In anticipation of the 44th annual World Long Drive Championship (Aug. 30 - Sept. 4, with Golf Channel showcasing the final two days), worldlongdrive.com is highlighting past champions. Click here to view more of the series and information on the championship.
When it comes to long-drive champions, Jason Zuback’s name is at the top of the list, right next to Sandra Carlborg (Women’s Division). Over the course of his career, Zuback won a total of five long-drive titles, with four of those coming in succession between 1996-99.
It is by far the most dominating run in long-drive history, as there is no other male long-drive competitor with more than three titles to their name.
“When I started, you’d see maybe a little bit on TV and stuff in magazines,” said Zuback. “I’ve always gravitated to the power element of sports, whether it be sprinting, hitting home-runs, or hitting a hockey puck as hard as I could. I always loved to take a rip at it and try and it hit hard.”
That mentality served the Canadian well when he entered his first long-drive competition.
“I was playing in a Monday qualifier for an event on the Canadian Tour, the Alberta Open,” said Zuback. “I got paired up with a couple of guys and one of them mentioned that there was a qualifier for this big long-drive event, and that I should give it a try because he had never seen anyone hit it as far as I did. There were close to 100 guys that were trying to get through the local [qualifier], and I think I ended up winning by around 50 yards.”
After getting his feet wet, Zuback decided to see how he could fare in a world championship.
“I had always worked really hard in the gym since I was 18 and had been really involved in power lifting," he said, "so it was kind of this strange development where almost everything came together to help me hit it far.”
Zuback’s love for hitting balls, which he says he hit around 300-500 a day during the summer months, helped prepare him for the rigors of long-drive competition, where players have to repetitively hit balls as hard as possible over multiple days and rounds.
“I was still pretty new at it,” said Zuback of his days leading up to his first World Long Drive Championship in '96. “I was realistic, and I thought, I don’t know how I’ll do against all these big monster guys that I’ve seen on TV, so I was hoping to make it to the second day.
“Back then if you made it to the top 16 you got a couple thousand dollars, so I was hoping to make it somewhere in there to kind of pay for my trip. As I progressed through the rounds, the money kept increasing and I never had any expectations, and never thought I was head-and-shoulders above anybody else, so I just tried to do my best.”
When Zuback competed, the top-eight hitters all drew a random order, and their longest drive is what was kept on record.
“I went last that year, so I knew the number I had to beat,” said Zuback. “On my third ball, I ended up beating that [number], but I was so new I was just thinking it was pretty cool I won the thing. The veterans though were telling me I didn’t realize how significant it was, because no one ever shows up and wins the whole thing on the first try. I was just so new at it that I didn’t appreciate the gravity of it.”
After winning his first long-drive championship, Zuback didn't have to qualify for his second one. That made things a little easier, but he was still operating a pharmacy, which he says was a 60-hour plus a week job.
“I worked full-time that year and just tried to do my best with going to the gym and playing golf,” said Zuback. “I thought I could do well as a champion, but you never know, and I didn’t have any expectations of repeating. I hit it really well all the way through and think I was the only guy to hit it over 400 every round and then in the finals, I hit it 412 which was the record up until Jamie [Sadlowski] broke it almost a decade later.”
Zuback’s second championship proved that he wasn’t a one-off.
“A lot of the guys were like, ‘This guy got lucky the year before,’ and, ‘There’s no way he’s ever going to repeat,’ so it was nice to cement my place as a legitimate competitor," he said.
Zuback went on to win the next two years as well, making him the only male long-drive competitor to win more than three championships.
He added another to his resume in 2006, making him the only five-time long-drive winner in the men’s division, which was matched by Carlborg in the Women’s Division after she won the 2017 World Long Drive Championship. He later added another championship win in 2015 when he captured the Masters Division.