Long-drive champion Jamie Sadlowski impresses with transition from novelty golf to U.S. Open sectional

Jamie Sadlowski during the second round of the Web.com Tour Club Colombia Championship.

Long-drive champion Jamie Sadlowski impresses with transition from novelty golf to U.S. Open sectional

PGA Tour

Long-drive champion Jamie Sadlowski impresses with transition from novelty golf to U.S. Open sectional

DUBLIN, Ohio — It is a visual best savored had you known the late Miller Barber, a beautiful man who loved golf, loved people even more and loved life most of all. That his friends returned love to Barber at every chance they got speaks volumes for the man, but it must be said that the 11-time PGA Tour winner might not have had the greatest eyesight later in life, which is where we bring in Gary McCord of CBS golf to help introduce the growing legend of Jamie Sadlowski.

A twisted introduction, yes, but we’re not talking the norm when Sadlowski is involved. So after meeting Sadlowski at Whisper Rock Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., one day, “it didn’t take me 10 minutes to get the entire membership out there for an impromptu clinic,” McCord said.

“Miller Barber was there, and I stood next to him. Miller didn’t see one shot. ‘Where did that go?’ he would ask. And I would keep saying, ‘Miller, it went over the back of the range.’

“Miller said, ‘But that’s about 400 yards,’ ” and when McCord nodded his head in agreement, Barber realized he had witnessed something truly remarkable — even if he had not actually seen the flight of the ball.

Which put him in good company, by the way. After all, it’s hard to follow something that goes that fast into another stratosphere.

Just ask the PGA Tour’s longest hitter, on average (311.6 yards), Tony Finau, about Sadlowski and he laughs.

“When I hit one good, it goes, so to see someone hit it 50-60 (yards) further than my best is pretty crazy to think about,” Finau said.

Here’s more crazy: Sadlowski’s 150-mph clubhead speed, 220-mph ball speed, shoulder turn of about 140 degrees and the fact that he generates all of this with a 5-foot-10-inch, 168-pound frame. But craziest of all, the two-time Re/Max long-drive champion is committed to crossing over from novelty golf to the real stuff — and not just any real golf, but the most real golf of all: the U.S. Open.

Two weeks after shooting 65 to medal at a local qualifier in Scottsdale, Sadlowski, 27, will tee it up Monday at a U.S. Open sectional at Springfield (Ohio) Country Club. Although McCord, who will caddie for Sadlowski, concedes “Jamie’s not a golfer — yet,” he is quick to add this: “He might choose to be.”

And if that happens, let the record show that the boys at Whisper Rock are here to tell you that you’ll be in for something unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Chez Reavie stood on the first green on the lower course at Whisper Rock, the one designed by Phil Mickelson, and turned back toward the tee some 462 yards away to see his first installment of the Sadlowski legend.

“It’s a dogleg right, and he flew it over the wash area and into the far end of the greenside bunker,” Reavie said. “I was on the green and watched it. Like, holy $*@&, are you kidding me?”

Sadlowski wasn’t kidding, nor was McCord, who has become a mentor to the former defenseman with the Bonnyville Pontiacs of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. McCord had read about Sadlowski’s remarkable success as a long-drive champion, and when they had that chance meeting at Whisper Rock, things melded beautifully.

“He’s such an outlier,” McCord said. “I’m telling you, he can really play. He has got the bug to play.”

Sadlowski quickly went from “guest” to “member” at “The Rock,” where the kinship is thicker than U.S. Open rough. In no time, Sadlowski was embraced by the long list of Grade A PGA Tour players who call Whisper Rock home.

“Jamie’s at a good spot at Whisper Rock,” said member Kevin Chappell, a six-year member of the PGA Tour. “There are a lot of good players and a lot of good mentors to help push him along.”

The sentiment is echoed up and down the range by the long list of men who are Whisper Rock and PGA Tour members. They point to the fact that Sadlowski has made the cut in three of four Web.com Tour events and that he practices endlessly with his wedge game and putting.

“He’s good, very good. He’s legit,” said Geoff Ogilvy.

“He’s honed his game,” said Reavie. “He’s got a lot of talent.”

“It’s for real,” said Kevin Streelman. “The talent is very, very real.”

Of course, if you’ve seen Sadlowski in person, it’s virtually impossible to describe drives that go across state borders or 3-irons that travel 300 yards. McCord comes closest, saying “it’s a video game” in which you just dial in a 9-iron or wedge and hit it off the clouds so that it lands safely on the green — 190 yards away.

Just don’t laugh or accuse the sometimes outrageous McCord of embellishment. Eyewitnesses insist McCord is spot on about the Sadlowski legend.

“He’s the most impressive person you’ll ever see play the game of golf as far as hitting shots,” said Chappell. “He hits shots us mortals can’t hit. He can hit it higher or lower than anyone can and spin it way more than anyone can.”

It’s laughable to hear guys who have been around the PGA Tour for years talk about Sadlowski. Reavie, the 2008 winner of the Canadian Open who is in his eighth year on Tour, said the ball doesn’t come off of his driver as fast as a ball off of Sadlowski’s 4-iron, and McCord said he marveled one day when Padraig Harrington refused to leave the range, infatuated with watching Sadlowski.

“Harrington said, ‘I’m not going anywhere till he’s done. I’ve never seen anything like this,’ ” McCord said.

PGA Tour member Troy Merritt, who will be paired with Finau and Sadlowski in Monday’s qualifier at Springfield, said he first met the long-drive phenom at a junior clinic in Boise, Idaho, a few years ago.

“I think I enjoyed it more than the kids did, watching him hit it through watermelons and plywood boards and out of boxes,” said Merritt. “(But) I didn’t know about the rest of his game.”

And now that he does, Merritt said he’s intrigued to see how Sadlowski will fare Monday. Springfield, a 1922 Donald Ross design that Merritt said is “short and tight,” will play to maybe 6,700 yards. Finau shot 133 and made it through last year by hitting only a handful of drivers, but Sadlowski is longer and therefore might employ a different strategy.

“There’s actually a couple of holes where he can hit driver and get it up by the greens,” Finau said. “The way the course is set up, I would kind of recommend he hit driver, as long as he uses his angles.”

Sadlowski and McCord have had a practice round there, and they’ve likely mapped out a game plan. The Whisper Rock fraternity is fascinated to see how it all unfolds. They have embraced Sadlowski’s infectious personality and admire the challenge that he has accepted.

“When you’ve always been told to hit it and swing it as hard as you can, it takes incredible willpower to dial it back,” Ogilvy said.

Finau confirms as such and said he’s 30 or 40 yards shorter than he used to be, because that’s what suits him best to compete on the PGA Tour. That Finau has won on Tour and developed into a steady force is perhaps proof that Sadlowski can succeed, too.

But first, baby steps. A U.S. Open local qualifier. Now a U.S. Open sectional. McCord, for one, cannot wait.

“I don’t know if he can play regular golf,” McCord said. “He’s still a sight show, but the sight show has an upside.”

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