In August 2021, long drive was getting ready to collapse. The area of interest sport — by which competitors drive golf balls so far as humanly possible, often greater than 400 yards — had endured a difficult 12 months, disrupted by the pandemic, and registrations for the world long drive championship were dismal.
That’s when Bryson DeChambeau, the winner of the 2020 U.S. Open and a member of the 2018 and 2021 U.S. Ryder Cup teams, entered the competition, sparking a surge in interest and dozens of recent entries.
“He saved us, that’s needless to say,” Kyle Berkshire, a two-time world long drive champion, said.
DeChambeau’s participation was not a complete shock: In recent times, an increasing number of established pros, increasingly obsessive about driving distance, have turn into unabashed fans of long drive, with PGA Tour winners like Justin Thomas, Tony Finau and Cameron Champ expressing support. Berkshire has turn into a go-to training partner and sounding board for a lot of these pros, sharing recommendations on swing technique, stretching, fitness routine and more.
“Back after I was in college, everyone thought the long drive guys were the clowns of the golf world,” Berkshire said. “That whole perception is changing.”
DeChambeau has played a serious role in that, and after ending seventh within the 2021 competition, he’ll be back for this 12 months’s world championship, which begins Tuesday.
DeChambeau made headlines in 2020 by bulking up and drastically changing his swing, increasing his average driving distance by nearly 20 yards to steer the PGA Tour. He ultimately won that 12 months’s U.S. Open, and he has not been shy about crediting long drive — particularly its emphasis on swing speed — with much of his success.
“I actually watched the 2019 world long drive championship, and that’s what inspired me and got me considering,” DeChambeau said in a recent phone interview. “These guys were swinging the golf club 40 or 50 miles faster than me, so I assumed, what if I could add just 15 percent to my swing speed and use that on tour? That’s the way it began, after which I got hooked on hitting it farther and farther.”
With the assistance of Berkshire and other long drivers, DeChambeau adopted a standard long drive practice method: overspeed training, by which competitors swing the driving force as hard as possible, with no regard for accuracy, within the hopes that it would also improve the speed of their more typical, controlled swings.
The strategy worked incredibly well for DeChambeau — a lot in order that now, he and Berkshire said, it has turn into a typical training routine for a lot of skilled golfers.
“It’s kind of a latest revolution,” Berkshire said. “At this point, it’s almost required for skilled golfers, since everyone seems to be doing it.”
Based on Mark Broadie, a Columbia University professor and golf researcher who helped coach DeChambeau in 2020, the embrace of long drive inside the golf world is a logical next step. Years ago, Broadie invented the “strokes gained” metric, which analyzes the impact of each shot throughout a round of golf in relation to the remaining of the sector. His evaluation ultimately found that even marginal gains in driving distance could have a serious effect on scores.
“It’s true for all players: In the event you drive it 20 yards longer, even with just a little less accuracy, you possibly can gain a stroke per round,” Broadie said. “So it looks like a natural evolution for long drive to be more accepted. If you should drive the ball so far as possible, you then clearly need to confer with the long drivers, the fellows who’ve optimized that throughout their careers.”
Long drive has existed, in some form or one other, since 1949, when a driving competition was held at the side of that 12 months’s P.G.A. Championship. A more formal long drive world championship would form in 1976, and various skilled leagues have taken shape because the Nineties.
One of the crucial recent iterations of a protracted drive league — the World Long Drive Association, sponsored by Golf Channel — essentially disbanded in 2020 after canceling its season due to pandemic. In its wake got here a spiritual successor, the Skilled Long Drivers Association, which has hosted a lot of tournaments, including the 2021 world long drive championship.
While the association’s administrators are completely happy to be gaining acclaim in golf circles, also they are hopeful it would translate into mainstream acceptance.
“This 12 months, we’re getting a extremely big response from players wanting to compete, and more fans are coming out to look at our events,” said Bobby Peterson, the association’s managing partner and majority owner. A former long drive competitor, Peterson has been an element of the game since 1992, and he said there had never been as much enthusiasm surrounding it as there’s this 12 months, including interest from possible corporate partners.
“This isn’t just hyperbole,” Berkshire said. “Based on the talks I’ve been involved in, this sport is in the most effective position it’s ever been in.”
Long drive’s recent ascent comes at a time when golf is reckoning with a serious disruption in the shape of the LIV Golf Series, whose major shareholder is the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. In its first season, LIV Golf poached some high-profile golfers from the PGA Tour, including DeChambeau, and implemented innovations geared toward enhancing the fan experience and changing how viewers watch golf, including shorter tournament structures and a team format.
David Carter, a sports business professor on the University of Southern California, said long drive could ultimately be an intriguing acquisition or partner with either the PGA Tour or LIV Golf, as each look so as to add content within the years to come back.
“It’s all about this next generation of consumer: younger individuals who want short-form, digestible content,” Carter said. “Something like long drive may very well be curated in a whole lot of alternative ways, whether online, through social media, or at the side of tournaments.”
As long drivers prepared for this 12 months’s world championship, Berkshire was grateful for DeChambeau’s continued support. He said he nearly needed to pinch himself when he considered how far long drive had are available in such a short while.
“Only a 12 months ago, I had never seen a sport in such a nasty position,” Berkshire said. “Now, I’ve never seen one poised for such a brilliant future. It’s just an exciting time throughout.”