Sunday, January 07, 2001

Home run hitters of golf

        Brian Pavlet pulled out his driver and set the radar sensors to “roll.” That way, the indoor tee shots he was knocking into a net would be credited with both their calculated carry and the benefit of the bounce.

        He stood over his ball for a moment Saturday afternoon at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center, and then he pulled back his club and unleashed its power. At the point of impact, Pavlet's driver was moving the way drivers do at Daytona — roughly 200 miles per hour. The radar machine measured the speed of the ball, calculated its trajectory and estimated Pavlet's best bolt would have traveled 387 yards if struck outdoors.

        He might have hit it farther, but Pavlet was swing
ing with a broken right hand.


  What: North Coast Golf Show.
  Where: Northern Kentucky Convention Center, Covington.
  When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.
  Admission: $6.50 adults; $5 seniors; 12 and under free.
  More info:
        For some of us hopeless hackers, 387 yards means a driver, a three-wood, a seven-iron, a wedge from the woods and a swift kick from the weeds. For the Lords of the Long Drive, 387 yards might mean a slice.

        “Distance is the No.1 thing people want to see in golf,” Pavlet said. “It's just like when people are sitting in Cinergy Field, they're there to see Ken Griffey Jr. hit it out. We're the home run hitters of golf.”

        Pavlet and Art Sellinger - both former winners of the World Long Drive Championships — are appearing this weekend at the annual North Coast Golf Show, demonstrating their driving prowess by knocking holes in half-inch plywood, making grown men feel as inadequate as a dad in the delivery room. They call their presentation “The Hour of Power,” and it is prodigious.

        Tiger Woods' average measured drive traveled 298 yards last season. Only John Daly (301.4) was consistently longer off the tee on the PGA Tour. Yet compared to some of the dudes on the Long Driving circuit, the PGA pros are puny. Former power lifter Jason Zuback, a four-time winner of the Long Drive competition, won the 1997 title with a blast that sailed 412 yards, 27 inches.

        For a drive to qualify in competition, it must land inside a 40-yard grid stretched across the fairway. Mike Moulton, whose career as a California junior golfer closely paralleled that of Woods, won a September competition with three drives between 445 and 449 yards — more than a quarter of a mile apiece.

        “Tiger could spank it pretty good,” Moulton says. “But I was always the freak of the tournament.”

        If the long drivers lack the overall game to compete with the tour pros, theirs is still a nice niche. Sweden's Viktor Johansson won $75,000 for winning this year's competition, and the big hitters have considerable endorsement potential.

        Every clubhead maker, shaft manufacturer and ball company wants its equipment to be synonymous with superior distance. Every weekend duffer craves a little more length off the tee. The North Coast Golf Show makes nine stops between now and March, and each one includes long driving exhibitions.

        Pavlet gravitated to long driving after a shoulder blowout short-circuited his college baseball career. He was a pitcher at the University of Nevada-Reno, threw close to 90 miles per hour, but avoided swinging the bat as a medical precaution. (He has one kidney).

        Four times, Pavlet has finished among the top five in the Long Drive Championship, winning it in 1993 as the final competitor on his last shot — a drive of 336 yards, three inches.

        He drives for show. And for dough.

        “That whole putting thing,” he said, “is overrated.”


Golf show eases the cold

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