The woman beside me easily could whip my butt at weight lifting, arm wrestling or long driving.
Am I intimidated? You bet. She is Lee Brandon, the World Long Drive champion for women.
Brandon won her title by smashing a 291-yard drive in spite of an injured left wrist.
“Second-degree tear in my fourth metacarpal,” she revealed, adding that her doctor warned against competing. She told him to take a flying leap.
Such is the determination of this woman. But more on that later.
First, I would like to report great success in my quest to find the essence of golf. Here at the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship, I made a startling discovery: The longest hitters in golf – men or women – are 39 years old.
Brandon, the women’s world champion, is 39. Sean Fister, the men’s world champion, is 39. To all the youngsters who figured 39 year olds were prehistoric, I have a message: You got beat, suckers.
Golf is truly the game of a lifetime, and perhaps this longevity is the essence of the sport. Said Brandon: “The most exciting part of this whole process is that I’m old . . . and I’m new . . . and I’m broken . . . and I won!”
The parallels between Brandon and Fister are astonishing: Both are 39, both never played golf until they were adults, both were stars in other sports, both overcame serious injuries, and both are winners.
Fister was a pole vaulter, javelin thrower and decathlete at the University of Florida. During a meet he missed the mat in the pole vault landing pit and broke his back.
After lengthy rehabilitation, he took up golf at 25. During the first round he ever played, he drove a par-4 hole of 345 yards. His friends called him “The Beast” because of his power at softball, but the sport of long driving was calling.
The first time I saw the likable Fister, he walked onto a practice tee with a street-legal bag of 14 clubs – 13 drivers and a sand wedge. The next time I saw him, he was Dedicated Dad – he and his wife, Karen, have two boys. One of them, 2-year-old Palmer, is named after Arnold Palmer.
“I played golf with Arnold Palmer four months before Palmer was born,” Fister explained. “I was so impressed with him, and the things he taught me in one day of golf, I named my son after him.”
Like Fister, Brandon turned to golf after a bizarre accident. At 17, while leaving a basketball game, she was talking over her shoulder to a friend and ran into a glass gym door. The plate glass in the door cracked and gave way, and she fell into the door frame.
“It was like a guillotine,” Brandon said. “My left arm was more off than on.”
A main artery was sliced. She was losing blood at an alarming rate. Her bicep was severed and wrapped around her shoulder. Muscles and tendons were cut.
“Basically the surgeon had to reattach it,” Brandon said. “They didn’t know whether I would lose the arm or not.”
After seven years of therapy, she regained most of the feeling in her arm. Therapy included piano playing, stretching and weightlifting. This led to a career, and today she is a physical trainer. She holds a patent for an abdominal exercise machine and has several other patents that are pending.
Brandon is a newcomer to golf. She admits to playing just “a handful of 18-hole rounds” and her best score is 85. But, baby, she can bust the ball.
“I’ve been known to hit it 340 or 350 when I have two good hands,” she said.
She plays at Mountaingate Country Club in Los Angeles, and that’s where she met Gabrielle Reece, the volleyball star and supermodel turned golfer.
“Gabrielle and I practice together,” Brandon said.
“She is brilliant. I think she should be out here. I think we’d take the sport to a whole new level, although this is not really her aspiration.”
In contrast to Fister, who has a collection of endorsement contracts with golf companies, Brandon has no golf deals. To obtain a properly fit driver, she made a cold call to TaylorMade. “I’m 5-11, weigh 190 pounds and can swing a driver at 115 miles an hour,” she said. “What do you recommend?”
The folks at TaylorMade, being no dummies, recommended she pay them a visit. She did, settling on a 47.5-inch length for her 360cc driver. Fister, by contrast, can generate a swing speed of 150 miles per hour and uses a 50-inch Dunlop driver.
I could recommend that strapping young golfers try these longer shafts in their drivers, but they aren’t old enough. They aren’t 39.