Long-drive legends: Gorton can win at any age
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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There is nobody who loves golf in general and long driving in particular more than Mike Gorton.
Gorton, 59, lives in Erie, Colo. For 30 years he has worked in the golf industry, the last 15 years as an independent sales representative. Some of his current clients include Volvik golf balls, Ogio travel gear and clothing, the Golf Swing Shirt training aid, Pure grips and Barber Pole putters.
Every year he competes in the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship. He won the Open Division in 1987 when it was called the National World Long Drive Championship, and he later captured the Senior Division and Super Senior Division after RE/MAX took over as primary sponsor.
“Nobody else has won those three, and I’m proud of that,” Gorton said.
A few decades ago, long driving was much less formal than it is now. Reflecting on the old days, Gorton told a story about Long John Latham.
“This is the honest to God’s truth,” Gorton said. “Bobby Wilson (another long drive legend) was there. He can verify it (he did).
“We’re at a long-drive event, and Latham is on the tee. He could hit the ball a country mile, but he also could hit it sideways more than anybody I knew. So he hits one that starts flying about 150 yards straight right. It flies off the property and into a pasture. It hits a horse. Well, the horse rares up and runs away.
“The next day, he gets up on the tee. He’s getting ready to hit, and suddenly the same horse makes a noise, rares up, and runs away before Latham has a chance to hit. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen. People were rolling around on the ground with laughter.”
Art Sellinger, chief executive officer of the Long Drivers of America, said of Latham, “He was 6-foot-9, and he was incredibly long. He made Davis Love look like Cristie Kerr. If he could hit it straight, it would have been game over. But he couldn’t hit Florida.”
Gorton is known for his smooth, rhythmic golf swing. He loves to talk about the necessary ingredients for becoming a successful long driver.
“So many people have a misconception about long driving,” he said. “They think the sport is full of bodybuilder animals who are able to hit the golf ball so far because they are so large. That’s not the way it is. There is no way to hit these long drives without making solid contact with the ball. You have to have control of your swing.
“I’m proud that I’ve been a low handicapper for a long time. I’ve still got a plus handicap. I believe very much in being solid at impact. It’s the No. 1 most important thing.”
Then Gorton talked about the challenges facing a long driver. “If an average golfer hits it 250 yards off the tee, and he’s two degrees open (at impact), he’s in the rough,” he said. “If I hit it 350 yards off the tee, and I’m two degrees open, I’m in somebody’s house.
“Long drivers have to be straighter than average golfers,” he concluded.
Here is a swing tip from Gorton: “I learned this a long time ago, It came from Mike Dunaway (one of the first long-drive competitors). He said work on one thing, just have one swing thought when you’re up there on the tee. It may sound simple, but so many golfers don’t do it – they have way too many swing thoughts.
“I concentrate on one thing. A lot of times, it’s a full shoulder turn. If you really concentrate, it kind of occupies your mind.”
The question that Gorton has heard most often is this: “How do I hit my drives longer?”
He has a ready answer: “Do what I did. Move to Colorado. You’ll be at least a mile high. You’re guaranteed to pick up yardage doing that.”