2005: For ‘The Beast,’ it’s all about the hands

Mesquite, Nev.

The longest hitter in the world thinks about his hands. When he won his third Re/Max World Long Drive Championship last month with a 377-yard blast, Sean “The Beast” Fister was concentrating on hand speed.

“I’ve been working hard on my swing, and that’s one adjustment I made,” Fister said. “I have a tendency to hit the ball to the right, and I fight it constantly. Several times I’ve been long enough to win, but I’ve been OB right by just a few yards.

“So this year I worked on speeding up my hands at impact. I started getting a better release at the bottom (of the swing). I was timing my release a lot better. I could feel a snap at the bottom.”

My theory: If the world’s longest hitter thinks about his hands, it can’t be a bad thing.

Regardless, I often hear teachers tell their students to forget about using the hands. “Passive hands” is one of those terms that has permeated golf instruction.

My feeling is that “passive hands” is a mantra that should be chanted exclusively in the Chapel of the PGA Tour. It takes a Tour player to understand, feel and incorporate this concept.

Anyway, Tour players don’t really have passive hands. They just feel that way. What they are doing is maximizing the acceleration of the clubhead, using superior flexibility and leverage. Their hands are part of this package.

Hit 300 balls per day, play six days per week, and you too can become a member of the “passive hands” choir.

Otherwise, forget it. Try coordinating the speed of your hands and arms with the power and stability of the rest of your body.

For more hands-on analysis, see pages 45-47. Meanwhile, humor me while I discuss some of the personalities at the Re/Max World Long Drive Championship:

A world champion called “Beast” who is big, bad and . . . sensitive?

A woman who won a world title after gaining 20 pounds.

A world senior (45 and over) long-drive champion who once wrestled professionally under the name Agent Orange. He won his senior title here with a torn lat muscle in his back, sending him to the turf in pain when he hit a shot.

A world super senior (55 and over) champion who teaches third grade and busts tape-measure drives as a hobby.

A member of the NBA Hall of Fame who lost the super senior title on the last shot of the night.

“It was like a last-second shot from center court,” said Rick Barry, a legendary shooter known for his underhanded free throws.

“It was a clutch performance.

I give him credit,” said the 61-year-old Barry, co-host of a daily three-hour talk show on radio station KNBR in San Francisco.

Barry, hitting fifth among six finalists in the super senior division, launched a 318-yard drive in cold, wet conditions.

Hitting last was Steve Griffith, 55, of Hamilton, Ohio. On the last of his six balls, Griffith beat Barry by two yards with a 320-yard drive.

“I teach 8-year-olds,” Griffith said, “and they have so much energy it’s unbelievable. I think I’ve picked up some of that. On my last swing, I pictured the 18th hole of my home club (Elks Country Club in Hamilton). I tried to hit a big high draw over the (imaginary) tree. I blocked out everything else.”

Griffith won $8,000. “That’s a lot of money for a teacher,” he said.

Nothing in golf is more fun than this annual gorilla gathering, held an hour northeast of Las Vegas. Strictly speaking, it isn’t golf. Long drive is a sport unto itself, and the longest hitters are gods who sit atop Mount Mesquite in their own thunderstruck universe.

It was fun and agony for Gerry James, the former Mr. California bodybuilding king and one-time pro wrestler. James, who often practices with friend and neighbor Vijay Singh in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., tore a lat muscle early in the week but insisted on continuing his quest. To help win the $25,000 first prize, he brought along his personal chiropractor, Dr. Adam Sandahl of Costa Mesa, Calif.

With a groan and a grimace, James spanked a 366-yard drive that outdistanced the other five finalists. The grid was a generous 52 yards wide, although it looked something like a bowling alley when viewed from 350 yards away.

Stacy Shinnick, a professional photographer from Encino, Calif., won the women’s crown for the third time. Although appearing pencil-thin at 6-foot-1, Shinnick admitted she bulked up for the competition.

“I was tired of getting beat by women who were stronger than I was,” explained Shinnick, who took home $10,000. “I got big-time stronger in the gym, and I gained about 20 pounds. Now I can’t wait to take the rest of the year off.”

Then there was Fister, the men’s open champion who was presented a $100,000 check. Addressing someone as “Beast” can seem a little strange – “Hey, Beast, you were awesome” – but that’s the way it went at the World Long Drive Championship.

Long-drive legend Jason Zuback gave Fister a long embrace. Between them, Zuback and Fister have won seven of the past 11 World Long Drive Championships – four for Zuback, three for Fister.

“He’s a great friend,” Fister said. “Every time I win, he’s the first to congratulate me. And his voice always cracks. It’s very emotional.”

When Fister was inducted into the long-driving Hall of Fame in 2002, he gave the most gracious acceptance speech I have ever heard at any Hall of Fame ceremony. This year, when he became the oldest winner at 43, he once again was positively mellow in assessing his accomplishment.

“I couldn’t have done it without my wife, Karen,” he said. “She is the greatest.”

Then, to Karen, he said, “You didn’t think the old man could do it, did you?”

She, of course, would have none of that.

Those expecting Fister to say, “I eat beetles for breakfast,” or something equally outrageous were disappointed.

He is just a polite, soft-spoken guy who happens to hit a golf ball farther than anybody else on earth, thanks in part to those faster hands.

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