Open division winner Wally Tardiff (Alan Comeau)

After much anticipation, I arrived at Pine Hill Golf Course on May 3 to participate in the ReMax Long Drive Local Qualifier. Jason Brooks and his wife, Katie, owners of the course, greeted me as I entered the clubhouse. Since my first goal was to not get hurt, I decided to warm up by hitting a bucket of balls on the range before competing.

I started with my wedges, and worked my way up to my driver. As usual, I started with some decent, but not long, hits, and slowly loosened up and started to hit drives that started getting good distance. But were they far enough? Only one way to find out!

I headed over to where they had set up the tee box for the competition. It was on the ninth fairway, facing across the course, and the grid was defined by orange cones 75 yards apart and downrange beginning at around 220 yards and going out to around 320 yards.

At the tee box were Phil Adams, the organizer of the local qualifier, and his son, Phil III. Introductions were made and the rules were explained. It was simple; I had a little less than three minutes to hit six balls as far as I could within the grid. I found out that the top senior division distance was 250 yards so far, so if I could achieve my second goal of 250 yards or more I’d have a chance of winning! Simple, right?

Well, not so much, actually. The keys to hitting a long drive are as follows:

  • Have the driver’s clubhead square at contact with the ball;
  • Make contact with the ball on the driver’s “sweet spot” – essentially centered horizontally and slightly above middle vertically. A hit in the sweet spot would result in a “smash factor” of near 1.5, which is the optimal number;
  • Launch the ball at a proper launch angle (with the lack of roll, the angle would need to maximize carry, so 13-14 degrees would probably work best). And, finally;
  • Achieve a swing speed of 105-110 mph (which is over my usual S.S. of around 100 mph).

Now, that’s an awful lot to go right for a bogey golfer, and all in the few seconds it takes to swing a club.

As I set-up for my first shot I was amazingly not very nervous. I took this as a hopeful sign. So, in order of swings, this is how my first attempt at long-driving went down:

  1. Decent hit, but started right and faded right, just outside the grid;
  2. Hook;
  3. Straight but a little low on the launch angle. Total distance = 235 yards;
  4. Hook;
  5. Best hit so far, solid, slightly higher launch. This one had a chance to be 250 plus, I hoped. But the call came on the walkie talkie . . . only 240 yards;
  6. Down to my final attempt, I went for increased loft, only to hit a classic pop-up. I think it actually landed on the 8th green.

And in less than three minutes my attempt at long-drive fame was extinguished, but not before hitting two in the grid, and having one go a respectable 240 yards carry. I came away from the competition with a little more confidence in my driver and a renewed sense of optimism for the upcoming season.

Congratulations to the winners of the long-drive qualifier at Pine Hill. Ken Hanscom won the senior division with a drive of 250; way to show me how it's done, Ken! Wally Tardiff won the open division with a massive hit of 308 yards. This guy LOOKS and HITS like a real long-drive competitor. A video of one of his drives can be found on the Pine Hill Facebook page.

Please be sure to tune in to next Monday’s show (7:15 a.m.) as we will talk about the results from The Players Championship and welcome special guest, personal trainer Amy Badger. She will share some tips on golf-specific exercises designed to optimize your swing and game.