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Only in Indiana: Lost golf balls get new military mission

When you hear the word "fore," you think of an errant golf shot that may be lost forever. But that lost ball is making a difference.

TERRE HAUTE (WTHR) - When you hear the word "fore," you think of an errant golf shot that may be lost forever. But that lost ball is making a difference.

It is always special when you find someone who whistles while they work. For Terry Graves, however, this is not work. This isn't a whistle.

"Looking over here to see what I can see," Terry Graves sings as he walks Hulman Links in Terre Haute.

While golfers try as best they can to stay out of the weeds, Graves gets lost in them.

"Oh, there's one," he says excitedly as he stoops to pick up a lost ball.

It's a hobby Graves started eight years and 58,977 golf balls ago - and it's catching on. The Golf Ball Drive to Support Our Military's mission is to collect new and used golf balls to be used by servicemen and servicewomen in rehabilitation exercises. Some hand-painted golf balls are also included with personal messages of love, hope and thanks to be distributed to Indiana National Guard and Active Duty Units serving in Indiana.

The golf balls and letters we saw during our Only in Indiana shoot will get shipped to Camp Atterbury, Camp Lejeune and Fort Bragg. Graves and other volunteers make sure they're delivered to troops, who can appreciate the messages of support.

"I am painting a golf ball to send to our troops who are defending our country," Katelyn Phillips, a seventh grader, shared.

At Shakamak Junior and Senior High School in Greene County, students are decorating them.

"It's not so bad. Just need to put some time into it and try not to shake," Phillips continued.

"I was like instantly I want to be a part of this. It made me happy that people want to help," Senior Cassidy Farris shared.

For every creative design, there is also a creative letter.

"I just want to say thank you for your service because you have decided to fight for our country and I am able to do the things I love," Braden Keller, a freshman, said.

"We love our troops. Thank you for everything. Remember this. Believe in yourself. Thank you for your service. You are the best people alive," seventh Grader Mahayla Baron read from another letter.

"By doing that, these kids are able to paint the golf balls and give them back to the troops and I kind of have a sense of pride that I am carrying on my fathers tradition," Heather Graves explained.

Heather's father may have started this, but since he has moved to North Carolina to enjoy retirement, his daughter has stepped in.

"I am tickled to death she is carrying it on," Terry Graves proudly declared And he is not alone. American Legion Post 104 and the Ladies Auxiliary in Terre Haute are glad as well.

"18-year-old kid who should be playing football is picking up the pieces of other 18-year-old kids, so it will all be worth it if we can save one life to keep him from committing suicide. That will be well worth it," veteran Jim Sullivan shared.

So they presented the Graves with a little donation.

"There is over 3,900 balls and 30 clubs," John Bones from Hulman Links revealed.

This is what volunteering is supposed to look like.

"Everybody look at me and say cheese," Heather Graves yelled as she prepared to take a picture of the group.

But sometimes you can't always see who is helping you out, like a collection amassed at Baesler's Supermarket in Vigo County.

"It's unbelievable everyday how many people are bringing in golf balls and supporting our troops," Casey Baesler manager of the Terre Haute store said.

Two grocery carts and a barrel full, to be exact.

"Definitely more than three or four hundred," Kristie O'Hare from Baesler's added.

Tracy Conklin works for Baesler's and her son Dorian even benefited by the program. Proudly displaying one of the golf balls while serving in Latvia.

"It meant a lot and it come from home so it's nice," Tracey Conklin who also works at Baesler's shared.

So just think, this avalanche began with one person and one golf ball.

Now the Graves are starting to gather golf balls for the next shipment.