Editor’s note: The RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship started Sept. 18 in Mesquite, Nev., and will finish with the Open Division finals Oct. 30 in Las Vegas. To celebrate the event, which attracts hundreds of golfers from dozens of countries, Golfweek is compiling a series of profiles of prominent long-drive participants who helped shape the sport.
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In recent decades, two dominant figures have emerged in long driving, both from Alberta, Canada, and both bombers of the highest order.
In the 1990s, Jason Zuback won four consecutive Open Division titles in the Re/Max World Long Drive Championship. He is now 43.
In 2008 and ’09, Jamie Sadlowski captured back-to-back Open Division titles. He has been among the eight finalists in the Re/Max Open Division for a record seven consecutive years. He will be the favorite when the 2013 finals are held Oct. 30 in Las Vegas.
If Zuback is the king of long driving, the 25-year-old Sadlowski is the crown prince. Both have hit so many drives longer than 400 yards that they stopped counting. The fact that both are from the same Canadian province is coincidental, although perhaps there’s a hockey element in this equation.
Sadlowski now attracts most of the attention. One reason is his young age. Another is his appearance – at 5 feet, 11 inches and 170 pounds, he looks so ordinary. Most long-drive champions, including Zuback, have been power-packed musclemen.
Those who study the golf swing are fascinated by Sadlowski. Some say his tremendous ball speed of 200-plus mph can be traced to his formative days as a standout junior hockey player in Canada.
“I think it’s true,” said Sadlowski, who plays hockey left-handed and golf right-handed. “Shooting a puck uses a lot of the same motion as the golf swing. Right away, most hockey players have a stronger core, a strong base, a strong lower body.
“Hockey also helps develop good hand-eye coordination. You’re leaning the shaft forward in both sports. They really go hand in hand.
“There’s more,” he said. “Players in both sports use the ground for power. Hockey players do it automatically. Golfers learn to do it.”
Sadlowski seems to be an ambidextrous athlete. At age 2, he had a straight hockey stick and could shoot either way, righty or lefty. As he grew, he became a left-sided shooter.
“I should have been a lefty in golf,” Sadlowski said, “but I learned to play the game right-handed. And I used a cross-handed grip.”
“That’s right,” he said. “I was a righty with a cross-handed grip, until I was 14 or 15. You really need a lot of flexibility to be able to hit it cross-handed.”
Not that it makes any difference, but is he right-handed or left-handed? “Right-side dominant,” he said with a smile, as if he could perform any motion right-handed or left-handed.
Sadlowski would like to win long-drive championships and regular golf tournaments at the same time. Already he has made 36-hole cuts on the Web.com and Canadian tours.
“It’s definitely on my mind,” he said. “I’m kind of at the crossroads. Do I give up my corporate connections and a guaranteed income (in long driving) to do all the preparation that is necessary for tournament golf?”
He hasn’t fully answered that question.
One thing that is absolutely clear, though, is Sadlowski’s belief in sound fundamentals, whether the competition is long driving or regular golf.
“I’ll take a guy with flexibility and a good golf swing,” he said, “over a guy who is as strong as a moose.”
He has extensively studied the human body and how it creates power and speed. He talks about “force production” and says his swing with a driver is “4 to 5 mph faster than last year. I’m faster, and my golf swing is better.”
Sadlowski’s driver is a Callaway X Hot LD prototype with 5 degrees of loft. His shaft is a 59-gram House of Forged model. The flex is XX, tipped an inch. The overall length is 48 inches on the Long Drivers of America scale, although the LDA method is not the same as the U.S. Golf Association method. An LDA measurement of 48 inches equates to a USGA measurement of about 49.5 inches.
One final Sadlowski observation: “When my golf swing is better, I stay healthier. That’s something I tell all golfers. Want to avoid injuries? Work on a sound golf swing.”