ATLANTIC CITY, NJ – Whether it’s for show, bragging rights or to leave a lasting impression on those around us—we all want to hit the long ball. For the players on the World Long Drive circuit, trying to hit a golf ball into another area code is a way to make a living.
On Tuesday, I spent time at Atlantic City Country Club to take in the Boardwalk Bash Long Drive competition and participate in a Pro-Am prior to the event. To be perfectly honest, before I arrived I didn't know all that much about the Long Drive world. It was an eye-opening experience. As in I literally had my eyes opened in awe of how far the ball travels off their clubs.
These were my biggest takeaways from the day’s events:
Why can't we be friends?
Very much in line with the new generation of golfers on the PGA Tour, the Long Drive competitors are a close-knit group. There's no faking it here. These people genuinely like being around one another.
They have statures that could be confused for WWE Superstars. In spite of their violent swings, these are gentle giants.
Down the line at the range, you hear a constant chatter of someone busting chops or making a sarcastic remark about someone else's technique. That same competitor would follow that up by chiming in with a swing tweak if they saw a buddy struggling. Make no mistake about it, they all want to win, badly, but they want to win by out-hitting their opponents’ best.
The men's competition started on Monday with 36 entries. Eight of those moved on to compete on Tuesday. The other twenty-eight were free to leave and do whatever they pleased. Every single one of them to a man decided to stick around on Tuesday, for no pay mind you, to have some fun with amateurs like myself in an effort to grow Long Drive and cheer on the remaining finalists afterward.
They are a refreshing bunch to be around.
There’s more to it than a Happy Gilmore-like approach
From the get-go, I was thoroughly impressed with the amount of work these competitors put into their swings. Sure, they come out of their shoes on occasion, but theirs are still controlled swings…if that makes any sense. They’re mad scientists in the sense that they’re tweaking swing formulas we already know work in an effort to create long-drive monsters.
Trackman is all the rage. They’re busy analyzing their numbers the same way Tour players do. There were even a few swing coaches hanging around the range. "Grip it and rip it" isn’t quite that accurate for this group. Grip it, rip it and flip over that Trackman screen around is more like it.
Even God can't hit a Long Drive Driver
As I finished warming up on the range prior to the Pro-Am, my professional partner, Justin Moose, offered me his club to try it out. The club felt like something that should've been used as a weapon in the latest Avengers movie. The loft was set at 3.5 degrees, the shaft was four inches longer than stock and just picking it up reminded me of picking up my father's driver as a child.
Getting those drivers around at a swing speed of 140 mph, something the entire men's field does routinely, might be the greatest feat I saw on the day.
There was a brief lightning delay during the event. I feel confident that I would’ve been plenty safe standing outside and holding that club straight up in the air for the man upstairs to give it his best shot.
The wind was howling at our backs on the range with the Atlantic City boardwalk in the distance. "I'm not going to change a thing with you," Moose said after watching me hit a few balls. I was feeling pretttty, pretttty good about myself.
With our turn approaching, Moose gave my two teammates and me a rundown of how it would all go down. We would get up on a stage some 15 feet above the standard tee box with a grandstand nestled tightly behind us where early arrivers for the night’s festivities were already seated. A timer of 90 seconds would begin on an emcee’s mark for us to hit four balls, with our longest drive that landed within the makeshift 45-yard wide fairway counting.
I've hit from tee boxes in front of decent-sized crowds before. How much different could this possibly be?
From the moment the emcee announced our names as on deck and we began making our trek towards the stage you might as well have turned on Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” because my palms were sweaty, knees weak, arms heavy. A fair amount of fans had already started rolling in and were seated in the grandstand along with the groups who had competed before us.
We settled into our spots, and all eyes were on me. At least it felt that way. This was the most nervous I'd ever been in golf before. I couldn't even tee the ball up initially when our time began. That was the damn mat's fault, though. A volunteer stepped in and teed my first ball up for me as if I were a toddler. Great start!
First swing: topped.
I stepped away. Laughed at myself. Could hear people in the background laughing with me, definitely not at me. Then caught my composure.
That same backwind from the range was now blowing in and across at 30 mph. I followed my first shot flop with two good swings, but both balls rolled off a fairway that suddenly felt 10 yards wide once competition began. I looked up and noticed my teammates had already finished and our scoreboard was blank. I decided to try and lay one out in the middle to get us on the board to give Moose something to work with.
Final swing: 218 yards down the left center of the fairway.
In hindsight, I probably should’ve swung harder... pic.twitter.com/JItiMNjtdO— Tim Reilly (@LifeOfaReilly) June 5, 2018
I'll chalk that low number up to a combination of wind, a swing that needs a lot of work, wind, being a team player, wind, nerves and the wind. There was a lot of wind. Back me up here, Moose!
I earned a newfound respect for what those competitors are able to do after enduring just a sliver of the spotlight they’re accustomed to. Hitting in front of an emcee who thrives on yelling louder than the music playing from glaring speakers, a crowd that wouldn’t last a second at a PGA Tour event, on a stage that sways with each swing and with television cameras all around is no easy task. It takes a special breed to stay calm, cool and collected in those conditions.
If you're looking to broaden your golf horizons I recommend checking out a World Long Drive event. They're much, much more than just those golf-ball whacker guys.