Pacific Northwest long drivers starting to make some noise nationally

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Updated: October 1, 2022

By Brad Habenicht, Special to Inside Golf

The heart pounding adrenaline filled sport of Long Drive is back in the spotlight as the 2022 Professional Long Drivers Association (PLDA) is set for the World Championships September 27th – October 1st.  Two-time defending World Champion Kyle Berkshire will be competing against a strong field of the top US Long Drivers plus hitters from around the world including Japan, Korea, Australia, South Africa, Europe and Canada.

In 2021, Bryson DeChambeau, fresh off his US Open title and the US Ryder Cup team, competed at the PLDA Championships, finishing in the 139-player field with a 7th place finish in the Open Division. This year there are 4 Divisions, Amateurs, Seniors (45+ and 55+) and Open Division.  In 2021, Berkshire won the Open Division with a Drive of 422 yards, and his clubhead speed is typically around 155 mph.  Jeff Gavin won the 45+ Senior Division with a winning drive of 361 yards. 

The Women’s Division winner was Kanani Lodge with a 322-yard drive in the Finals.  Each competitor gets 6 balls and 2:30 minutes to hit their longest drive into the 50-yard-wide competition grid.  All clubs are USGA approved and maximum length is 48 inches. The clubheads of choice among competitors include Calloway, Krank and Cobra, while the shafts of choice are typically Fujikura, Paderson and House of Forged.  Many competitors hit 4 – 6 degree lofted heads, and occasionally higher, depending on the competition grid turf and wind conditions.

This year 25-year World Long Drive Veterans Kevin Osborn, and Brad Habenicht of Long Drive Lab LLC, hosted three PLDA Open Division Local Qualifiers and the Pacific Northwest Regional Championship at High Cedars Golf Club in Orting, Washington in June, July and August.  The top hitters from the three local Qualifiers squared off on August 20th with the top two hitters earning their ticket to the PLDA World Championships.  The amazing Regional Finals Shootout was between Jacob Hignite and David Waud with Hignite winning with a blast of 358 and Waud right behind at 354. 

Several local competitors including newcomer Avery Wisler, from Kirkland, battled it out at High Cedars.  Training to hit the ball at club speeds of 140 mph+ and ball speeds of 220 mph+ and still find it in the short grass, is a huge challenge, as these competitors worked all summer to hone their skills and improve their technique.  Throughout the summer, Habenicht and Osborn held several training sessions for competitors, and assisted them with improving and optimizing their swings, along with shaft and club head fittings to maximize speed, optimize launch angle, spin rate and accuracy.

In addition to Hignite and Waud, two other highly decorated local Long Drivers, Colton Casto and Scott Littlefield, assisted at the PLDA High Cedars events, and both have previously qualified for the 2022 World Championships. 

Casto, 25 a commercial crab fisherman started competing in Long Drive in 2018, first qualified for the World Championships in 2019, and in 2021.  Colton’s longest Drive in sanctioned competition is 472 yards, and he won his first PLDA Pro Tour Event at the Long Drive for Hero’s Invitational, plus he had an exceptional 7th place finish alongside DeChambeau at the World Championships.  He is currently ranked in the top 5 in PLDA Standings going into the World Championships.

Littlefield’s longest ball in sanctioned competition is 429 yards, and Scott is headed back to the World Championships for his 2nd year in a row.  He has 2 Regional wins and he is looking to build on a strong top-32 finish at the 2021 Finals. He’ll be riding high regardless, as he and his wife are expecting their first child in the upcoming off season. 

Many of the competitors, in addition to being avid golfers, come from other sports backgrounds.  Hignite, who is now consistently swinging 145-150 mph, played arena football as a QB and college baseball as a power hitting 3rd baseman. Waud, originally from Tillamook Oregon, played football, basketball, and golf growing up, and he loves surfing, riding dirt bikes, and snowboarding and hunting.  Wisler’s swing speed is touching 140mph, and he played football and competed in track in High School and is now committed to training and competing in Long Drive.

For more information on upcoming PLDA Local Qualifier Events and how to compete in 2023: PLDA Website @ www.prolongdrivers.com – contact Kevin Osborn @ 206.941.4226 or Brad Habenicht of Long Drive Lab @ 206.856.9501