KAPALUA, Hawaii – They never felt they had much of a chance. But that wasn’t about to stop Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, and Robert Garrigus from having a lot of laughs.
That they also found time to fit in some praise for Jamie Sadlowski completed an exhibition of long-driving good fun at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
No surprise, Sadlowski – the 22-year-old former hockey player from Canada – won the competition by ripping all three drives in the final round (402 yards, 396, and 407) further than Watson’s best effort (352).
Garrigus (365 being his best) and Johnson (352) had been eliminated in the first round when Sadlowski went for 398 and Watson for 370.
“I don’t care. I’d rather win the tournament,” said Garrigus, who led the tour in driving average (315.5) in 2010. “Better to win a four-day putting competition than this thing.”
Garrigus, who got into the field here at Kapalua by virtue of his win in the season’s finale event, was smiling, mostly because he didn’t hold out much hope of outdriving Sadlowski. Nor did Watson and Johnson, all of them well aware of Sadlowski’s freakish skill.
Wielding two different drivers – “My play one is 45 inches, my long-drive one 47 inches,” Sadlowski said. “But both shafts are 3x, tipped at 1 1/4 inches.” – the two-time national long-drive champion was immense, at least after a nasty pull-hook on his first attempt.
“Yeah, a little different on our golf course, isn’t it,” Watson said, eliciting a round of laughter. Even Sadlowski had to chuckle, but he settled in to hit his next two drives 398 and 380 to get into the final round where he easily defeated Watson.
Not, however, without a great deal of anxiety, he confirmed.
“I was nervous,” Sadlowski said to Watson’s question. “I was more nervous than I was at the world (championship).”
Battling a slight wind that at times was in his face, Sadlowski didn’t go as deep as he did late Tuesday afternoon during a warm-up session (then, he had to hit at least a dozen drives over 400 yards), but he was clearly in his element.
That made it easier for the PGA Tour boys to shrug off the result and have some fun. Standing at the red tees at the Plantation Course’s 663-yard 18th, the players had a hole of about 455 yards in front of them, but with some 350 yards required to carry a hazard down the left side, the prudent play is to take it down the right and try and take advantage of a serious downhill ramp to get extra distance.
That meant Sadlowski, Garrigus, and Johnson could play draws, while Watson, a left-hander, needed to play a bit of a fade. But elevated some 170 feet above the green, the true spectacle was watching balls launched into a vibrant blue Hawaii sky with the majestic view of Molokai in the background.
Of course, the jokes were good, too.
“Close my eyes and swing harder,” Watson said when asked by the Golf Channel’s Frank Nobilo what he planned to do to hit it further than his opening blast of 370.
“Not sure I can hit it 370,” Garrigus said, when he had to follow Watson, “but I’m just glad to be here.”
Told that Sadlowski’s third drive went “just” 380 yards, Garrigus nodded. “Yep, just a little pop-up.”
With Watson standing on the tee wiggling his pink-shafted driver, Nobilo asked Sadlowski if he would ever swing a pink shaft. The young man with the uncanny clubhead speed said no. Johnson interrupted, “Yeah, but what about wearing a shirt with fake suspenders?”
Laughs all around, because Watson’s shirt was quite the conversation point, a brownish one in which was stitched black stripes to make it look like he had on suspenders.
Needing to beat 352 in the final round, Sadlowski made quick work as he absolutely exploded one off the tee.
“Really,” yelled Watson. “I mean, really?”
It came to rest 402 yards away and by the time the cheers down by the green filtered back to the tee, the PGA Tour big-boppers knew they were done. So as Sadlowski settled over his second shot, Watson bellowed out, “Yeah, but can he putt?”
Who knows and who cares, because that’s not the slice of golf that pays the rent. Hitting it deeper than deep is, which is why Sadlowski’s last two drives, meaningless that they were so far as the competition goes, kept everyone watching as he ripped two more seemingly into the side of Molokai.
“Ah, you’re lucky,” Watson said.
He was kidding, of course, and he was laughing.
Thursday, the competition returns to golf as we know it, with Round 1 of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. For a short time, it was a blast to watch one young man show off his style golf as most of us can only dream it.