Going DEEP

By Casey BiererJanuary 11, 2008, 5:00 pm

TheGolfChannel.com is focusing on distance this week. I cant think of a better way to shine a spotlight on distance than to celebrate Michael Hoke Austin. Do you know of him?
Mike Austin holds the record for the longest drive hit on a standard golf course in sanctioned tournament competition. The total distance of the drive measured 515 yards. He accomplished this Herculean feat at the 1974 U.S. National Seniors Open Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Before we get too involved in the record setting drive itself let me tell you a little about Mike Austin. I had the pleasure of meeting Mike many times during a period of my life when I lived in Los Angeles, California. I was hooked on golf. Actually, thats the understatement of the last two decades. I was addicted to golf. On an almost daily basis I would make the drive over the hill from Santa Monica to the valley and the Studio City Golf and Tennis driving range. Back in those days ' Im going back 18 years or so ' it was commonplace to see people like Sylvester Stallone, Andy Garcia, Jack Nicholson, Smokey Robinson and many other celebrities hitting golf balls off the mats at Whitsett. We called it Whitsett because it is located on Whitsett Avenue.
Truth be told, these entertainment luminaries played second fiddle to the main attraction ' Mike Austin ' who gave lessons at Whitsett daily. When they made Mike Austin they broke the mold. He was truly a one-of-a-kind character. If I had known then what I know now about Mike I would have spent every nickel I could lay my hands taking lessons from him. And for just $35 a half-hour. Man, I could just kick myself.

Many people sought out Mike Austin for his unique approach to the game. Along the way, they learned of his seemingly fantastic accomplishments on and off the course. One such man is the author, Philip Reed. Phil was a golfer looking for the key to breaking 80 as well as a man just trying to hit his driver more than 200 yards. He tracked down Austin for a lesson and some advice. A great deal of time spent with Mike Austin, Phil not only broke the 300 yard barrier off the tee he wrote about it in a book titled In Search of the Greatest Golf Swing. Folks, Im not in the business of endorsing books, but, Ive got to tell you, this is a good read.
I phoned Phil yesterday and talked to him about his extraordinary experience with Mike Austin. We became very good friends...much closer than I ever anticipated, Phil told me. Mike was kind of a scary and very stern man and yet he had this side to him that was completely unexpected. He was incredibly devoted to his close friends and he was inclined to help people he didnt even know; people he felt genuinely needed help. This went well beyond golf and it is just one of the many things that made Mike Austin such a special and unique person. I went to Mike Austins funeral and I met a lot of people there who told me on the worst day of their lives when everything seemed lost, Mike Austin came mysteriously in to their life and helped steer them towards a renewed faith in themselves.
Heres a little background on Mike Austin. He was born on the British island of Guernsey off the coast of northern France. He was first introduced to golf at the age of six by a local pro. Austin claimed late in life that it was during his first lesson when he learned the secret of a powerful golf swing; the release. The pro instructed Austin to take his mashie niblick, head over to a mud bank, and bury the head of the club in the dirt repeatedly. According to Mike Austin, This let the club head freely pass ahead of my hands at the moment of impact. It is a swing characteristic he carried with him for the rest of his life.


The Austin family moved from Guernsey to Scotland then later to Boston, Massachusetts. A foreigner, Austin was teased horribly by the local boys. His father, catching wind of this, sent Mike to a boxing gym where he learned to defend himself. He also became incredibly strong for his age. Not long after, the Austin family moved again, this time to Atlanta, Georgia. Their home was not far from East Lake Country Club. Young Mike used to sneak on to East Lake and hit balls. He was caught one day by Eastlakes golf professional, Stewart Maiden. But instead of banning Mike from the course, Maiden, impressed with Mikes swing, gave him permission to practice; as long as it wasnt on weekends.
Eastlake was home at that same time to a young Bobby Jones. As the story goes, one day Jones saw Mike Austin driving the ball across a lake that required a 300 yard carry. He asked Austin, How do you do that? Mike replied, Im not a pro. I really dont know. Ask Mr. Maiden. Hell tell you.
That was but the first of many brushes with greatness that would fall upon Mike Austin. In the late 1930s Austin moved to Los Angeles to become a pro at the Wilshire Country Club. The job fell through so he worked at other golf courses in Los Angeles, teaching and competing. His roommate was film legend Errol Flynn and they frequented local nightclubs in search of women. Austin also auditioned for roles in movies and eventually appeared in a number of motion pictures.
After serving in the R.A.F. during WWII (he was shot down in combat and suffered a tropical fever which led to partial paralysis) Austin returned to Los Angeles where he earned a PhD in kinesiology. He became a highly sought after golf instructor whose number one pupil at the time was none other than Howard Hughes.

It was Mike Austins prodigious length off the tee, however, that garnered him the most attention. He traveled across the country giving exhibitions with other long hitters, members of the 350 Club. Austin was famous for betting large amounts of money that he could out drive any challenger. No one can remember him losing a bet.

But it was one drive in 1974 that secured Mike Austins name in history. While playing in the U.S. National Seniors Tournament, at the Winterwood Golf Course (now the Desert Rose) Austin played in a foursome that included the 1950 PGA Champion, Chandler Harper. After Austin had unleashed several 400-yard drives, Chandler said, 'Mike, let's see you really let one go.' On the next tee Austin hit his drive on the par 4, 450-yard 5th hole. It carried to the edge of the green, bounced over and rolled past the pin and continued off the back of the green. In a 2003 interview, Harper Chandler said he found a ball on the next tee box and called to Austin, 'This is impossible, but there is a ball over here.' They identified the ball as Austin's and stepped off the distance back to the center of the green. It had traveled 65 yards over the green. The drive was confirmed at 515 yards.
Although there was a tailwind estimated at 27-35 mph, several factors make this record feat especially amazing. The drive was hit on level ground using a persimmon wood driver (10 degrees) with a 43.5' extra-stiff steel shaft. The ball was balataand Mike Austin was 64 years old.
FYI, in 1978 at the age of 68 Mike Austin won the U.S. National Seniors Tournament.
In continuing my conversation with Phil Reed yesterday, I asked him about his own personal lesson experience with Mike Austin. I felt like I was back in elementary school up at the blackboard with a sadistic teacher, ready to pounce on anything that I did incorrectly, Phil said. The thing with Mike, Phil continued, was that he was so focused on doing things the right way and he had such a clear vision of what was the right way that there was no compromise with him. And he was well aware of how frightening he was and he said if he didnt teach that way then people wouldnt remember. I think that there may be something to that. I actually only took one hands-on lesson with him but we talked golf for countless hours during the writing of the book and whenever you talked golf with Mike he would pick up a club and you were immediately in the middle of a lesson. I sometimes found it hard to digest what he was saying, but, even now, things will come back to me that Mike said that I didnt fully understand at the time because sometimes it is difficult to understand things until you get the base knowledge under controland then you begin to understand the fine points. But I can honestly say that I think about the things Mike Austin told me about every time I play golf.

I asked Phil about his own personal journey to hit a 300-yard drive. Dont forgetthis is a guy who was averaging 200 yards off the tee. The journey to break the 300-yard barrier for me was unexpected, Phil told me. And, Phil says, It felt effortless which I think is common for people who hit the ball prodigious distances off the tee. As I learned from Mike Austin distance comes from everything working together in the right sequence. He used to tell me that when he hit the ball the farthest he felt like he was just swinging at cruising speed. When I broke 300-yards for the first time I was playing with my brother in Colorado. I had been hitting the ball pretty far all day and I got on the 18th tee and uncorked one and it went up on this beautiful trajectory and caught a little bit of a tailwind. It carried over 300 yards and rolled out to 336 yards. I kept measuring it ' back and forth, back and forth I walked ' because I just couldnt believe that it really happened.
Having spent so much time with Mike Austin (enough to write a book) I thought it appropriate to get some final thoughts from Phil Reed. He was the stuff of legends, Phil says. He was larger than life which is a clichespecially for a writer, Phil apologized, But sometimes a clich says it best. It was absolutely true in his case. I was very proud to know Mike Austin and to get close to him, too. The man had a major impact on my life. I only wish that I had met him earlier because I think that there were many things that Mike knew that he never fully talked about or revealed to other people. I think there are some secrets that he took with him to the grave. You know we hear all the time about Ben Hogans secretswhat he told us and what he kept to himself. Other great players as well; what they made public and what they held back. I think Mike took some secrets about the golf swing with him that we will never know about. But thankfully, in my case, the information he did share with me rubbed off and it has made a huge difference in my golf game and my life. I was a guy who struggled to hit the ball 200 yardsmaybe 220 yards off the tee. And I now regularly hit the ball between 255 yards and 275 yards off the tee and in the fairway with just a nice, smooth swing. And I have hit many drives over 300 yards off the tee. And this is due to the information Mike Austin shared with me. So, for many different reasons, I feel very grateful that I met him.

Mike Austin talked about setting the world record and revealed his secrets for hitting it long and straight in his video 'Golf is Mental Imagery and Austinology.' The videos were produced by Mike Austin himself. Clips of Mike and his swing can be seen at www.mikeaustin.com.
So Bubba, Tiger, Phil and Ernieeat your hearts out. In this column focusing on distance, history recalls a man named Mike Austin.
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Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 10:07 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.

The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.

“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”

Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.

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As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.

“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”

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Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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This week, let the games(manship) begin

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.

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Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana

By Will GrayMarch 20, 2018, 6:43 pm

While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.

The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.

"I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."

Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.

According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."

"I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."

Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.

Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Web.com Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.

"I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."

Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.