Long BallOctober 22, 2015

There's a reason the World Long Drive Championship remains a fringe event

Some things look good on paper, but, in actuality, are awful. Buying a bar. Dating a best friend's sister. Cheeseburger-flavored Doritos. Go ahead and lump the World Long Drive Championship into this group.

Because, in theory, this event should be right up my alley. It's golf's version of home run derby, mixed with the theatrics of professional wrestling.

Unfortunately, the home run derby is a secretly terrible and disappointing spectacle, and wrestling hasn't been interesting since 1998.

I know this because on Wednesday night, I spent two excruciating hours watching the World Long Drive Championship . . . and lived to tell about it.


Let's preface this by saying parts of the event are entertaining. But, unlike most sporting contests, it's excitement does not derive from the style, finesse or fortitude of its combatants. Rather, like cheesy pick-up lines or Keanu Reeves, the World Long Drive Championship's bright spots are so bad they're good.

Most of this amusement comes from the players' reactions to their big hits. Imagine the grunts from Tim (The Tool Man) Taylor mixed with an NFL receiver's exaltation after a touchdown, and you get the picture:

Then there was the presentation of the WLDC. NBC's Ryan Burr is one of the best in the business, and instructor Michael Breed does a fantastic job of making golf instruction digestible for the average hacker (an act easier said than done).

Yet, because there are only so many ways to describe long drive after long drive in a vacuum, color commentary produces unintended hyperbolic gems such as:

"These are some of the finest athletes in the world." - If by "athletes" we're referring to former Division II backup linebackers, then yes.

"What these guys do to a golf ball is one of the hardest things to do in sport." - Oh, I don't know, I'd rank hitting a fastball, saving a penalty kick, returning a punt or guarding LeBron James a tad higher on the difficulty list.

"And its an upset!...Who saw Jeremy Easterly making it to the championship?" - If that sentence looks ridiculous enough, add the cadence of a "Douglas over Tyson" defeat and you have a picture of the moment.

Alas, on its own merit, the long drive competition falls short.

One of the problems with the event is a lack of context. The field of play is...well, a big field, a football-like fairway with yard-increments, along with dozens of sponsors, painted on the grass. Personally, what fuels the "Whoa, did you see where he hit that?!?!" buzz is a ball's ultimate landing spot compared to a hole's length.

For example, at Whistling Straits, what made Jason Day's display -- other than his assault on the scorecard -- so mesmerizing was his tee position relative to the rest of the field. On certain holes, the Aussie was a good 70-80 yards ahead of his playing partners. Hell, Day was almost hitting into bunkers that should have come into play on one's second shot.

With the WLDC, it's hard to get excited when a) every ball is crossing the 380-yard barrier and b) the mark of a ball's distance is not a green, tree or bunker, but a powdered line in a meadow.

Then there's the novelty of the conquest, which is now nonexistent.

When the WLDC started in the mid-1970s, drives over 350 yards were like UFO sightings: You know someone who once saw one, but halfway through their explanation, you thought they were crazy.

Now, these bombs, thanks to guys like Day, Dustin Johnson and J.B. Holmes, have become routine. Last summer, Bubba Watson hit a 424-yard drive at the Bridgestone Invitational.

Throw in the fireworks component of the event -- the first few are nice, then it becomes redundant -- and WLDC just doesn't have the pizzazz of yesteryear.

Turns out, we aren't alone in this assessment.

The WLDC was this close from cancellation in 2015. Re/Max, the longtime sponsor of the event, shockingly pulled its endorsement. The Golf Channel stepped in at the last minute to save it from abandonment.

“It takes an incredible amount of money to produce two nights under the lights with quality TV production and paying out a quarter-million-dollar purse with grandstands and hospitality," Art Sellinger told Golf.com about the 11th-hour save. Sellinger, who was a sideline commentator for the event, is the chief executive officer and owner of Long Drivers of America.

"It was important for us to do this—having a year off would have been a big blow."

I would counter that a respite could do the event well, giving it a chance to reboot itself, come up with some innovative presentation and format ideas.

Because in its current configuration, the long drive contest comes up short.


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