Today: Dechambeau`s 417 yard drive
When Dechambeau teed his ball up on September the 5th, 2021, and looked out over the par 5 -5th hole fairway, the buzz of energy was in the air. If the ball had any feelings it would have been curling up into its stomach in preparation to receive the biggest blow up its backside any golf ball on the planet would have to take.
Dechambeau is one of the few tour professionals able to compete with the long drive specialists in this century.
The tournament Pro does not try to squeeze every ounce of energy out of his or her body. They will take care to make a swing that has the maximum speed without using any force. That will lose about 10% of their length, which means they cannot compete with the long-hitting experts on the grid.
On the other hand, the extremely long backswings of specialist distance hitters are too inconsistent under tournament pressure. Their games are too one-sided on courses with challenging green approaches and they lack feel in the short game department.
Dechambeau is close to bridging the gap between the maximum force of professional long hitters and the finesse and control of the tour player. He is the first in this century who can compete on both fronts.
When you consider that it is necessary to drive the ball a distance of 280 yards to merely qualify to compete in the long drive tournaments of today, it becomes humbling to study the beginnings of the early distance challenges.
These men were using fragile but heavy hickory shafts, 140cc volume wooden heads, and balls that would duck and dive when given a good wack.
Telling the story with a painting
Many artists prefer to leave the reasons behind the interactions on a painting to the dreams of the onlooker, not detailing the reasons for concepts or ideas manifesting on the canvas. I try to do both with golf.
An illustrative drawing or sketch that is faithful to a photograph leaves little open for self-interpretation and is, therefore, a little short of receiving the art label, technically perfect and brilliant as it may be ( We all love seeing work from a good illustrator though).
The above painting "The first long drive king" is an interpretation of a small group of competitors who were regulars in the special long drive challenges at the turn of the last century. The article contains a small account of each player and his history, which I hope brings the painting more to life.
In an article from 1897 in the New York times, it is recorded that following the Open championship won by Joseph Lloyd a Mr. H.M . Harriman won the driving contest with a distance of 245 yards.
Herbert Melville Harriman won the 1899 United States Amateur Golf Championship defeating Findlay S. Douglas in the final match 3 & 2.
Harriman was a member of the banking/railroad family of the same name and in 1921 was one of the few emigrants moving the other way as he picked up and moved from New York to N. Ireland.
1897 Long Drive winners
1) H.M.Harriman - 245 yds
2) W.R. Betts - 242 yds
3) J.A.Tyng - 241 yds
The lady attendance for such challenges was normally quite large and might have caused a few competitors to overexert themselves
The 1897 Winner
He was one of the founding members of the PGA of America in 1916
Some of the early references to long-driving tournaments can be found in the late nineteenth-century newspaper articles. Willie Hoare was one of the more well-known long drivers and in a driving contest prior to the 1899 U.S.Open won with a distance measuring 269 yards 7 feet 6 inches, using a Gutty ball! His drive was unusually long for the day as the conditions seemed to favor the contestants. Henry Gullane finished second with a drive of 264 yards 2 feet 9 inches.
James A. Tyng
Hard hitter and hard thrower James Tyng was able to keep up with the men who played golf for a living, and he would often beat them. As a baseball pitcher, he was famous when he became the first Harvard player selected to play in the majors, having been picked to play for the Boston red caps.
As a golfer, Tyng was known for his length but was also noted for having a delicate touch around the greens.
A problem when the weather was seriously hot
The gutty ball, which was still in use at the turn of the century, created problems in extreme weather. Although the cold could make the balls hard and unforgiving it was the very hot climates that had the biggest adverse effect on the
thermoplastic substance. Severe temperatures caused the gutta-percha to become unwelcomely soft and pliable with the spheroid shape lost at contact. It was not uncommon in long drive events or challenge matches to see the balls served up in ice buckets (illegal today).
W.R.Betts - A Yale student who graduated in 1898 nearly won the National golf championship the following years.
The long-hitting prowess he was known for is clearly on display here in a photo taken in the long drive contest itself. Fully wound up with a good supporting leg action he has a surprisingly modern backswing.
Born 1876 in Dundee Scotland, brother of Scottish champions Alex and Macdonald.
He didn`t have a reputation as a long hitter, but being a participant in the painting (above left corner), he should be mentioned.
His record of winning the Open by 11 shots stood for a hundred years. It was Tiger who broke it in 2000.
He also took part in the Olympics of 1904 held in St. Louis and won by C.S. Lyon of Canada. Smith never finished in the medals with fellow Americans taking the silver and bronze.
Sports betting is a part of life and has been around for centuries, and the fun of watching one-against-one will always create the most emotional participation from the audience and competitors (although watching your horse in a win bet getting close to the line before the pack is also pretty exciting). It is no wonder that the modern long drive tournaments prefer knock-out rounds.
The historians cannot establish when betting began but we know it has been part of sport for thousands of years.
Image 1: Famous prizefighter John Hine| Lithograph by Currier and Ives 1860
Image 2: The cock fight. William Hogarth was the first artist to depict such scenes in early victorian society. Etching, c. 1845
Many of the sports had a brutal element to them which helped whip emotions up to a frenzy. Fortunately, sports of this nature were gradually eliminated as attitudes in the middle nineteenth century became less tolerant towards such barbarous recreation.