What is truly abnormal is how far they hit the ball. In dry conditions it's not uncommon for competitors to exceed 400 yards. Gorton has a recorded drive of 449 yards, and Pavlet had one of 430 yards on a day in which he hit six balls more than 400 yards. But these feats are all but invisible. "The average, person does not really understand what long is," says Mike Dun-away, who next to Williams has made probably the most money from long driving. "There's a whole different world out there. It's the force of the swing, the sound of the impact, the speed of the ball. People don't really know it until they see it."
But getting people to turn out for a long-drive event can involve some arm-twisting. The size of the competitors, the force of the swings, the magnitude of the mishits all can convey a freak-show aspect to skeptics. "Long drivers are perceived like Dave Kingman," says Scheinblum, whose father, Richie, played in the 1972 All-Star Game when he was a Kansas City Royal outfielder. "Even though he hit more than 400 home runs, a bunch of them humongous shots, Kingman's never going to make it into the Hall of Fame. To most people he was this giant guy with a wild swing, and all he did was either hit home runs or strike out."
In fact, Scheinblum, 27, is the perfect rebuttal to the stereotype. He's not imposing at 6'2", 190, and he is also an accomplished player who competes on the Nike Tour, where his best finish is a tie for fifth in the 1994 Monterrey (Mexico) Open. Gorton, who at the 1981 Q school came within a stroke of making it onto the PGA Tour, says the perception of long drivers as wild swingers who rely on brute strength is false. "You can't hit the ball long without having sound swing fundamentals," he says. "Long driving is a highly athletic act that takes tremendous skill. But it's not about shooting a low score on the golf course. That's where we haven't done a good job of selling the public."
Indeed, the image of monster mashers has hurt long drivers in their quest for sponsors. Although Yonex backs Pavlet, Gorton, Miller and Anderson, supplying equipment and setting up exhibitions and corporate outings, it has not used them or their feats in its ads. "The long-drive competition can help validate product," says Yonex marketing coordinator John Sagara, "but the perception is that all these guys can do is hit it far. People don't necessarily want to be that kind of golfer."
A segment of the long-driving community has also demonstrated the kind of behavior during competition that is anathema to corporate America. "Nowhere else in golf do I see so many clubs broken in anger, so many thrown, so many obscenities yelled," says Pavlet. "We just can't have that."
But the biggest problem long driving has is one of credibility. Without standardized rules, too many people run around claiming to have achieved incredible feats. Of course, in a sport in which making more than $10,000 in prize money constitutes a huge year, some hype is forgivable and even applauded.
"You do need a little bit of an outrageous promotion," says Dunaway, who in 1985, despite never having won a national event, issued a public challenge of $10,000, winner-take-all, to anyone who could out-drive him. The claim got Dunaway on the cover of Golf in what until last year was one of the largest-selling issues in the magazine's history. "It came across so strong, no one took me up on it," says Dunaway. "It was the best thing that ever happened to my career."
Most long drivers give Dunaway points for entrepreneurship. What they cannot abide are claims by long drivers who will not compete against them. The most vilified of these is Jack Hamm, who holds the Guiness record for "longest driven carry of a golf ball"—458 yards—and bills himself as the world's longest driver. His company, LongBall Sports, Inc., markets a line of clubs and balls, including the Jack-Hammer driver, and his toll-free number is 1-800-TOO LONG.
"He's one of the guys who've ruined it for everybody else." says Pavlet. "I have never seen him at a contest, and I'm sure I never will. It's just that we are so disorganized, anybody can talk."
Hamm claims he avoids the long-drive competition because "I don't want to be associated with those guys. There's a negative stigma. I've got my own thing." Counters Williams, "Distance records are essentially meaningless because you can always find conditions in which the average five handicapper can hit it 400 yards. Long driving is not about how far you hit it, it's about who you beat."