THACKERVILLE, Okla. — Local golfer Justin Young has qualified for the World Long Drive Championship for the third time in five years.
Young, who played on school teams for North Surry and Surry Community College, is one of 16 athletes who will compete live on The Golf Channel tonight.
Young said the event begins at 8 p.m. Eastern time, but that he will be featured in a segment on the lead-in show that starts at 7 p.m. He will be demonstrating how golfers generate power on their drives.
Even though this is his third championship, Young is still the baby of the group at a month shy of his 24th birthday. Still, he’s gained some wisdom with experience.
After not making the finals in 2014, Young admits he didn’t stay as dedicated to offseason workouts and found himself in the 2015 event out of shape. Still, he reached the final 16.
The morning of the finals, the event held an open workout time for drivers to get some swings in. Young said he took part and wore himself out that morning. Then, with his conditioning not where it should have been, he felt the effects that evening.
Despite all that, Young finished fifth in the world, regularly surpassing 350 yards with a tournament best of 386 yards.
While he has reached 400 yards before, Young cautioned viewers not to expect those numbers tonight. After competing at elevation with helpful winds in Nevada, he is facing different conditions in Oklahoma.
The elevation is only maybe 500 feet above sea level, and the wind often has been blowing back in his face, he noted. Through the first few days of competition, he said he hasn’t come anywhere close to 400, with a best of 367 yards.
“Which is a long ways into a 10-mile-per-hour wind,” he added. “Not many 400s out here.”
The competition began with 82 men in the field. That number had to be trimmed down to 64. Young and others in the finals from last year got an automatic berth into the round of 64, but others had to compete for a spot.
Then came the head-to-head battles, which was a new wrinkle last year.
Rather than just having everyone hit some golf balls and tracking the best distances, the championship pairs the golfers. Justin doesn’t have to beat every athlete here; he just has to outdistance the guy next to him in each round.
Young said each driver gets three minutes to hit up to eight golf balls. Last year it was six balls in 2:45, so the match is slightly longer now.
The competitors have to win two out of three sets to advance.
In the round of 64, Young beat Sotaro Nagahara, of Japan, two sets to none to advance.
Unfortunately his roommate wasn’t so lucky. Back in 2012 he struck up a friendship with Jeremy Easterly, and the two roomed up for the event last year. Young finished fifth and Easterly was a Cinderella story, seeded 10th but finishing second.
This year, Easterly didn’t have a good round of 64 and was knocked out right away.
In the round of 32, Young went against Landon Gentry, of Florida.
Young took the first set 354 to 351. Then he didn’t do as well on his next set of swings and lost 353 to 344.
In the third set, Gentry was just ahead 354 to 353, but on his last swing Young edged past at 355 to advance. Young said that was his seventh ball; he had one more but never even got it teed up.
Young goes head to head with Tommy Hug tonight. Hug, from California, knocked out former champion Carl Wolter 2-1 on Monday. Hug also was third in total points this season — earned from participating in qualifying events around the country. Young didn’t travel to as many events and finished the season 21st.
Even though he didn’t travel much, Young said he did get more fit this year. The heaviest finalist last year at 275 pounds, Young said he lost up to about 15 pounds, plus some of that weight was converted to muscle. He focused on eating healthier and getting exercise, like riding the greenway in town on his bike.
From this point on, he knows he has to hit his best ball every round to advance. Not only is Hug a tough out, but several other finalists from last year are still alive, like Joe Miller, Will Hogue, Maurice Allen, Jason Eslinger and the man who knocked him out last year: 2015 champion Tim Burke.
The grand champion earns a $125,000 first-place prize. The winner also will be presented with a custom-designed Championship belt, built by Orange County Choppers. The belt is the result of more than 100 hours of craftsmanship with hand-tooled leather and precision-machined 6061-T6 aluminum.
Young said he is very thankful of all the support he has received from the folks in Surry County. He is also thankful that his past performances earned him sponsorships with golf equipment providers like Callaway Golf, Tornado Tee, Royal & Awesome golf pants, House of Forge golf shafts, Golf Pride golf grips and 59 Belts belts and buckles.
The incredible amount of torque on the shaft and impact on the heads can cause clubs to break down quickly in an event like this, Young noted. While his clubs haven’t failed yet, he said he is carrying seven clubs, plus additional heads if a repair is needed.
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Reach Jeff at 415-4692.