When you think of the men and women who make up World Long Drive, what do you think of?
It’s a fairly straightforward question with no easy answer.
That doesn’t stop people from voicing their opinion, however, with perhaps the most recognizable of them being the reigning Volvik World Long Drive Open Division champion, Maurice Allen.
Last June, Allen offered up what is likely the second-most viral moment of his career (Rick Flair impression, anyone?) when he stated that World Long Drivers are the top athletes on the planet.
“I’ll be 100% honest with you, these guys out here are absolutely the best athletes on earth,” he said during the Clash in the Canyon tour event on Golf Channel. “I don’t care about the NBA Finals, I don’t care about football. These guys are professional athletes in everything.”
The clip lit a fire across the sports world, so it’s no surprise SportsCenter’s Instagram labeled it a ‘hot take.’ Just because it is bold doesn’t make it wrong, though.
A little deeper dive into what it means to be a successful long driver might, despite what some believe, prove Allen to be right.
One thing is clear: Making contact with a golf ball at immense speeds is an athletic achievement. If you don’t believe it, watch an elite athlete pick up a club and try it for the first time.
Top competitors’ swing speeds can get up to 150+ mph. That’s fast enough to send a 1.68 inch ball rocketing through the sky at upwards of 225 mph. While these numbers might grab your attention and make the Flash blush, that’s not the sole intention.
These are meant to put the emphasis of the sport in perspective. Whereas in golf, the objective is to shoot the lowest score, the point of World Long Drive is going long. Which brings us to the most common critique of the sport: Accuracy.
People watch ball-tracers darting off left and right during TV competitions and let their opinions fly just as freely. What they don’t stop to consider is where this competition fits in the sports world. In what other realm where distance is the ultimate goal is accuracy so severely criticized?
When somebody misses the mark in long jump – a sport dating back to the Anicent Olympic Games in Greece – nobody guffaws at the thought of it. When a javelin attempt is marked as a scratch, nobody tweets about the validity of the competition. When baseball slugger Aaron Judge hits a towering homerun, New York Yankees fans don’t pause to scrutinize his strike out to at-bat ratio. That’s because they understand that when you get a human body twisting and moving at those speeds, receiving an accurate result is something to be applauded, not to be expected with regularity.
The next time you watch a World Long Drive event, watch it with that comparison in mind. See if it doesn’t make you reevaluate your stance.
And consider this: As eye-catching as the swing speeds and the showmanship can be, underneath all of it needs to be a mind that can handle the heat, and thrive in the moment. Long Drivers seem to make the most of just that. Often times an entire event will come down to one swing.
Like for Allen, who connected on the final ball in September to win his first World Championship belt. Or 2018 Women’s Division champ Phillis Meti, who also was down to her last ball when she won her second World Championship (now a three-time winner) in 2016. That’s a pressure that few will ever feel, yet time and again these men and women have to perform under those circumstances.
It’s like blasting a walk-off homerun when your team is down to its last out. That doesn’t even take into account that they’re also racing against a countdown clock staring back at them on the hitting platform. Factor in that these athletes are paid based on their results, not on a guaranteed check, and the pressure becomes even more real.
All of this isn’t to say that Usain Bolt or a Cy Young Award winner should bow at the feet of a World Long Driver and pass on their crown as the world’s greatest.
It’s simply an opportunity to appreciate what the men and women of World Long Drive are doing on an ever-increasing stage in a way that you might not have before.
World Long Drivers might not deserve the throne of World’s Best Athlete, but they do deserve a seat at the table.
By: Cav Neutze