Behind the scenes with a long-drive competitor

By Jason CrookMay 13, 2014, 4:00 pm

Mike Zeigler starts his range sessions the way most people do,  a few easy wedges, casually working his way through the bag … 9-iron, 6-iron, hybrid …

He ends his sessions the way few others can, by launching a few 400-yard drivers, the practice balls often startling people on the other side of the range.

In case you hadn’t guessed, Zeigler, or “Ziggy” as his friends call him, is a long-drive competitor, and I recently had a chance to spend some time with him at Orlando’s ChampionsGate. I wanted to know how a 6-foot-2, 190-pound 41-year-old can hit a golf ball so freakishly far. And how does one make a living simply mashing drives?

The answers have as many moving parts as Ziggy’s 145-mph swing.

Zeigler walked me through an abbreviated version of his routine, long drives, trick shots - you name it, he can probably do it.

It ended up being the most enjoyable practice session of my life, and I never even hit a shot.

That’s because Zeigler has honed his craft as an entertainer just as much as his long driving, and after a few minutes around the guy, you just know he couldn’t turn it off if he tried.

Halfway through his session, most of the other golfers on the range had stopped their own practice to watch in awe. After one of his monster drives, the guy next to us asked Ziggy how long his shaft was. He smiled. “Whoa! I don’t know you that well, buddy.”

You could tell he might have heard that question a time or two before.

“I love entertaining. I really enjoy making people happy and kind of teaching them there’s more to golf than just shooting 66 every day, and just getting away from the serious side of golf for a minute,” Zeigler said.

Zeigler, who lives in Canton, Ohio, and calls Glenmore Country Club his home course, has turned the long-drive competitions into almost a secondary gig. He does 60-70 clinics for kids and charities across the country a year – more than 600 in all – engaging crowds with his incredible combination of power and finesse.

And he’s got the stories to prove it.

At Frank Nobilo’s charity event last year at Lake Nona, Zeigler’s best-ball foursome three-putted the par-5 15th hole for eagle. Ziggy hit putter off the tee, then another putter to about 8 feet, and someone else in his group sank the putt.

“So we legitimately three-putted for eagle,” he said. “How cool it that?”

He proved it was possible to me on the range, hitting back-to-back putters – one a 250-yard bomb, the next a 70-yard lob shot. (He'll prove it to you too, in the video below.)

So with that kind of talent, why isn’t Zeigler on the PGA Tour? The answer comes from his four years spent on mini-tours, where “I’m sure I led in driving distance, eagles, birdies, bogeys, double bogeys and hit condos,” he said.

He is a fan of the pro game, however, and counts several prominent Tour pros as friends, including Fred Funk, Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh, Graeme McDowell, Erik Compton and Ernie Els … not to mention Christopher McDonald (aka Shooter McGavin).

“They really respect what we do. Those guys are the best in the world. Just to be on the same turf as them is an honor,” Zeigler said.

So what is a typical day in the life of a long-drive competitor? For one thing, it sounds like a lot of them are spent in airports.

But, at least for Zeigler, when he’s not traveling or participating in events, he’s training. His practice regimen consists of 300-500 balls, three to five days a week, and he also mixes in speed training, plyometrics, fast-twitch exercises and even some martial arts.

“If I’m not doing something I’m always practicing, I’m always preparing. I have to keep my body in good shape because I’m out here all day long,” he said of the events that sometimes keep him on the range for eight or nine hours.

“I like to make sure everyone has a good time. The events are really not about me, it’s about making the event a better day for the host.”

Zeigler was so busy with clinics and other obligations last year that he didn’t have time to qualify for the World Long Drive Championship. But the six-time world finalist does plan on returning this year.

“I’ve always been right there,” he said of the competitions. “Sometimes you fall a little bit short.”

So this September, when you tune in to the Golf Channel as the best long drivers in the world convene at the ReMax World Long Drive Championship in Las Vegas, just remember with these guys, there is plenty more than meets the eye. Even if what meets the eye is a drive hit so far that you have trouble seeing it.

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Watch: Tiger throws dart, pours in birdie at 8

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 18, 2018, 7:31 pm

Starting Sunday five off the lead, Tiger Woods teed off his final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a laced 2-iron and a par at No. 1.

Woods hit the green at the par-3 second but left himself a 50-foot birdie putt and a 6-footer to save par, which we walked in.

A two-putt 4 at the par-5 fourth gave Woods his first birdie of the day and moved him to 8 under for the week. Apparently energized, Tiger pulled driver at the short par-4 fifth and unleashed this violent swing.

A pitch from the thick rough hit a sprinkler head and stopped on the apron, leading to this birdie try, which fortunately hit the pin but unfortunately didn't fall.

Looking to pick up another stroke - or two - at the par-5 sixth, Woods took his drive 317 yards over the water and hit this second shot from 227 yards to 13 feet, leading to another two-putt birdie when his eagle try burned the right edge.

Returning to his trusty 2-iron, Tiger found the fairway at par-4 eighth and then threw this dart from 176 yards to 6 feet and rolled in his third birdie putt of the day to move to 10 under.

(More coming...)

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Tiger Tracker: Arnold Palmer Invitational

By Tiger TrackerMarch 18, 2018, 5:00 pm

Tiger Woods will start Sunday five off the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. How will he follow up last week's runner-up? We're tracking him at Bay Hill.

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McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course

By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2018, 1:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.

McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”

This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.

A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.

McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.

“It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”

As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.

“It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.