2002: Unknown outblasts Daly, other big boys
The longest hitter in the world is a javelin thrower who turned to golf just three months ago. The longest hitter in the world is an unheralded high school teacher who shocked the big boys Oct. 19 after choosing the Re/Max World Long Drive Championship as his first golf competition.
The longest hitter in the world is not John Daly, who bombed in his starring role as a hired gun for the Pinnacle Distance Posse. Taking on 12 national qualifiers – unknown golfers from various walks of life – Big John shot himself in the proverbial foot with a 3-9 record in the inaugural Pinnacle Distance Challenge. Each of Daly’s conquerors received $100,000. Among the Notorious Nine were a roofer, a stockbroker, a Nashville backup singer and D.J. Nelson, who caddies for PGA Tour player Heath Slocum.
But it was Carl Wolter III, a 26-year-old high school physical education instructor in Allentown, Pa., who stole the show. Wolter, who said he has played only four rounds of golf this year, smashed a 384-yard drive to pull off the biggest upset in the 28-year history of the World Long Drive Championship.
“This is incredible,” said former world champion Mike Gorton. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I want to know exactly how he hit those drives (Gorton, hitting earlier, maxed out at 336 yards).”
The winner’s secret? “I have tried to apply everything I know about throwing a javelin in hitting a golf ball,” said Wolter, a former Big Ten champion and All-American javelin thrower at Penn State University. “I try to get the most out of my entire body. Nothing stops when I hit the ball. I keep it all moving as fast and efficiently as I can.”
Only one of the eight finalists at the Palms Golf Club came closer than 20 yards to Wolter. Canadian Kevin Blenkhorn of Sherwood Park, Alberta, was second (372 yards).
Utilizing maximum extension through the impact zone with what might be called golf’s new javelin swing, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Wolter dominated the final, actually hitting the three longest drives – 373, 382 and 384 yards. Only the longest of six drives is counted, and it must remain within a fairway, or grid, that is 48 yards wide.
One drive was enough for Patrick Dempsey, brother of longtime major league catcher Rick Dempsey, as he won the senior division with a 342-yard effort. Dempsey, 45, drew or pushed his other five drives outside the grid.
Stacey Shinnick of Escondido, Calif., captured the women’s division for the second time in three years with her 292-yard drive.
In the junior divisions, Lauren Motyl of New Bedford, Mass., was the girls’ winner (288 yards) and Owen Hanson of Los Alamitos, Calif., was the boys’ champion (347 yards).
It was Daly and Wolter, though, who had the fans buzzing. Several thousand spectators watched the long drive showdown, held at an elevation of about 3,000 feet.
Daly, 5-foot-11 and 300 pounds, was an unprepared gladiator. His weapon of choice was his regular tour driver, a Titleist 975J-VS with a Penley shaft. Its length: 44.25 inches – too short for long-drive competition. Most of his rivals used drivers at least 49 inches long. This also was true in the open division, with Wolter swinging a 55-inch SMT driver with an AccuFlex shaft.
For the evening, Daly missed the grid on 30 of 42 drives. His longest poke went 343 yards, allowing him to edge 17-year-old Ben Wood of Post Falls, Idaho.
“These guys are just too tough,” admitted an openly disappointed Daly. “I’d like to get them on the golf course and play all the other shots, too, but that’s not going to happen.”