Eager to lift the status of the sport internationally, organisers of the Long Drive World Series will be bringing the global campaign to Africa for the first time this year when the series makes a stop at Sun City in April.
“We’re trying to introduce the sport to countries like South Africa, Mexico and others to enhance the sport in those countries, but also to try and find the next global star,” World Series chief executive Martin Westney said.
“The ultimate goal is to have elite players competing around the world who are able to make a living from the sport.”
One of the challenges, according to two-time long drive world champion Joe Miller, is teaching the public that athletes who participate in the sport are not simply big hitters who can’t make their way around a golf course.
“There’s a misconception a lot of the time that long drivers can’t play golf, and it’s simply not true,” he said.
“If you look at what we have to do with a driver, and the margin of error, it’s 10-fold what the guys are doing when they hit with a driver on the ATP Tour.
“We have one degree of loft, blasting at over 240 kilometres an hour, and to keep the ball in play at that sort of speed requires a good amount of golf technique.”
Miller is a big man, standing at 1.93m and weighing in at 120kg, and while he advocates the importance of technique, he believes strength and power are also key elements to success in the long-drive game.
“Training for long drive and training for golf is two very different things.
“You wouldn’t train (retired sprinter) Usain Bolt the way you would train (distance runner) Mo Farah.
“We’re very powerful and explosive… and this is my philosophy on it, but strength is never a weakness. Building yourself to be strong and fast is going to help handle injuries and assist with longevity.”
A former club champion who plays off a +2 handicap, the towering Brit started focussing on long-drive competitions as a teenager in 2003, and he has since become a specialist, setting a world record for ball speed (362 kilometres an hour) and hammering one of the longest recorded drives in history, a monstrous 512-metre slam.
Governed by the same rules and technological limits as standard golfers, including the length of the club and type of ball, Miller said long drivers were not trying to pass themselves off as golfers.
They were looking for their own credibility for their supreme skills off the tee.
“We don’t want to be golf, but it is the same type of sport. We just want to take it to the maximum,” he said.
The SA leg of the World Series, featuring a 16-man field including national champion Jason Cook, will be held at Sun City on April 3.