Last year, long-time North Hills Country Club veteran Ron Carey convinced the club to host an annual long drive competition. At the time, there were a couple dozen younger members and only a few guys in the under-50 division with a legitimate chance to win.
We fast forward to 2016 and North Hills’ recent new member promotion brought in more than 60 players under the age of 50 (almost all under 35), and a plethora of single-digit handicap players. The long drive competition has been long awaited, for sure, and was stormed out the first time around.
In last year’s competition, my buddy Ross Chawansky had some of the longest drives in the preliminary round but failed to get a ball in the fairway in the playoff against Ryan Isherwood. Isherwood, a 3.0 index player, is a great ball-striker and had a lot of money invested in him in this year’s competition.
Chawansky and John Ziemer were heavy favorites in this year’s competition. In a normal round, Ziemer (a +1.4 handicap) typically out-drives me by 30-60 yards every hole. The first round we played together, in fact, I witnessed him drive the 341-yard par four eighth hole, go driver/8-iron on the 519-yard par five ninth, then put his tee shot on the 323-yard uphill, dogleg left par four 15th eight feet below a back-right pin – completely blind from the tee. He is an epic hitter of the golf ball.
17 of the 19 guys competing were single-digit players – I was one of the two outsiders. To say I was an underdog is an understatement, but why not throw my hat in the ring!?
The field for the under-50 competition:
- Scott Nelson (13.6 index)
- Rick Fuller (9.6 index)
- Charles Buhrow (3.0 index)
- Jim Mirsberger (4.0 index)
- Paul Seifert (10.1 index)
- Nick Zellmer (3.5 index)
- Kyle Tendick (4.1 index)
- Ben Pilgreen (3.9 index)
- Ben Bernhard (8.8 index)
- Mike Tate (5.2 index)
- Ryan Isherwood (3.0 index)
- Dan Vilione (6.6 index)
- Levi Lura (4.3 index)
- Blake Jenkins (+0.4 index)
- Dan Benedum (+0.4 index)
- John Ziemer (+1.4 index)
- Ross Chawansky (4.5 index)
- Bryan Johnson (5.5 index)
- Vince Suter (5.4 index)
Benedum is the defending Club Champion, and Tendick is playing against Jenkins for this year’s title and the coveted parking spot. Quite a few of these guys played college golf, and seven of them have competed in the past couple of weeks in the State Am qualifers, State Open, Mid-Am qualifiers and so on.
I had nothing to lose, so I figured I’d just go out there and swing hard and hope the ball went straight. I bought some Titleist Velocity golf balls before the competition, and marked them above the number 77 with small teal-colored circles. Velocity is a harder golf ball than the ProV1 or ProV1-X, and I figured I’d take every slight advantage I could get (a few others were playing the same ball).
The competition is held on the tee box of the tenth hole, 20 feet from the gorgeous patio and bar and with a whole lot of people watching. Music was blasting through the speakers, and Ron Carey was announcing the competition over the loudspeakers.
The wind was slightly in, even though it didn’t feel like much. The fairway on ten goes slightly right-to-left, and falls off a little toward the right side past the right-side fairway bunkers. Drives had to end up in the fairway in order to be counted.
If settling in the fairway, tee shots are measured by holding up a flagstick and being laser’ed from the tee box. North Hills Head PGA Professional and one of Wisconsin’s all-time greatest golfers Eddie Terasa called out the numbers.
I was a little nervous getting on the tee for the first round and was fifth to go. My first ball went right and the second felt like it wasn’t even hit – long, high and right down the middle for 301 yards and an early lead.
My early lead held up until Ziemer took the tee, surpassing my 301 with a respectable 315. Chawansky hit one 309 next and I was hanging by a thread with Bryan Johnson and Vinnie Suter still to go.
The top three moved on to the finals, which was a great coincidence considering Ross, John and I met up at Ally’s Bistro across the street for a beer and some food with John’s family before the competition. I put $5 on John to win, and wish I would have put a few bucks on myself just for kicks.
As the low man on the totem pole, I hit first and went right on my first of two attempts. My second was striped right down the middle – no draw, no fade, just high and long, and I knew it was great. 309!
Ziemer hit last, and his first ball went left. I knew all he had to do was get a drive in the fairway, though, and John’s a competitive player who relishes in the big moments. The moment he hit his second and last ball I knew I was beat, then just had to wait for the measurement… 312 yards.
I never expected myself to be in the mix, and watching all the other guys hit balls in the fairway I was amazed that they weren’t 20 yards longer than me. Levi Lura, for example, played at Nebraska and hits an insane hard draw that runs forever. Each ball he hit I felt would beat me out, until Eddie would announce “286 yards,” or “290 yards.” Blake hit some shots that looked incredibly long, but the call still came to “296 yards.”
I had no idea what I would do if I succeeded, and when my shots were flying long and straight I felt like I had to do SOMETHING – the video is hilarious for me to watch as I dropped the club and goaded my drives further on down the fairway. The crowd seemed to approve, and it was just so much fun feeling like a big hitter and a factor in this competition.
Even though I did not come away with the W it was an awesome experience that I was happy to be a part of.