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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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry