The Visionary saw his niche, and it was not uptown. When Art Sellinger created the Long Drivers of America eight years ago, it was not with golf's gentry in mind. He was not thinking of the members of Pine Valley or the readers of Herbert Warren Wind. His aim was south of that. � To attend the Long Drivers of America tour event at Eisenhower Park on Long Island in June was to realize that Sellinger's aim was true. While the so-called People's Open was being contested at Bethpage Black, five miles down the Southern State Parkway, several hundred spectators showed up for the qualifying round of the Long Drivers event. (The finals would take place that night, under the lights and accompanied by fireworks and a best-of the-'70s, -'80s and -'90s soundtrack.) For blue-collar flavor, for tattoos, tube tops and Bud tall boys in brown bags, the People's Open had nothing on this wingding. My bleacher neighbors included a chain-smoking blonde whose white halter top fit her like a sausage casing, and a guy who lifted his shirt to reveal ribbons of scar tissue on his back and his left shoulder. ("Stab wounds," his friend explained.) Next to these characters, the Bethpage crowd looked like the cast of Gosford Park.
The appeal was simple, primal: big men (and women) with big clubs cranking the ball as far as humanly possible. There were no marshals bearing QUIET, PLEASE placards, no harrumphing old farts in coats and ties saying, "Fore on the tee."
"About the only fans we get from PGA Tour events are the ones who got thrown out," said up-and-coming LDA member Brian Nash.
The long drivers themselves seemed similarly salt-of-the-earth. Over lunch with several of them that afternoon, a reporter was treated (subjected?) to the story of the Fishing Trip. Last fall, a week after battling one another in the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship—won in dramatic fashion by Sean (the Beast) Fister—a bunch of these golfing brutes and their buddies got together in Arkansas.
There were eight of them, and they arrived at the designated cabin with these provisions: a bag of Doritos; three dust-coated, battalion-sized cans of chili; two dozen tins of smokeless tobacco; and 47 cases of beer. Six months later the long drivers remain in awe of the terrible powers that those ingredients, ingested together, bestowed upon them.
The chili soon manifested itself in the kind of wind that Herbert Warren never wrote about. As the long drivers worked their way through the beer, they fretted about the trauma to which they were subjecting the upholstery and about the possibility that it would cost them all or part of their damage deposit. Tempers flared the following morning when the gang crowded into Fister's Navigator for a trip to Wal-Mart for fishing licenses. "We had all the windows down," recalls Mike (Lava) Moulton, the 2000 LDA tour champion, "and Sean's brother still almost puked. Mean-while, the Beast is up front yelling at us, 'Would you guys cut it out? My wife has to take my kids to school in this car!' "
A few days before the Long Island tour event, several LDA members appeared on the Today show, during which they smote golf balls into a net in Rockefeller Center and did not share the story of the Fishing Trip. Their segment over, they returned to their dressing room, only to find their personal effects neatly stacked on a chair outside the door. The room had been taken over by Freddie Prinze Jr. "We crap bigger than that guy," says former national long-drive champion Brian Pavlet, still miffed at the slight.
Humbling though their eviction may have been, it provides us with a precise measure of the buzz being generated by their up-and-coming sport. The LDA tour is hot enough to make Today—and ESPN has aired last October's world championship six times—but not quite hot enough to get its ambassadors rated ahead of the star of Scooby-Doo.
The driving force behind these driving forces is Sellinger, who at 37 remains physically formidable despite being a year or three past his long-driving prime. Even as he was winning two world long-driving championships, in 1986 and '91, Sellinger was thinking about how much better he could make the event. Back in those days the championship was run by Golf Digest. "They always held it in Florida, at sea level, in the middle of the day, when it was humid and windy," says Sellinger. "You had 320-yard drives winning the thing, and about 200 people in the stands. I'd look around and say, 'Man, these guys have no idea what they have here.' "
When Golf Digest walked away from the event nine years ago, Sellinger took it over, then made it over. He moved it to the desert outside Las Vegas and put it under the lights, at night. This year his tour will have six events, culminating in the RE/MAX Long Drive Championship finals on Oct. 19. Think of Sellinger as Vince McMahon in Softspikes. He has positioned his sport as a sort of extreme golf, a WWE on the range. In the bleachers, decorum is discouraged, alcohol consumption winked at, rowdiness the rule. On the tee, competitors with nicknames like the Beast, Golfzilla and the Blonde Bomber are miked and encouraged to grunt, scream and talk trash.