Could Bryson DeChambeau actually contend at the World Long Drive?


Josh Sens

August 31, 2021

Bryson DeChambeau will be bringing its booming tea shots to Mesquite, Nevada next month.

Getty Images

In the fall of 1999, Rory Sabbatini, one of the PGA Tour’s biggest hitters at the time, signed up for an off-tour competition to test his skills from the tee.

True to its reputation, the field for this year’s Remax World Long Drive Championship in Mesquite, Nevada consisted of a line of bombers that made most tour pros of the era look like midgets.

Among them was the three-time defending champion Jason Zuback, aka “Golfzilla”, who landed in an early knockout round with Sabbatini.

Art Sellinger, a former long drive champion and then owner of the long drive track where the event took place, recalls that Sabbatini was a prime example of persistence in competition and the starting grid, swing by swing, with drives, those who reached the maximum divided the neighborhood by 325 meters.

Bryson DeChambeau explains why he’s competing in the World Long Drive Championship

Luke Kerr-Dineen

Not bad for a man who made his living elsewhere, but nothing besides eventual winner Zuback, who routinely passed Sabbatini 50 yards.

“It was like a car going down the freeway at 60 mph, as opposed to a racing car going by at 120 mph,” Sellinger says.

The head-to-head comparison gave credibility to a claim long-drive long-drive considered gospel: that there is PGA Tour long and long-drive long, and the two are not the same at all.

Fast forward to the present. The issue is once again ensuring timely discussion, given recent news that Bryson DeChambeau, the PGA Tour’s leader in driving distance, plans to test his own strength on the grid after the tour itself has been cleared.

On September 27, fresh from his appearance in the Ryder Cup, DeChambeau will fly to Nevada to beat the big boys at the World Endurance Championship in Mesquite, just like Sabbatini did back then.

DeChambeau was preparing to unload at the BMW Championship last week.

Getty Images

Much has changed in the decades since then. The equipment is more specialized. Ditto training. The average touring professional is now fitter and more athletic. You don’t do many like Tim Herron anymore.

But will this also change the results?

In 1999, Sabbatini was quickly eliminated.

What is DeChambeau’s outlook in 2021?

One way to gauge your chances is to look at the statistics. Today, on the court, DeChambeau can increase his club head speed to nearly 140 mph, which can get a ball speed of up to 200 mph. While other factors – such as starting angle, starting direction and spin – also affect the distance, no matter how you crack it, DeChambeau’s numbers are an eye-catcher for a touring professional.

But not so much on the long haul. At the top level of the sport, competitors can bring ball speeds in the 220-230 mph range with optimized start and spin.

DeChambeau isn’t there. At least not yet. And that makes a measurable difference. Research has shown that, under the right conditions, every additional mile per hour means approximately two additional meters of distance.

Wes Patterson, a Florida-based long drive professional, doesn’t see DeChambeau beating the best based on the data alone. In his opinion, a more realistic goal would be for Bryson to survive the knockout rounds of the group.

“When I’m in his place, I think a top 16 finish is a pretty big feat,” says Patterson.

However, as Patterson knows, data alone does not dictate athletic results. Experience also comes into play and a knack for performance when it matters most. In that regard, DeChambeau could have an advantage, according to Bernie Najar, a GOLF Top 100 instructor who works with Kyle Berkshire, Long-Drive’s current alpha male.

“Bryson is used to being in the moment and playing under maximum pressure,” says Najar. “He won the US amateur. He won the US Open. He’ll intimidate some of the guys he goes up against just because he’s Bryson. You will feel nerves that you have never felt before. “

Kyle Berkshire works

Long Drive Champion Kyle Berkshire’s 4 training tips for gaining big yards from the tee

Kyle Berkshire, reigning World Long Drive Champion

Najar’s Berkshire student is DeChambeau’s sidekick. Their friendship was central to DeChambeau’s decision to compete in Mesquite and make an appearance for which he does not receive an entrance fee. As DeChambeau told last week, he enjoys training on long drives. He also thinks it’s an advantage as it helps him generate the higher speeds that “do my job a little better”.

In long drive circles, however, the more important question is not what the sport can do for Bryson, but what Bryson can do for the sport that could use a boost. In the past 18 months, when much of the golf industry was experiencing a covid boom, the long drives have been beaten, their events either lessened or wiped out by the pandemic.

These problems were compounded by the decision last year by Golf Channel, owner of the World Long Drive Association and televised competitions, to sell the world’s largest, longest-running long-haul route.

He’ll intimidate some of the guys he goes up against just because he’s Bryson. You will feel nerves that you have never felt before.

Bernie Najar, GOLF Magazine Top 100 Teachers

Woe is any sport without a major league or a TV deal.

In the absence of both, the long drive through DIY events and bootstrapping circuits like the Professional Long Drivers Association, a player-led team founded last year to fill the void the Golf Channel left, has held and which will host the Mesquite event next month, now called the PLDA World Championship.

“We’re very careful about using the word ‘world’ because it can’t be a World Cup if you don’t have overseas competitors,” said Bobby Peterson, a long-time supporter who helped found the PLDA with four other veterans of the sport. “And we have them come. It will be an international event. “

Of course, no one scheduled to compete next month can match DeChambeau’s star power. The hope among long distance riders is that his presence will help raise the profile of a sport they believe has never achieved its full meaning. The more eyeballs, the better. Peterson says DeChambeau’s name has already made an impact, as evidenced by a flurry of inquiries from fans and potential competitors alike about Mesquite. There is currently a waiting list to enter the competition. But depending on how things develop, Peterson says, the professional field could expand from 64 to 128.

With less than a month to the championship and no broadcasting contract, the chances of television coverage are slim. However, the PLDA plans to live stream the competition on its YouTube channel.

It is impossible to say what result this feed will capture. The general view among tall drivers is that Bryson has no chance of running away with the $ 50,000 check for first place. But Sellinger at least believes DeChambeau has a chance, at least more than Sabbatini.

“I think he has a different gear and the fact that he can handle pressure, hits right in the face and has world-class speed is a different story,” says Sellinger. “He’ll have the equipment that everyone else has. If a champ like Kyle Berkshire hits his best ball, (DeChambeau) won’t touch it. But the beasts that can generate speed don’t deliver the bat to the ball as well as Bryson, so it gets interesting. “

The beasts that can create speed don’t deliver the bat to the ball as well as Bryson does.

Art Sellinger, former long distance champion

Which begs another question: what would it do to the sport’s credibility if its world championship were captured by an intruder?

Zuback thinks it doesn’t bode well.

Long drivers, he says, are already dealing with tour broadcasts and social media explosions showing 380-yard drives benefiting from inclines and rock-hard fairways. Spoiled with such spectacles, Zuback says: “Many say: ‘You see, the tour guys have made it as far as the long-distance guys’ without understanding things.”

A DeChambeau win, he says, “would confirm that perception”.

Not that he hopes things will turn out that way.

“Bryson worked extremely hard and the results were remarkable,” says Zuback. “He borrowed from the long drive to help him on his journey and worked his way to the top of the distance podium on the PGA Tour.” But that’s not the same as long drive.

“Is he ready to move up to the distance podium in our sport?” Says Zuback. “Maybe one day, but not quite yet.”

Golf magazine

Subscribe to the magazine

Subscribe to

general profile picture

Josh Sens, a golf, food and travel writer, has been with GOLF Magazine since 2004 and now contributes to all GOLF platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also co-author with Sammy Hagar of Are We Have Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.