Long-drive legends: 'The Sheriff' blasts way into town
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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When Bobby Wilson says long drivers are gifted athletes, he has experience on his side.
In 1980, Wilson qualified to be a member of the U.S. Olympic handball team. He was denied the chance to compete because the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Games that year.
After this disappointment, Wilson poured himself into the sport of long driving. Today, he is a member of the Long Drivers of America Hall of Fame and prides himself on competing in different age divisions. In 2009, he became the first individual to win two age divisions in the same year in the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship, taking the senior and super senior titles.
Wilson, 57, of Southlake, Texas, also is a prominent example of the many long drivers who are excellent golfers. Yes, competitive long driving is a sport very different from tournament golf, but most long drivers started out as golfers and gravitated toward long driving simply because they hit the ball so far and prize money was available.
After high school, Wilson attended Baylor University and played on the golf team. “I thought I was normal with my distance and everybody else was a little below normal,” he said. “It didn’t take me too long to learn I wasn’t normal. I was abnormal.”
Wilson held conditional PGA Tour status for two years in the early 1980s. After he turned 50, he tried to compete on the Champions Tour, although he had been transformed into a long driver by that time.
Wilson was introduced to long driving by Clayton Cole, at the time the head professional at Dallas Country Club. “I was working for him,” Wilson said, “and he told me to take the day off and try this long-drive contest. I won it and drove back to give Clayton the good news.”
Cole’s response: “Where do you go next?”
Wilson: “I didn’t know there was a next.”
There was, and he won that one (the district competition), too, qualifying for the finals in Rochester, N.Y., during PGA Championship week.
“I didn’t have two nickels to rub together, and here I was hitting golf balls for all this money,” Wilson said. “I tied for fourth, and I had a new career.”
After Wilson obliterated the 350-yard barrier with his tee shots, he became an original member of the 350 Club. “For a while, there were only 10 of us in the whole world,” he said.
Today, Wilson supports himself entirely through long driving. He is a sought-after instructor who insists “absolutely I can teach distance. I can make golfers longer.”
Wilson tries to be realistic. He frequently talks about 10 to 15 additional yards, not a gain of 30 or 40 yards. “I tell the truth,” he said. “If I can get you 15 extra yards with your drive and 15 extra yards with a 3-wood, you just might be able to hit your favorite par-5 in two. Now that’s something you can achieve.”
The long-drive stage is Wilson’s home. Some of his friends call him “The Sheriff” because occasionally he would saunter to the tee and proclaim, “Boys, there’s a new sheriff in town.”
He is more analytical these days. “You have to love it,” he said. “You’re out there in front of all these people, and you’re a performer. I feel I’m better on that stage than anywhere else. I feed off the crowd. It’s exhilarating.”
Wilson’s parting wisdom: “I’ve been given a gift, and this sport gives me a place to show it off.”
Gift, eh? All golfers would love to experience this gift. What do we want for Christmas? Oh, just 15 extra yards, all wrapped up and placed under the Christmas tree.