BY SHAIN GILLET
Clipper Sports Editor
LAYTON – It was Ryan Reisbeck who took home last week’s Rockwell Long Drive Championship at West Bountiful’s Lakeside Golf Course.
Consistently bombing drives of near or beyond 400 yards each time, Reisbeck is well known in local circles as one of the longest drivers in the professional ranks.
But it all started for the Layton High School graduate on a whim, he said, and he likely wouldn’t be doing what he’s doing without a strong suggestion from a friend and a little bit of good timing.
“I started competing in long drive golf around August 2010 when a friend of mine, Eric Ratcliffe, suggested I try it,” he said. “At first I thought he was putting me on because even though I’d seen some competition in prior years. I had no idea how far I could hit a golf ball at the time.”
That’s when the good timing portion of Reisbeck’s career came. After finishing a round by driving a ball using his friend’s driver, the two of them sat in the clubhouse as a re-airing of the Re/Max World Long Drive Competition was showing on ESPN.
The suggestions continued, Reisbeck said, but a little more research on the sport convinced him to give to give it a shot.
“I read up on how to qualify and got the crazy idea to head over to Albuquerque the next weekend to compete in the last local qualifier,” he said. “I ended up finishing second and have been doing this ever since.”
Reisbeck said that without a chance encounter from another local, Jerimie Montgomery, who finished second at the world championships the previous year, he may not have made the trip altogether.
“Just to make sure I didn’t make a fool of myself we decided to try and accurately measure my drives,” he said. “The next morning I went to Valley View golf course to try a hit on their driving range to gauge my distance, and that’s when I ran into (Montgomery). He was kind enough to help me out with a club and gave me some pointers.”
Competing in a long drive competition isn’t as easy as it sounds, however. In normal competition, competitors get 2 minutes, 45 seconds to hit up to six balls that have to stay in play for the drive to count.
What regular spectators may not know, however, is the manner in which the ball has to be in play. For instance, if a ball lands in play but rolls out of play, the drive doesn’t count.
But if the ball lands out of bounds and rolls into play, the ball doesn’t count either.
The toughest challenge for most, said Reisbeck, isn’t keeping the ball in play but being able to hit six balls in the allotted time.
“The time element is a difference maker because it adds a great deal of pressure and you must learn to manage it if you want to do well,” he said. “Besides that, the fact that you are swinging as fast as you can and still trying to hit the ball with a specific launch angle and spin rate is incredibly difficult. People have lost by inches on drives that go over 400 yards, so you always need to be at your best.”
One of the biggest learning experiences for Reisbeck, he said, was trying to translate his softball swing into a golf swing, something that wasn’t easy in the early stages of his career.
While playing on a competitive softball team, where balls are hit hard nearly every time, Reisbeck said the overall thinking of most of his teammates that the softball swing could transfer.
He learned the hard way that it didn’t.
“The swing is different and doesn’t transfer over to golf,” he said. “It’s a unique movement that generates a lot of force and it’s rare to find someone that has the ability to swing as fast as we can and still control where the ball goes.”
He also said that not all long drivers are built the same, and that the biggest characteristic of being a long drive competitor is building up the swing speed for the sport.
In order to do that, Reisbeck practices for about two hours a day and about four or five days a week. He also goes to the gym to do a lot of “explosive, dynamic exercise” that help him improve his swing speed and flexibility.
“The golf swing can very damaging to the back and knees,” he said, “so I try to take care of my body as best I can.”
While some long hitters prefer to stay away from an actual golf course, Reisbeck said he golfs regularly and carries a 9.9 handicap. Although he admitted that being able to swing that fast is a bit of a deterrent to his game.
“It is difficult to develop a completely different swing with such a difference tempo and speed,” he said. “Probably the biggest reason for me not being a better golfer is that I enjoy hitting the ball hard, but I count every stroke too.”
Reisbeck’s next competition will be the Mile High Shootout, taking place on Aug. 23 and 24 in Denver, Colo. After that is the Re/Max World Long Drive Championships, held this year in Mesquite, Nev. in September.
If Reisbeck makes the final eight long hitters in that field, he’ll have a chance to win $250,000.
For more information, visit longdrivers.com.
Editor’s note: The winner of the Rockwell championship was misidentified in the June 27 edition of the Clipper.