installed a set of stairs in the Sinkhole for his private use. He emerged like a groundhog in February to grab a win or two, then retreated back to the Sinkhole, where is apparently happy as long as there is plenty of cold beer, cigarettes and Diet Coke.
No. 1 – David Duval
Duval is the most accomplished player ever to disappear into the Sinkhole. The son of a professional golfer, Duval had success at every level he played from juniors to college to the Nike Tour on his way to his arrival on the Big Show in 1995. After racking up a slew of runner-up finishes, Duval began to win in bunches. He won 13 times between 1997 and 2001, including the Tour Championship and British Open. In April 1999, he climbed to the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Rankings, and in his victory at that year’s Bob Hope Chrysler Classic he became the only golfer ever to shoot 59 in a final round.
Duval seemed to be bouncing the golf world on the face of his wedge when it happened. He sustained injuries to his shoulder, back and wrist, as well as vertigo. When he came back, he often had no idea where the ball was going from shot to shot.
Duval’s win at the 2001 Dunlop Phoenix Tournament was to be his last. By 2003 he had fallen to 211th on the Money List. Over the course of the next 10 years, he has been trying to climb out of the Sinkhole using sponsor’s exemptions as handholds, but to no avail. He seemed to have achieved an improbable escape from SOG when he finished tied for second in the 2009 U.S. Open and the 2010 AT&T National Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Since then, however, all that has been seen of Duval is a pair of gargoyle sunglasses perched at the edge of the Sinkhole.