As far as spectacle goes, the “Exchange Celebrating Service: Fort Jackson” set the bar high for future events. The soldiers who came out to watch the world’s best hitters were loud and enthusiastic. Their energy was clearly felt not only by the civilians in attendance, but also the long drive competitors themselves.
“The crowd, I mean the soldiers were making it electric,” said Mikael Dubois, who won the Military Division with a drive of 326-yards over Tyler Jeffers. “I can’t even describe how awesome this feels.”
Dubois, a former Air Force pilot and current member of the Arizona Air National Guard earned an exemption into the World Long Drive Championship in September courtesy of his win on Tuesday evening. The League City, Texas native is scheduled to leave for deployment to Afghanistan in August, but is hopeful he may still have an avenue to be able to participate in the event.
“Being in the Air National Guard you can maybe move stuff around a little bit. So I think maybe one of my family members back in the 161st wing in Phoenix might trade with me. I’ll still be [deploying], but hopefully it’s just at a different time.”
Dubois’ impressive performance was followed up by a Women’s Division final that saw Chloe Garner outlast World No. 1 Phillis Meti. Prior to Tuesday, Garner hadn’t won a Tour event since 2017, and putting an end to her win-less drought clearly was an emotional moment for the 28-year-old South African.
“You can see the tears coming out of my eyes. It’s just what I live for, to compete. And to win again is exactly what I need going forward with my career.”
Garner’s emotions were fueled by the atmosphere that the troops provided.
“It was absolutely ridiculous. This is the most energy I’ve seen at an event and it was actually quite hard to control it all, but if you can control it and harness it in the right way it will benefit you. They were amazing.”
Garner also knows that her win over Meti is a big deal for not only herself, but her fellow competitors who are all chasing the New Zealander who is both the defending World Long Drive champion and winner of last month’s season opener at the Ak-Chin Smash in the Sun thanks to Meti’s record drive of 413-yards.
“Every time I’m out there practicing, she’s on my mind,” said Garner of Meti. “I hope she takes that as a compliment. She really has set the bar for the sport and we are all chasing her, but I know that I can catch her. I just did.”
In the Open Division, Kyle Berkshire advanced to a fourth finals appearance in his last five events, but ran into “The Beast from the Northeast,” Ryan Steenberg (Rochester, N.Y.).
“Kyle is a kid we’re chasing right now,” said Steenberg after beating Berkshire’s 368-yard drive with a blast of 393-yards. “He’s putting in a ton of work. His golf swing has gotten so much better and not only has his swing gotten better, but it’s gotten faster and he’s hitting a better golf ball. He’s starting to fill the grid up and for us that gets a little scary.”
Like both Dubois and Garner, Steenberg was fueled by the crowd and the reactions from the soldiers.
“The energy and the aura and everything this place encompasses, it was amazing to be out here with the men and women of our armed forces and represent them and represent the sport of long drive.”
The next event on the World Long Drive tour is the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bash, which will take place June 3-5 and air live on GOLF Channel.