The swing and the sound really haven’t changed that much. The swing is still fast and violent. The sound upon contact is a still a loud “ping!” that signals the ball is about to travel a long, long way.
Will Hogue, 27, was a baseball player. Went from Houston High School to Austin Peay University as a slugging outfielder. If he made contact – if being the key word – the baseball was going to fly. And what helped him then – fast hands and fast hips – is what helps him now as a competitor on the Long Drivers of America pro “golf” circuit.
You’ll notice the word golf is in quotes. That’s because as it says on the website, longdrivers.com, this is “Golf on the Edge.”
It is also for big money, at least for a day. On Oct. 30 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Hogue and seven others, including two-time world champion Jamie Sadlowski, will compete in the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship for a winner-take-all $250,000 prize, plus a championship belt and ring. The event will be televised live at 8 p.m. Memphis time on the Golf Channel.
A little backstory: When Will was 10, his father Dave Hogue, had a membership at a local golf club. Will and his buddies would spend summer days playing the course.
“I hit my first 300-yard drive when I was in the fifth grade,” Will said.
“He was a bean pole,” his dad said. “A little squirt.”
He’s neither now, standing 6-3 and 220 pounds. Will never became a golfer, per se – “I’ve seen the rest of my golf game and it’s not pretty” – and his dad didn’t encourage it because he worried the golf swing would mess up Will’s baseball swing.
Besides, when you’re 10 or 12 and out on the course with your friends it’s not about shooting a low score. It’s about leaning to flex your muscles. They were playing Long Drivers of America before it had a name.
“That was our thing,” Will said. “Getting up and down didn’t matter. It was who could hit it the farthest. That’s still what it is.”
Hogue played his first professional tournament about 18 months ago. A good drive in competition will travel 380 to 420 yards. Players get credit for the roll, but the ball has to land in bounds and stay in bounds. Fairways are typically 40 to 60 yards wide.
This year, he has a second-place finish in a Greeneville, Tenn. event that earned him $6,000 and a third-place finish in a Denver tournament that was worth $2,500. So no, he hasn’t given up his shirt-and-slacks day job, and his backing comes from, as Dave Hogue said with a laugh, “The Bank of Dad.”
Pulling out his phone, Will shows me some drives from a recent tournament. He is dressed like a golfer and he does not run up on the ball and attack it like Happy Gilmore. But when he ties into one just right he lets out a yell and the surrounding crowd of fans can be heard hooting and hollering.
“It’s golf meets Home Run Derby,” his father said.
“If golf is NASCAR, then we’re the drag racers,” Will added.
Although Long Drive has its share of reformed “regular” golfers, Will said the Long Drive fields are littered with other former baseball players and, in a nod to Adam Sandler’s character from the movie, “hockey guys.”
Remember, it’s about fast hands and fast hips.
Rock & roll music blares during the competitions – no need for Hush, Y’all signs here – and players tee off at the same time. Fans even yell while players are striking the ball.
“They encourage (fans) to be as loud as possible,” Will said.
Will’s hope is that the exposure Long Drive is getting on the Golf Channel will elevate the sport and bring serious sponsorship. On a personal level, he also is seeking more sponsorship and he understands the one thing he can do to get it.
“Win the Worlds,” he said. “That’s it. No one cares about second-place.”
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.