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Our equipment editor James Tait is off to Atlanta this week to compete in his third World Long Drive Championship. We had a lot of questions about how it works, how much it costs, and what sort of preparation he does – so he took them all on board and wrote us this blog…

World Long Drive

I got into competing as a long driver in 2017 thanks to my sister, Camilla. She works in the industry and told me about how American Golf was running a simulator tournament to coincide with a new product launch and they would be taking the top two drives from each branch through to a UK final in London with the chance to go to the worlds in America. I hadn’t played golf for about two years and wasn’t really that interested in doing it, but then she rocked up at my front door and was like, “Ready?” Fine, I’ll do it. So I went along to the World of Golf in New Malden, near where I lived at the time, with zero expectation. I stepped up to the simulator and hit one 350, then 360, then 370. The guy running it told me to hit one without caring where the ball goes, so I did and it went 392 yards. He told me my ball speed was over 200 miles-per-hour, while my clubhead speed was 144. Of course, back then, these numbers were only really used for fittings, so I had no idea what they meant. The guy said I should think about taking long drive competing a bit more seriously, and it just snowballed from there.  

When I decided to take it up, I was doing CrossFit four or five times a week, so I was in pretty good shape anyway. I’ve always enjoyed sport and exercise. I competed in the high jump at a very high level as a teenager, and I played rugby at a decent standard, too, and I was naturally quite explosive. But in terms of technique, the hardest thing for me to do was learning to feel comfortable lengthening my swing, because it felt so alien, and then getting your weight to be 95% on your right-hand side. So the fact I was a relatively good golfer didn’t matter much, because I was effectively learning a whole new way of swinging. It took a long time to get used to – it was several months of hard graft.  

World Long Drive Championship prize money

Joe Miller was the best in the world at the time. He was a two-time – and the reigning – world champion. He was relatively local to me at the time, too, so I signed up with his coach, Lee Cox at The Shire, and started to have a bit of success early on. In 2018 I won the Long Drive World Series in Dubai and the German Open Championship – where incidentally I beat Martin Borgmeier, the current world champion who saw off Bryson DeChambeau in the 2022 final.  

I can come across as a bit arrogant. But it’s only because I’m confident. I know I can compete with the best in the world, it’s about doing it there and then, essentially. But you’ve got to go into these things believing you can do well, otherwise what’s the point of turning up? You don’t know who’s going to have an on day or an off day. There are minimal gains, too. The golf ball can only tolerate so much force, so the guys who are swinging at 160 miles-an-hour with a 230-plus ball speed are over-compressing the golf ball and it can’t handle it. I’m close to those numbers, but that ball we’re using will benefit me more than those who are really trying to crank it up.  

• Everything you need to know about the World Long Drive Championship

As bunkered’s gear expert, a lot of people ask me about my “What’s in the Bag?” setup. Now, you can’t go straight into smashing drivers as that would ruin your body, so to warm up I will start with a couple of irons – usually a 3 and a 7 – but will keep some of the long drive swing elements in there. This, I find, also massively helps with fine-tuning my ball striking. And in terms of drivers, I will generally take four to a tournament, as well as a five different shaft options. Which one I use on any given day really comes down to a wide range of factors, whether it be how I’m feeling, or if my timing is slightly out, or the weather conditions. If you want to get super nerdy for a moment, my preferred shaft is the TPT 21 Hi which is around 190 CPM – so it’s probably very bendy and actually closer to a senior-flex shaft. I have a specially built Callaway Paradym driver. The obvious difference is they are a bit bigger than the normal version that you will have, but they are also built differently. Our drivers have to have a reinforced face, because of the speeds at which we hit them, so they need to be able to withstand the impact. The larger face also allows for a bit more forgiveness because – believe it or not – we still hit the ball out the toe and heel! But it’s a special club. I’m very fond of it.  

In the build-up to a tournament I’ll eat anything and everything. It’s all about the carbo-load! And contrary to what you might think, we’re not hitting balls every day. If you’re hitting 50 or 60 balls a day, as hard as you can, that’s pretty taxing on your body. And that’s before all the gym work. So in the week before a tournament, I’ll work on getting my body moving more efficiently, and working on my speed with special sticks. It’s a bit like when you run a marathon and they tell you not to do too much running in the days leading up to the race.  

James Tait

The format of the tournament is brutal. The first session is at 8:30am and eight of the 16 in that first group go through. So eight competitors will be out of the tournament before 10am on the first day! It costs $2,000 to enter, which is a lot of money to hit a few golf balls then fly home – especially if, like me, you’ve come an awful long way. And that’s before we throw in things out of our control – such as a bad bounce that may just drift a few inches out of the scoring zone. It’s a lot of money to pin on such small margins. I had it happen to me at the European Championships. I smoked my best drive of the day down the middle, let out a little fist bump and acknowledged the crowd, only to see it kick horribly and end up a couple of inches out of bounds. That cost me my place in the next round. So it can be incredibly cruel. Even long drivers are in the hands of the Golf Gods!  

The prize money has been extended down to those finishing in the top-32 but even then all you’re doing is easing the blow of everything you’ve forked out on, from entry fee to flights and hotels. Realistically, to make any kind of money from it, I need to get to the quarter-finals, where the minimum payout is $7,000. It would be nice to win the $75,000 first prize though – and the WWE-style belt that comes with it!  

World Long Drive Championship

It definitely has an effect when I’m playing golf with my mates. It’s hard to find the balance and not just stand on the tee and leather it. The difference between a normal swing and a ‘long drive swing’ is huge. And at the World Long Drive Championship, the target is 45 to 60 yards wide, which is much wider than a normal fairway at a golf course, and you get six attempts to hit it each time. It’s not like I can ask my playing partners for five mulligans! It can mess with your head.  

Finally, I know what you’ve been thinking about this whole time. My fastest ball speed is 229 miles-per-hour, and my longest drive in a tournament is 405 yards. 

You can follow James’s progress at the World Long Drive Championship on Instagram

author headshot

James Tait is bunkered’s Gear Editor. Want to know how the latest Callaway driver, Vokey wedge or Scotty Cameron putter performs? He’s the guy to ask. Better yet, just watch his videos on the bunkered YouTube channel. One of the biggest hitters in the UK, James also competes on the World Long Drive circuit and is a descendent of former Amateur champion Freddie Tait.

Gear Editor

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