All of us have done it. You swing through mightily with the driver and pound a high, long shot down the heart of the fairway. It’s a long par 4, but with such a fine drive, you’re confident that it’s about to be birdie time.

Then you and your pals drive down the cart path and (carefully) make the exactly 90-degree turn onto the fairway and move toward your ball.

Only your ball isn’t where it’s supposed to be. A casual look around reveals that it’s nowhere to be seen.

“It must have hit a sprinkler head and bounced off into the rough,” someone says. But a quick drive over into the first cut of rough reveals only a dirty, beaten-to-death ball that has been there since golf was invented. 

This is troubling.

Maybe it went down a gopher hole. No, can’t find any gopher holes.

After several minutes of looking, the three other players are getting grumpy and are ready to move on. In this situation, someone in our group often says, “Hey, it’s obvious the ball should be right in here. We’re just not seeing it. Just drop a new ball and don’t take a penalty stroke.”

But this match is relatively tight, and no one is stepping forward to offer relief. 

“You really hit it good,” somebody else says. “Maybe it hit way down the fairway and bounded onto the green.” But this is laughable, and everybody laughs.

Finally, and with sadness, a ball is dropped and the third shot is hit.

This is a painful event, sort of like having a badger pop out of your golf bag and grab your non-gloved hand. It’s especially bad when excellent drives are hard to come by.

So, what happened? What’s the mystery? Where do these balls go? 

It has been suggested that aliens, thinking these spheres might be weapons of some sort, hit them with invisible light rays and lift them into spaceships. If this is the case, why haven’t they landed and demanded, “Take us to your golf pro?”

Another idea is that poorer golfers, moving stealthily behind trees and bushes, sneak onto the fairway and, quick as a wink, pocket balls for their own use before disappearing into the very high rough. But we know that every golfer is a gentleman or lady, so this can’t be the case.

No, I fear that the culprit in most of these situations is that elusive and quick-footed rodent, the squirrel. With the cooler days of autumn approaching, they’ll soon be in storing-for-the-winter mode, and some of them sometimes are confused. This is evident when you come upon one in the middle of the road, and instead of diving for cover, it runs directly toward your vehicle.

Golf balls are a hard nut to crack, but I can still imagine a squirrel watching one roll along a fairway and finding the hunt irresistible. 

Sometime during the cold winter, the squirrel will regret its choice of what it picked to put in the freezer.

At the moment, in the middle of the fairway after a powerful drive, I already regret it.

Mike Hembree

Mike Hembree is a veteran journalist who has covered a variety of sports for numerous publications and websites, including USA Today, Fox Sports, TV Guide and The Greenville (S.C.) News. He has written 14 books and has won numerous writing awards at the national, regional and state levels. He is a seven-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.