Hoping to go the distance

Long drive: Local pro hopes to qualify for world championships.

Long drive to championships: Salmon Arm Golf Club golf professional Ryan Stockford practises his drive for the upcoming Western Canadian qualifier for the World Long Drive Championships.

When he was 10 years old, Ryan Stockford was teased because he couldn’t hit a golf ball longer than his own shadow.

No one laughs when Stockford hits now.

Stockford, who has been a golf pro at the Salmon Arm Golf Course for the past five years, is now a master of the long ball – and he’s out to prove that his swing can go the distance at the Western Canadian Qualifier for the World Long Drive Championships starting Friday at the Black Bull Golf Club in Pigeon Lake, Alta.

With his longest official drive measured at 403 yards, and that during rainy conditions, Stockford has hopes he can out-drive the competition and advance to the World Championships in Nevada.

“I always knew I hit it far. I’ve never played with anyone who hit it farther, so I thought why not try and prove it?” says the affable pro, who laughingly credits his powerful swing to his short legs and long arms.

“It allows me to generate a long swing arc and some real speed.”

Long drive competitions are not just about who can hit the farthest; there is also some accuracy involved, as players must hit into a marked grid that’s about 50 yards wide. They must also make the shot when it counts.

Anyone can enter the competition, but players compete against each other in match-play groups.

The top three winners in each group continue in the winning bracket, while those who came up short drop into the a lower division.

After two-days of qualifying, the top entrants advance into the Sunday regional competition, where there are two berths to the World Championships available.

Each player gets six balls to shoot, with their best effort counting.

“It’s gotta be the right drive at the right time. One bad drive could put you out,” says Stockford, who lost out last year in the qualifying rounds against a player whose ball went 12 inches farther.

Everyone in the competition uses the same type of golf ball, but is allowed to use their own drivers, as long as they conform to specific standards. Stockford’s chosen driver is at the maximum 50-inch length with a triple extra-stiff shaft and a four-degree loft on the club face.

At $700 a club, Stockford is still lamenting the loss of his driver, which he recently broke in practice just from the force of his swing. The club snapped in three and the club head hit him in the face.

“It hurt a little, but I was more mad about breaking the club. It’s a hazard of long drive competitions, the force breaks the club, or you break it over your back on your backswing. That’s why you always have to have two drivers with you.”

With new clubs and shafts on order, Stockford should be set for the competition. And he says the adrenaline of the competitive event that can rattle golfers playing rounds of the sport, actually helps in long drive competitions.

“It gets the blood flowing and kicks you into a higher gear, so you can really power into it.”

Stockford says he often can’t see where his ball lands, but he knows when he’s hit the really long ball.

“When you hit it just right, it feels like you are hitting a marshmallow, it’s so soft. When it’s not good you feel it, you feel the vibration.”


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