Joe Miller Wins Second World Title
Last Chance Qualifying
The week began with 76 hitters participating in Last Chance Qualifying to secure one of the final 27 spots available in the World Long Drive Championship. Starting at 7:30 AM the first group of 38 hitters teed it up at 9:30 AM. The hitters that qualified from the first group included Tyler Barton, Ryan Gearhart, Houston Hair, Heath Johnson, Walter Pusiol, Michael Watson, Tyler Schmidt, Evan Ogule, David Mobley, Rob Tiettmeyer, Mitch Dobbyn, Josh Cassady. Meanwhile, the second group teed off starting at 1:30 PM. The hitters that qualified included: Bobby Bradley, Scott Schnetzler, Mark Costello, Brent Champion, Hunter Scheib, Blaine Hon, Brandon Shipley, Mitch McDowell, Jason Embler, Tom Peppard, Stephen Kois, and Spencer McDaniel, And the final four spots in the field were determined in a Shootout that saw Kyle Blakely, Colin Phillips, Matthew Nolan, and Dewald Gouws advancing into the match play field.
Rains forced the first day of Open Division Match Play to be pushed back one day. Those rains would greatly impact the 2016 World Long Drive Championship in a number of important ways. First, the wet grid combined with the wind made the conditions difficult for many hitters. The delay also meant that competitors in the Masters Division and Open Division would face a number of long days of hitting with multiple matches, especially if they were competing in both divisions.
On the first day the wind and a wet grid set the stage for a number of early upsets involving the Dobbyn brothers. First, Mike Dobbyn was surprised by Curtis Urniezius of Canada. And then a short time later, Mitch Dobbyn surprised Ryan Reisbeck.
The Round of 32 featured a trio of three set matchups involving former champions. First, Glenn Wilson Jr. eliminated 2012 champion Ryan Winther. Next, Tommy Hug eliminated two-time (2002 & 2012) champion Carl Wolter. And last, but not least, Joe Miller was pushed to the brink of elimination by Dan McIntosh of Canada. After losing the first set, Miller was on the verge of being eliminated as he and McIntosh needed a four ball playoff to determine the second set. Miller, the 2010 champion, survived the playoff and then won the third set to keep his championship hopes alive.
Round of 16
The Round of 16 was contested on Tuesday and the challenging conditions made it difficult to hit the grid consistently as many of the competitors struggled in the difficult wind conditions and lack of roll. In fact, the top three ranked players entering the championship were defeated in the Round of 16 as Paul Howell defeated World #1 Will Hogue (375 to 366), Justin James defeated World #2 Tim Burke (381 to 364), and Justin Young defeated World #3 Tommy Hug (342 to OB). Jeff Flagg, the 2014 champion, also fell three yards short of advancing against Trent Scruggs (354 to 351). In the remaining Round of 16 match ups, Justin Moose defeated LDET champion Maurice Allen (364 to 361), Mitch Dobbyn continued his amazing run from Last Chance Qualifying by defeating Steve Monroe 349 to 342), Joe Miller bested Glenn Wilson Jr. 376 to 372 in a battle two of the fastest swingers in history, and finally Ryan Steenberg beat Jason Eslinger (374 to 354).
That set the stage for Wednesday night’s battle to determine the World Long Drive Champion.
The conditions improved dramatically on Wednesday evening as the winds turned to the competitors backs. The grid also finally had dried to allow more roll. On this night competitors knew it would likely take drives well over 400 yards to win the title.
The eight Quarterfinalists featured two rookies, a cinderella story, two touring professionals trying to fund their PGA Tour dreams, one of the sports best strength coaches making an amazing comeback after a two year absence, a repeat Quarterfinalist, and a former World Long Drive Champion.
In the first match, rookie Paul Howell battled Justin Moose in a battle of two players with PGA Tour aspirations. Moose’s experience proved valuable as he posted a distance of 409 yards that proved too much for Howell in his first appearance on the sport’s biggest stage. In the second quarterfinal match, former champion Joe Miller battled the event’s Cinderella story, Mitch Dobbyn. And when Miller hit the ball 437 yards to the back of the grid, Mitch’s inspirational run had finally come to an end. In the third match of the night, two of the sport’s young guns, Trent Scruggs and Justin James battled it out in a close shootout. On this night, James, the son of two-time Senior champion Gerry James, used his athletic swing to advance to the Semifinals (421 to 418). And in the last Quarterfinal matchup, Ryan Steenberg bested Justin Young by two yards with a drive of 413 yards to advance to the Semifinals.
The first Semifinal featured Justin Moose battling Joe Miller. Moose hitting first set a good standard with a drive of 410 yards, but Miller launched another ball to the back of the grid that was measured at 439 yards. Meanwhile, in the second Semifinal Ryan Steenberg hit another low bullet that rolled out nearly 50 yards to 412 yards to defeat Justin James by two yards.
So the battle for the World Long Drive Championship belt would be feature the 2010 World Long Drive Champion against one of golf’s elite strength and conditioning coaches. Steenberg’s invention, known as The Twitch Trainer, allowed him to make an amazing comeback this season after taking two seasons off during its’ development. Hitting first, Steenberg ripped another low bullet that rolled out to 412 yards. Miller was not only chasing Steenberg’s distance, but also history as he had the opportunity to join an elite group of long drivers that have won at least two Open Division titles. Being a former champion and perennial contender for nearly a decade certainly helped him perform at his best on this night. And as soon as he connected on his winning drive of 423 yards he knew that he had won the championship.
The Total Package once again proved that when he hits the ball like he did on that night that he is nearly impossible to beat.
Open Division Bracket
* Video Footage of the World Long Drive Championship provided by Golf Channel
Photo credit: Golf Channel