Sellinger lives his dream with growth of long driving

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.

Read the entire series here.

• • •

If it seems as if Art Sellinger has been around forever, that's because he has, more or less.

Sellinger, 48, won the National Long Drive Championship in 1986, the beginning of a long-drive career that included the '91 title and never stopped expanding.

Sellinger owns Long Drivers of America, which runs the Re/Max World Long Drive Championship every year. To satisfy the demand for competition, he organized a national long-drive tour for LDA members. He also conducts a handful of long-drive golf schools for ordinary golfers who seek to gain yardage through instruction. He even started a retail business, Sellinger’s Power Golf, in two locations in the Dallas area, where he fits and sells golf equipment with an eye toward maximum distance.

It is no exaggeration to say Sellinger put long driving on his back and carried it through a maze of obstacles to reach the status it enjoys today. The World Long Drive Championship finals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be televised live at 9 p.m. EDT Oct. 30 by Golf Channel.

Sellinger, with Randy Souza, founded Long Drivers of America in 1994. That year, the Long Drive Championship was sponsored by Yonex golf clubs and Nitro golf balls.

Re/Max came onboard the next year and has been with the championship ever since. Long driving, under the guidance of Sellinger and Souza, has grown from an independent band of showy long hitters to an organized group of entertainers.

“I didn’t think the LDA would last very long," said Sellinger, recalling those early days. "I was so busy. I was immersed in long driving. I was in the midst of my career. I had exhibitions all over the world. I was making 100 appearances a year, spending 250 days a year on the road. It was crazy. I wasn’t sure I had enough time for the LDA.”

But the LDA persisted, helped enormously by Canadian pharmacist Jason Zuback, who won four consecutive world titles, from 1996 to 1999.

“He was our Michael Jordan, our Wayne Gretzky,” Sellinger said. “That was huge. Pinnacle (golf balls) put him on TV. He was enormous in the growth of the LDA.”

At the same time, equipment company Dunlop featured Sean “The Beast” Fister in TV commercials. Long driving was catching the attention of golfers around the globe. World champions from Europe included Viktor Johansson of Sweden and Joe Miller of England.

In 2001, Sellinger was confident enough to buy out Souza's stake in the LDA and become sole owner.

All along, Sellinger had a vision for the sport's future. He wanted the finals to be broadcast live at night, under the lights. The sight of orbiting golf balls traveling more than 350 yards in the air, highlighted against the night sky, would heighten the drama.

Sellinger also wanted the long drivers to be regarded as golfers, not physical freaks. This was perhaps the biggest obstacle he faced. As a remedy, he limited the length of drivers to 48 inches and the length of tees to 4 inches (similar limits are employed by the U.S. Golf Association and the R&A). He also instituted drug testing to guard against the use of steroids.

“I wanted to legitimize everything about it,” Sellinger said. “I didn’t want to see guys swinging 6-foot drivers and using tees that were 2 feet tall.”

Sellinger isn’t surprised at the distance explosion in golf. “Instruction goes with training now, and it never did before,” he said. “It’s amazing what the human body can do when it is trained properly. Today’s 400 (yards) is yesterday’s 350 and tomorrow’s 450.”

Jamie Sadlowski, already a two-time world champ at 25, is a Sellinger protege who has attracted an army of new fans to long driving.

“Jamie became a different poster guy for LDA. He was the first normal-sized guy to win it," Sellinger said of the 5-foot-11-inch, 170-pound Sadlowski. "That made a big difference for us. He got a lot of attention.”

As the ringleader of the LDA, Sellinger is quick to categorize his fate in golf.

“Lucky,” said Sellinger, a former Nevada high school champion who lives in Roanoke, Texas. “I was just a golfer who happened to hit the ball far. I just had the gift of creating speed.”

Actually it was more than that. He had the gift of popularizing a new sport.

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