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This professional golf ball diver sees reptiles galore working in Florida waters

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Avid golfers know how frustrating it can be driving a ball into a water hazard.

That inconvenience is nothing compared to the hazards that go along with retrieving those balls from water filled with snapping turtles, snakes and alligators, however. Working as a professional golf ball diver is not for the faint of heart.

"I picked up a golf ball and it was the weirdest thing I ever saw," recalls Steve Martinez about his first golf ball dive, speaking with Circa while working at Boca Delray Golf and Country Club in Delray Beach, Florida. "It was like money, money, money."


Martinez has created lots of stories since then, with several of them illustrating professional golf ball diving is not always easy money depending on the water involved.

"[It's] the reptiles, the fish," he said. "Once I picked up this 35 lb. snapping turtle [and] it snapped right at my face. If you've ever had a 20 lb. catfish slap you in the chest, it's like Mike Tyson hit you."

Martinez sometimes risks his life to make his living, citing one time in 2006 when he came face-to-face with an eight-and-a-half-foot-long alligator as an example.

"As soon as I went for my knife, she locked on to my left arm, and took me all the way to the full center of the lake. My hand was still in her mouth, and I put my arm around it and started kicking, we did about 4 or 5 flips, and then it stopped, so now with it stopped I was able to, with my hand still in it's mouth, start punching as hard as I could into it's eyes."
Steve Martinez


Luckily, the animal released Martinez from its jaws. The diver spent months in the hospital battling his wounds and a potentially life-threatening bacterial infection.

None of the above stopped him from diving for golf balls again, and neither did a bigger alligator attacking him seven years after the first incident either.

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"It felt like somebody just parked its car with spikes on its tires right on my hand, and I knew exactly what it was," he said. "I'm underwater thinking, 'If I go left is that the edge? If I go right, I'm at the center of this lake and this 10-footers got me and it's big."


Martinez's instincts helped him ultimately survive that second attack, and his hunt for golf balls continues today despite his past challenges.

"I shoot for about 1,000 plus balls, some days are better, some days are not. I know there's a screw loose somewhere here, but I've learned to deal with it, I like the exercise. the thrill of the chase. I don't know what it is but it makes me feel alive."
Steve Martinez


Our affiliate CBS12 in West Palm Beach, Florida contributed to this story.

See more related Circa stories:
Body cam footage shows how an officer wrangled a gator that was chillin'
A 9-foot alligator climbed 15 stairs, broke into this porch and didn't want to leave
This gator stranded by the hurricane got a free ride to safety

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