Long-drive champion blasts it past PGA Tour's longest hitters

Jamie Sadlowski, 2011 Tournament of Champions
Eric Risberg/AP
Jamie Sadlowski outdrove Bubba Watson to win a long-drive competition Wednesday at Kapalua.

KAPALUA, Hawaii — What happens when the can't-miss kid, the freak, the natural, the high-riser and big-bomber and everyone's Mr. Spectacular finally loses the big one?

In the case of Jamie Sadlowski, not much.

Sadlowski, 22, put on his usual display of jaw-dropping firepower under sunny skies and in a gentle, not particularly helpful breeze at Kapalua's Plantation Course on Wednesday, easily turning away the three longest hitters on the PGA Tour, Robert Garrigus, Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson.

The big show came exactly two months after Sadlowski, the two-time defending Re/Max World Long Drive champion, was upset in his bid for a threepeat, his stunningly pedestrian 388-yard poke losing out to brawny Englishman Joe Miller's 396-yard rocket in the semifinals.

"One bad round in three years," Sadlowski said at Kapalua on Wednesday, referencing his loss.

As it turns out, it hasn't affected his bread and butter: corporate outings. Miller won't be stealing Sadlow's spotlight because he works in Europe. Neither will Domenic Mazza, whom Miller thumped in the finals, 414-371, because Mazza is still a 16-year-old amateur and not doing outings anywhere.

"I'm going home from here, then to the PGA Show," said Sadlowski, who was profiled at length in the November 2010 issue of Golf Magazine. "Then I'm going to Arizona for a bit, so I'm hitting it pretty hard here for the next two months."

Sadlowski, a former hockey player known for his modest size (5-11, 168 pounds) in a specialty that's been dominated by giants, was doing just that Wednesday. Each of the four players got three balls and four men became two when Sadlowski and Watson wound up with the longest drives.

In the finals, the kid from Alberta, Canada destroyed Watson, with all three of his drives (402, 394, 407) finding the fairway well ahead of Watson's best effort. All he and his fellow Tour stars could do was laugh and make jokes about the strange, new feeling of being thoroughly outclassed off the tee.

Watson: "Doesn't second place get a trophy, too?"

Johnson: "That's just stupid long."

Because of Sadlowski's length, youth, hand-eye coordination and technically sound swing, there is speculation about how he might do if he were ever to leave long-driving and try conventional competitive golf, and Watson himself seemed to be wondering the same thing when he said, "I see the other clubs in his bag besides the driver, so he must be able to play." "Those are just for show," Sadlowski replied.

That's not entirely true. He can play, and has won club championships back in Canada, but the fact remains long-driving and regular golf are not compatible. The ultimate goal is completely different at the Re/Max and other long-drive derbies, which is why Sadlowski's driver points to his left foot at the top of his backswing. He wants to try to break Jason Zuback's record (five titles) before leaving the niche sport.

In the meantime, Sadlowski is happy meeting new people, rubbing elbows with the Tour pros, who do not seem to intimidate him and who clearly love the novelty of his gift, as well as his humility.

"Be honest, say you were at least a little nervous," Watson said.

"I was! I was more nervous for this than I was at the Re/Max," Sadlowski replied.

It was exactly the right response-even if he wasn't.

 

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