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VOL. 130 | NO. 127 | Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Memphian Will Hogue Finding Success on Long Drive Tour

By Don Wade

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Will Hogue won last weekend’s Bluff City Shootout long drive competition by defeating 2014 world champion Jeff Flagg. And that would seem to bode well for Hogue’s chances at this year’s world championships, except that right now there isn’t going to be one.

Houston High graduate Will Hogue won the recent long drive tour stop in Memphis and is this year’s points leader.

(Submitted Photo)

Hogue, 29, a Houston High graduate who played Division 1 baseball at Austin Peay University, is a competitor on the long drive tour. Hogue beat out Flagg in the finals, held at the driving range of the Golf and Games Family Park in Memphis, with a drive of 386 yards to Flagg’s drive of 368 yards.

“It’s like with any sport, you learn little things and how to adjust,” said Hogue, who is 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds.

First prize was good for $15,000 and Hogue earlier this year won $7,000 as the first-place finisher at the East Coast Classic in South Carolina and $5,000 for coming in second at the Tennessee Shootout in Greenville, Tenn.

Two years ago, Hogue made the semifinals in the winner-take-all $250,000 RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. But as of this moment, there is no sponsor for a world championship event this year.

“Unfortunately,” Hogue said. “But the sport’s not going away. The world championship is like a bonus. It’s not like our Super Bowl. We don’t have to have it.”

Competitors typically have “real” jobs. In Hogue’s case, he is in management with a billboard company and a reserve with the Germantown Fire Department.

“Fans love speed and power and competition,” Art Sellinger, founder of Long Drivers of America and the host of recent world championships, told the Las Vegas Sun. “They have a rooting interest because the (long-drivers) aren’t multimillionaires. They are guys off the street (hitting it farther) than the pros.”

This was the second year for the Bluff City Shootout and ATC Fitness was the title sponsor. Spencer McDaniel, ATC Fitness vice president, said the field of long drive competitors grew from 32 to 48 this year. Through sponsorships and donations almost $20,000 was raised for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, he said, and the weekend included a Pro-Am round of golf at Colonial Country Club with each group featuring a professional long driver.

McDaniel said they had more than 100 spectators for Saturday’s long drive competition and more than 300 others watching via Periscope, a video live-streaming app.

In long drive, a good drive will travel anywhere from 375 yards to well beyond 400 yards. That’s in contrast to the leading average distance on the PGA Tour of 319 yards held by Dustin Johnson. Players get credit for the roll in long drive, but they do have to be accurate and “hit the grid,” which means the ball has to stay in bounds. Fairways typically range from 40 to 60 yards in width.

And while everyone is encouraged to be quiet on the PGA Tour, or to observe those “Hush, Y’all” signs at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, long drive competitions are closer to NASCAR or a rock concert.

“We blare music the whole time,” McDaniel said, “and guys are yelling and screaming when they hit a good one.”

Even if a sponsor does come through for the world championships, Hogue says he’ll play three or four more events this year with the next later this month in Salt Lake City. He will arrive as this season’s points leader and with a confidence that he didn’t have two years ago.

“As I’ve done it more, I’ve become more comfortable with my swing and I’m able to turn it loose and hit the grid.”

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