Jamie Sadlowski showed up to the 18th tee at Kapalua’s Plantation Course a half hour before his three competitors — PGA Tour pros Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson and Robert Garrigus — for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions Long Drive Challenge. He was raring to go — not that he had anything to worry about.
“We only have a chance if Jamie doesn’t get one in play,” DJ said.
Sadlowski, a two-time world long-drive champion, is not a big guy, either. The 22-year-old Canadian is 5’11” and 165 lbs. He works out, but he makes an effort not to get big and bulky. How? Simple: playing golf.
“The misconception is [long-drive competitors] can’t play,” explained Sadlowski. “You have to be a good ballstriker still to have the right angles.”
“I don’t hit driver at the range. I’d rather hit 500 balls with a 7-iron.”
Sadlowski, a scratch handicap, plays about three times a week. When he’s not traveling across North America to exhibit his freak talents at corporate outings, he plays at Whisper Rock in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Much of the time, the tradewinds are blowing across The Plantation Course, which means No. 18 plays downwind. But on Wednesday afternoon, the pattern was variable (so I’m told by the locals) — a combination of Kona and tradewinds.
“I’m going with the big boy,” said Sadlowski, who was carrying four drivers in his bag this week. He adjusts depending on the conditions. All the drivers are Adams Speedline 4064LS. The “big boy” has a 6.5 degree loft and the shaft is about 47 inches.
Sadlowski has the biggest recorded shoulder turn in the history of video testing. Along with a 40-something degree hip turn, he estimates it’s 158-ish degrees — that’s 30 degrees more than the longest pros. At full speed, his swing speed average is 145mph.
Honestly, Sadlowski showed up Bubba, Garrigus and DJ, who were very impressed with the long-drive champ. It’s not like those three were too shabby themselves.
The 18th fairway slopes right-to-left. You have to aim way right to make sure your ball doesn’t roll into the hazard on the left — unless you hit it as long as Sadlowski, who can carry it over the trouble. I asked him where his line was and he pointed toward the smaller grandstands adjacent to the 18th green.
“I have to carry it like 380 to get over the big swale,” said Sadlowski. “It’s about 445 yards to the main grandstand.” (The larger one on the left in the above picture.)
The atmosphere on the 18th tee was cheery and light with the guys joking around. Dressed in suspenders, Watson was lucky to have a favorable wind helping him. His best drive out of three measured 370 yards. The wind changed as Johnson stepped up to the tee and started blowing in his face. He only hit it to 354 yards. When Garrigus teed it up, the wind died down a bit. He bombed his drives, with his best going 364 yards.
“I have to play with him tomorrow,” said an impressed Matt Bettencourt, who was observing from a cart.
Now it was Sadlowski’s turn. His longest went 402 yards. One of his drives went 398 yards, but he told me afterward that he didn’t catch it very well. He called it “pretty spinny,” but it caught the slope just right and rolled a good ways.
In the finals, it was narrowed down to the top two guys, Sadlowski and Watson.
“I’m not just a pretty face,” quipped Watson. “Don’t let these suspenders fool you.”
His three drives measured 332, 352 and 345 yards.
As Sadlowski went to tee it up, Bubba deadpanned, “Do you want to hit it left-handed? You can use my club.”
“I don’t want to put a dummy mark on it,” replied Sadlowski.
Bubba said, “It’s okay, you can use my back-up.”
Sadlowski passed. His third drive went 407 yards.
“That sucks,” Johnson quipped.