Miller's unique swing leads to Long Drive title

In 2010, it seems appropriate that the longest meaningful drive in golf (414.4 yards) came in the event with one of the longest names in golf (the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship Powered by Dick’s Sporting Goods).

That tapemeasure drive was hit in the RE/MAX final by Killer Miller, otherwise known as Joe Miller, a 26-year-old fitness instructor from London, England.

Although the final was held Nov. 5 in Mesquite, Nev. (elevation 1,600 feet), it is set for its traditional Christmas telecast on the ESPN family of networks (Dec. 25, at 2 p.m. Eastern time on ESPN2, and Dec. 26, at 2:30 p.m. Eastern time on ESPN).

What viewers will see is Miller winning the title by defeating 16-year-old long drive prodigy Domenic Mazza of Concord, Calif., in the final.

Miller, 6-foot-4 and 279 pounds, possesses one of the most unusual golf swings in a sport overflowing with unusual swings. At impact, Miller appears to launch his body off the ground with a fierce rotational force.

Keep in mind that long-drive competition is not the same thing as golf competition. In each round, only the longest of six drives is counted (it has to finish inside a grid that is 60 yards wide). The other five balls can be miles wide of the target.

Regardless, there are obvious similarities between the two sports. For example, long-drive warriors now study their swings as carefully and expertly as do regular golf fanatics. This reflects a belief that improved technique means improved distance.

“The dedication among these professionals is tremendous,” said two-time World Long Drive champion Art Sellinger, now the promoter of the event. “Their fitness routines are pretty amazing, and they are achieving results that a few years ago were considered impossible.” 

Technically, of course, not all of them are professionals. Mazza turned down a $70,000 second place check to maintain his amateur status (Miller, the winner, got $150,000).

When Sellinger speaks of “results,” consider this: Measurements at this year’s RE/MAX showdown were taken with Trackman launch monitors, and some of the numbers were stunning.

For example, three contestants (Miller, two-time winner Jamie Sadlowski of Canada, and Ryan Louw of South Africa) achieved ball speeds greater than 224 miles per hour.

The highest ball speeds on the PGA Tour are somewhere in the 185- to 195-MPH range. It’s a good bet that no touring pro reaches 200 MPH, although real golfers must swing with a measure of control because generally they cannot afford to sacrifice accuracy for distance.

Here are some corresponding swing speeds (in MPH) from the RE/MAX: Sadlowski 150, Louw 148, Miller 147. These swing speeds are measured on the same hits in which they reached 224 in ball speed.

Most amateurs have swing speeds less than 100 MPH. The average is thought to be somewhere in the 85-to-95 range.

For golf watchers who analyze stats, it is interesting to look at launch angles (in degrees) and spin rates (in revolutions per minute) on the longest drives from the same three RE/MAX competitors.

Launch angles: Sadlowski 9.3, Louw 8.2, Miller 10.7.

Spin rates: Sadlowski 1767, Louw 2254, Miller 2111.

By comparison, most golfers need both a higher launch angle and a higher spin rate. This is because long-drive competitors sustain themselves with tremendous clubhead speed. Without that kind of power and speed, the only way to increase trajectory, carry distance and hang time is with a higher launch angle and a greater rate of spin.

May all of us dream of 414.4-yard drives.

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