Thanks to its popularity on social media and a certain Bryson DeChambeau, the sport of Long Drive has captivated many golf fans across the world in recent years. Following the Tokyo Olympics many suggested that like other sports, golf should offer multiple disciplines… One of which being Long Drive. But is long drive just a flash in the pan, or will it revolutionise the game of golf?
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Long drive is a recognised competitive sport in which success is derived by hitting the golf ball the furthest. Much like ‘regular’ golf has the PGA, Long Drive is sanctioned by the World Long Drive Association owned by Golf Channel USA. The season-long schedule features multiple events across the globe culminating in the World Long Drive Championship. With golf ball manufacturer Volvik now sponsoring the World Long Drive Championships, the estimated prize purse is just shy of three hundred thousand US dollars with the winner taking home one hundred thousand. With Long Drive being broadcasted in 70 different countries around the world it is undeniably one of the most up and coming sports on the planet… but why exactly?
Grandstands packed with fans making as much noise as possible, bright lights, fireworks and world championship belts… Not what you would usually associate with golf. The format of long drive competitions is generally the same, golfers have 6 balls to hit it further than their opponent… winner progresses to the next round, until you are left with 2 golfers who face off in the final. Whilst the objective is to obviously hit the golf ball as far as possible, long drivers must also be accurate ensuring that their effort lands within the ‘grid’. The ‘grid’, often an American Football field, is typically 450 yards (410m) long and around 60 yards (55m) wide. For the average golfer, a 60-yard-wide fairway would be a pretty straight-forward target… However, at the swing speeds the Long Drive competitors reach, their margin for error is very small. The slightest miss off the centre of the clubface often means missing the grid entirely.
Long drivers are able to swing at such high speeds through a combination of strength, technique and equipment. Former World Champion Joe Miller states that he trains under the mentality that “getting bigger, helps performance”. Joe follows what typically looks like a bodybuilders workout routine, using methods such as progressive overload to gradually increase both his strength and physique. With his strenuous amount of training, Joe also states how vital his nutrition is, consuming a very high protein diet. As you would expect, outside of the gym, long drive competitors spend numerous hours per day hitting golf balls on the range or simulator. ‘Superspeed sticks’ are also an essential tool used by both professional golfers and long drivers alike. These sticks come in a variety of weights and allow you to progress over time, much like you would using dumbbells in the gym. Over time ‘Superspeed sticks’ can help increase swing speed thus increasing the distance you can hit the golf ball.
With long drivers regularly clearing distances in excess of 380 yards (342m), you’d have to presume they have some sort of magic golf club in their bag? Well, this is actually a common misconception about the sport. In 2016 The World Long Drive Association aligned with the rules of golf and restricted the maximum length of the club to 48 inches. Whilst most tour professionals would typically stay well within these limits, using around a 45 inch driver… Long drivers tend to push these rules as far as possible. A typical long drive competition driver will be 48 inches long and boast a 460 cc head, again right on the legal limit. One of the biggest differences between your typical driver and that found in the bag of a long drive athlete tends to be found in the shaft. Whilst both use graphite shafts, long drive shafts tend to be considerably heavier and much stiffer. To put this into perspective, Dustin Johnson who is renowned for being one of the longest on tour uses an extra stiff Fujikura shaft… Kyle Berkshire (Current Long Drive #1) however, boasts a 4X Fujikura shaft, yep’ that’s right extra, extra, extra, extra stiff! Not to forget, long drivers tend to use drivers with around 3 or 4 degrees of loft… but why?
Well, the reason is pretty simple. Long drivers tend to hit up on the golf ball as much as possible, as a positive attack angle increase the launch angle and reduces spin… Bby doing so, they can create more carry and roll. This, amongst other factors make long drivers golf swings significantly different to that of a ‘regular’ golfer. It’s tough to find a long drive player who does not lift their lead foot on the back swing, something most golfers are taught to avoid. Long drivers also have their hands very vertical to allow them to create extra speed by leveraging their trunk.… fFrom this position at the top of their swing it’s all about turning their hips and swinging down towards the ball as hard as possible. With the average long driver swinging at over 135 mph, it is absolutely crucial that they find the middle of the club face.; sSo despite how rash their swing may look on camera, they are remarkably accurate too.
The sport of long drive has come to particular prominence in recent years much to the thanks of social media. TikTok, Instagram and YouTube are full of long drive clips, with current world number 1 Kyle Berkshire at the forefront. This doesn’t look set to change any time soon with the popular 2020 US Open winner Bryson DeChambeau set to compete in this year’s World Long Drive Championship. In a recent Instagram post Bryson DeChambeau himself, he stated: “This is an amazing opportunity to grow the game and the sport in general.… I want to show the world how incredibly talented and hard-working these athletes are. I’ve been working hard to get my game up to their speeds, so I have a chance, but will still continue to play my best golf with my regular day job.”
But with all of the above points considered, are Golf Long Drive Competitions merely a flash in the pan?… Oor, could they be the future of the game? Golf is often criticised for being an old-fashioned gentlemen’s sport, which doesn’t appeal much to the younger generation.… nNot only this but the time commitment of playing a 4 or 5 hour round is often enough to discourage people from playing entirely. Long Drive golf has taken golf as we knew it and flipped it on its head; eccentric events, big characters and a speedy format have all played a part in why the popularity of this sport has grown so much in recent years. Any attention towards the game of golf whether it be long drive or traditional golf must only be seen as a positive, and I for one believe it is a great way to grow the game of golf.