Editor’s note: The RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship starts 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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The phenomenon of long driving might not even exist without Mike Dunaway. His fingerprints are all over the sport and the growth that has occurred in the past 25 years.
In recognition, Dunaway was scheduled to be presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Long Drivers of America on Thursday at Mesquite, Nev.
“I can’t think of anybody who deserves this more than Mike,” said Art Sellinger, founder and chief executive officer of the LDA. “We all owe him a great big ‘Thank you.’ He is an important part of our history.”
Dunaway was long driving’s original barnstormer. He was an evangelist for bombing the ball. He traveled the globe with other long hitters in tow. He was the flamboyant leader of golf’s version of the Rat Pack. He had a standing bet that he would hit against anybody for $10,000, winner take all. He was the mastermind behind the 350 Club, composed of golfers who registered 350-yard drives in competition, and he organized exhibitions for these sluggers around the world.
“Back then, there were only 10 members of the 350 Club,” said LDA Hall of Famer Bobby Wilson, the career leader in LDA Tour titles and earnings.
Dunaway was the guy who encouraged other golfers to compete in long driving. He was the guy who convinced them that they were professionals – not the same as other touring professionals, but perhaps under a more intense spotlight. In long driving, every drive is scrutinized by fans, observers and fellow competitors.
“I always felt that long driving deserved more than a gorilla joke,” Dunaway said. “I always took it very seriously.”
That being said, Dunaway led his crew on a number of ventures that had them hitting drives off skyscrapers, across rivers and down runways.
When the late Ely Callaway purchased Hickory Stick Golf and in the late 1980s turned it into Callaway Golf, he contacted Dunaway, who became Callaway’s human version of Iron Byron. By his count, Dunaway says he hit about 22,000 shots in an 11-month period. His testing resulted in the go-ahead for the Big Bertha driver.
Dunaway introduced Ely Callaway to Dick Helmstetter, who would become the owner’s right-hand man.
Early in his golf career, when Dunaway was attempting to become a successful touring pro, he took lessons from Jack Grout, the instructor for Jack Nicklaus. Although Nicklaus was one of the powerful golfers ever to play the game, Dunaway earned the nickname “Blue Smoke” from the late Grout.
When asked about distance advice for ordinary golfers, Dunaway answered quickly: “You have to be tension free. You don’t think about a million positions (in the swing). You don’t try to control or manipulate the blade. All the flaws in the golf swing are the result of some kind of tension. When you get over the ball, you have just one thought. It enables the club to go to the same place every time. My students are having very good luck with this.”
Teaching avid golfers to have just one swing thought: now that’s a lifetime achievement, for sure.