Photo Courtesy of Golf Channel
On this night a champion would be crowned in the 2017 Volvik World Long Drive Final live in prime time on Golf Channel. The air of anticipation was exciting as Tim Burke had the opportunity of becoming a three-time champion. Other contenders were also prepared to take their swings at becoming a world champion for the first time, including an impressive first time participant that shocked the top two seeds on his way to the final 8.
The evening started with the 1st Quarterfinal match Wes Patterson, the event’s Cinderella story, going up against Mitch Grassing who has had an impressive season where he established himself as one of the finest long drivers in the world. Patterson set the early standard and put pressure on Grassing, who missed the grid with his first seven swings. Grassing, however, proved that it only takes one swing in long drive as he smashed a drive of over 430 yards to win the match. The clock had struck midnight on Patterson’s magical run, but he certainly made an impressive debut.
In the 2nd Quarterfinal Kyle Berkshire battled Tim Burke. Burke had survived a long grueling day on Monday to make it to the Power 16, but his wrist was taped for the later rounds. On this night,, the 20 year old rookie defeated Tim Burke 414 to 411 in a match where both competitors best balls trickled out. It was then that we knew their would crown a first-time champion in the men’s division.
In the 3rd Quarterfinal Justin James, the #3 ranked player in the world, eliminated Paul Howell 434 to 420 yards. James choose to hit second and needed only four balls when Howell could not match the standard James had set. It was a strategy James would employ throughout the match rounds.
In the final Quarterfinal match Nick Kiefer and Will Hogue squared off in a match of two fathers of newborns. Hogue, the #1 ranked hitter for most of the season had the longest ball during Tuesday’s Power 16,but he could not match Kiefer’s speed and power on this night as Kiefer prevailed 430 to 383 yards.
In the Semifinals, Grassing defeated Kyle Berkshire by four yards, while James put the pressure on Nick Kiefer with an early drive of 430 yards. This time Kiefer posted a drive of 392 yards during his first four balls. In the second series of four it looked like he might take the lead and put pressure on James, but his longest ball barely trickled out of bounds. James survived a grueling day advancing through the loser’s bracket, but on this night made short work of his opponents in each round of match play to advance to the final of the World Long Drive Championship.
That set up a final between Mitch Grassing (#18) and Justin James (#3) to determine who would be the 2017 Volvik World Long Drive Champion. In the final, Grassing struggled with his swing as the pressure mounted. Justin James also struggled and failed to post a number with his first four balls of the final so it was down to four balls each to decide the champion. Sadly the pressure seemed to get the best of Grassing on this occasion as he again failed to find the grid at the worse possible time. Needing only to hit a drive of at least 270 yards to reach the grid, James used his golf course driver and set a new championship match record of 435 yards to claim the 2017 Volvik World Long Drive Championship, the $125,000 first prize check, and his first Championship Belts. With the victory, James also takes over as #1 ranking in the official world rankings.
James had retired from baseball only last spring after being a pitcher in the Toronto Blue Jay’s farm system. Just last spring he began concentrating on long drive. He is blessed with superior speed and exceptional mechanics that comes from good genes and excellent coaching. He owes both of those to his father and coach, Gerry James, a two-time Master’s Division Champion. The two make a formidable team and, at only 26 years old, this could be the start of a long title run.