Exclusive Interview with Jerry Foltz

Jerry Foltz has been a mainstay during Golf Channel tournament broadcasts for nearly twenty years. He is a member of the Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame and grew up regularly competing against Art Sellinger in golf events. While at the University of Arizona he was an All-Pac 10 selection in 1984. He turned professional in 1985 and worked his way up to the Hogan and Nationwide Tours. He had two 2nd place finishes in 1991 before breaking into the winner’s circle twice; first at the 1994 Taco Bell Newport Classic and then at the 1995 South Carolina Classic.

Since 1999 he has served as an on course reporter for PGA Tour, Web.com Tour, and LPGA Tour broadcasts. This year he also served as the on-tee reporter for the World Long Drive Championship.

1. What were your initial impressions of the World Long Drive Championship?
“The event was the first that I had been to, but as a golfer, it was always really fun to watch and I watched it every year. What I did not expect was the atmosphere and energy surrounding the event. As a guy who has spent his whole life around traditional golf, it was contagious and caught me off guard. In a nutshell, I had always been a fan of the sport, but once I felt the energy and intoxicating atmosphere surrounding the sport of long drive, on that stage, I became an avid fan.”

(Mike Gorton) “It is kinda like a big party; like the 16th hole at the Phoenix Open meets the WWE.”

2. You made a great comment on the telecast about how long drivers actually have to be much more accurate than other golfers. Please explain that further for our readers.
“I was talking with the Trackman operator at the event and we were talking hypothetical numbers that our viewers could understand and relate to. So we hashed out the formula and did our best to give a highly educated, but conservative, approximation that a recreational golfer with a 10 degree loft driver and a 90 mph clubhead speed could appreciate what the long drivers were doing with 5 degree loft drivers and 145 mph clubhead speeds.

The fact is that the best long drivers are incredible athletes that are doing something almost unthinkable by swinging a club 145 mph and hitting a fairway the equivalent of only 12.5 yards wide. You should not be surprised when a long driver misses the grid, you should be amazed when they are able to hit it.”

3. Did you see one particular swing key that gives these guys so much power?
“I wish I did. If I did, I would keep it a secret and sell it. All of the guys have incredible
power, but they generate it differently. They all have incredible hand speed and lag. Some guys do it with sheer torque. Some guys do it with sheer muscle. While other guys do it with incredible timing. Joe Miller generated it by strength and length. Meanwhile, Justin James uses a traditional technique to create immense power.”

4. What changes to the event would you recommend?
“A few days after the championship I sent an email to the President of Golf Channel and I made two recommendations. First, I told him I would like to see the women’s competition televised on the air. Men will watch the women. It was amazing to watch women swing at speeds that equate to the fastest swings on the PGA Tour (122-124 mph). Presently, there are three or four women in a league of their own now, but with more exposure that number will grow. And the women really enjoy themselves and there are some great personalities.

I also suggested that the driver had to conform to USGA Rules. I told him that the one thing that the long drivers get all the time is people saying that the club is not legal. And looking at the measuring process that was being used the difference was only about ½ an inch.

Another recommendation that I would like to make is increasing the time allowed to hit eight balls to four minutes. I did not like the format in 2015 allowing players to hit as many balls as they could in three minutes. To me, that took away a big skill element of the competition. To me, this year’s format with eight balls in three minutes was still a little rapid fire. What happened over and over again was that guys rushed through and I think it cost Tim Burke a chance to defend. And from a TV standpoint when a guy nails a ball you want to see him react positively and maybe chase after it.

The PGA Tour allows players 30 seconds per shot and that is not an exorbitant amount of time. It allows them to go through their pre shot routine and hit quality shots. And from a broadcast perspective, it would allow the drama to build for the viewer because the broadcast team can speculate what they are going through at the moment of truth. Part of the drama for the viewer is the choking factor; the nerves; players psyching themselves up. It would also allow for more replays to be shown between shots.

I also think there might also be a market for seniors (55+) with the nostalgia because they were the leaders that established long drive and who people followed for years. It would depend on the Golf Channel numbers; otherwise it would be skipped for the best.”

Note: Jerry Foltz was pleasantly surprised to hear that his bosses had instituted the change to the conforming length.

5.Jamie Sadlowski recently transitioned from long drive to professional golf; what do you think of his chances and what advice would you give him.
“I covered the Boise Open which was the first event Jamie played on the Web.com Tour. When you factor in the elevation of Boise, he played the shortest course on the Web.com Tour that features narrow tree lined fairways and doglegs on virtually every hole. The greens at the event also are always the firmest and fastest on the tour. That usually exposes a guy who concentrates on one element of the game at the expense of the short game. For him to make the cut, in that event, was simply amazing to me.

The wrap on long drivers is that they are not golfers; they cannot play golf at a very high level, but he does. I think he has the ability to play at an even higher level than he does now. Art Sellinger suggested to me that if he pulls a Dustin Johnson and goes from a well below average wedge player to one of the best by using the same dedication, will, practice, and feel that made him a long drive champion, then he could actually make the PGA Tour. I would not count him out at all. He has the resources, the athletic ability, and the personal life to be able to accomplish that. I applaud him immensely for taking the shot at it.

I remember an interesting match that Mark Rolfing organized five years ago at Kapalua featuring Jamie Sadlowski, Robert Garrigus, Bubba Watson, and Dustin Johnson. The long drive contest was held on the iconic par 5 finishing hole that is severely downhill, or rather as Foltz called it down cliff. For three of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour it was very humbling as Jamie Sadlowski flew their best drives on the severely downhill hole.

I think Jamie has gone a long way towards restoring the credibility for long drivers in the eyes of PGA Tour players. Because of that long drivers can no longer be dismissed as non-golfers because he has a beautiful golf swing and he is a great ambassador for the sport.”

6. The USGA is considering reducing the maximum length of a driver to 46”, how do you think it will affect the performance of long drivers?
“I hope they don’t do it. There is no research to my knowledge that the ball goes farther with clubs that exceed 48 inches. Presently, Brooke Henderson of the LPGA Tour is the only major tour player, I know of, that is hitting a 48 inch driver and she does it because she is 5’ 3” and has a swing speed of 85 mph.
I would be interested to see if Joe Miller and Tim Burke tested the difference between the 46” and 48” driver. I don’t see it being that significant of a difference. I think the intent of the idea is to safeguard against future length increases. But, I believe that very tall players, such as Kevin McHale, should always be able to get conforming equipment that fits their physique.”

7. We know that the Golf Channel has big plans to grow the sport, can you give us a preview of what we might expect in the coming years?
“I know my bosses at Golf Channel have great plans for the future of the sport because we have a vested interested. For four days a week, the Golf Channel is destination viewing with tournament coverage. But for the other three days their is passive viewing. I believe that long drive can be great programming under the lights Monday through Wednesday nights. And with alliances with all of the major organizations, I see a day when we hold a competition under the lights at a PGA Tour event or at a PGA Championship. My goal is to get at least four or five events on during the year. I think my bosses would not be averse to that as long as we can make it perform to some economic model that makes sense. But, I don’t think that will be a problem because so many people watched and loved the event this year on Tuesday and Wednesday night. I think that there is more of a future there to bring it to a live TV audience because people rarely watch tape delayed sports.”

(Mike Gorton) PGA Tour players used to regularly compete against long drivers. For a long time the World Long Drive Championship was held at the PGA Championship. Then it moved to a regular tour event before breaking away completely. They would often bet with each other.

About the Author
Mike Gorton competed in the sport of long drive for 33 seasons. He was a member of the inaugural class of the LDA Hall of Fame in 1996. He is a five-time World Long Drive Champion and is the only competitor with titles in four different age groups; Open (1987), Senior (2000), Grand Champion (2007, 2008), and Legends (2014). He is presently a tour rep for Volvik and Ogio on all the major golf tours.