By Andrew Both
(Reuters) – Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy have the potential to compete in long drive competitions, but would have to focus exclusively on the discipline for a year or so to be competitive, according to world champion Justin James.
James won the world final in Oklahoma last year by smashing the ball 435 yards. Long hitters on the PGA Tour typically drive about 330 yards.
“Someone like D.J. or Rory if they really trained for it, it’s possible (they would be competitive),” the American told Reuters ahead of Monday’s launch of the 2018 Volvik series.
“Those guys at the moment would not get within 50 yards of anyone out here.
“Our ball speed (leaving the clubface) is more than 220 miles per hour. The average on the PGA Tour is 170.”
James added that the competition is completely different from the normally quiet expected on the tee in regular golf, while competitors have just two minutes to hit four drives, the longest of which counts, within a marked grid usually some 50 yards wide.
“It is challenging (to concentrate), drastically different to professional golf, with music blaring in the background, fans yelling, an announcer,” James said.
“The pace is so fast it’s hard to stay in rhythm and make that good golf swing. It’s a very exciting environment.
“I am a guy who is low key and I’ve had an advantage having played (as a pitcher) in minor league baseball, learning how to manage my (arousal) level. I try to play it low key.”
James, 26, knows well that there are many ingredients that must be baked into smashing the ball vast distances.
“You learn quickly it’s much more than just putting work in the gym and trying to swing at 150 mph,” he added.
“There’s a lot of science, spin rate, angle of attack. How are you maximizing.
“I constantly work to make the biggest turn I can with correct mechanics. My hips take a beating.”
The World Long Drive Championship, now owned by Golf Channel, comprises nine events in the U.S. and one in Canada from March until the final in early September.
Swede Sandra Carlborg is the reigning women’s champion.
Prize money in each event will be a minimum of $30,000 for the men and $15,000 for the women, with the final worth $270,000 and $40,000.
International qualifiers also will be held in Japan, Germany, Britain and New Zealand, with the winners of each advancing to the final.
A competing circuit, the Long Drive World Series, will also hold 10 events from February through November, in 10 different countries, starting in Dubai and culminating in Turkey.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Gene Cherry)