News & Opinion

Long drive goes ‘Primetime’ this week

When Maurice Allen won the Mile High Showdown in Denver, which included a blast of 483 yards, he celebrated as if he had scored the game-winning touchdown. There were shades of bowling's boisterous Pete Weber, and there most definitely was a riff on wrestling's Ric Flair, right down to imitating his signature "Woo" chant.

Allen, 35, is every bit an entertainer as he is freakishly long. He is the No. 1-ranked male in the World Long Drive Association. Johnny Damon, a former Major League Baseball player, nicknamed Allen "Primetime," after the flamboyant Deion Sanders. 

"People are tired of the three-finger wave and the tip of the cap, like I'm too cool for school when they hole out a shot," Allen said. "I'm going to yell and scream when I do something special."

Allen's histrionics and aerial display earned him a place on ESPN SportsCenter's "Best Plays" for an entire week. He also got an invite to Bristol, Conn., to do the “Car Wash” segment, in which a guest appears across multiple programs and platforms over one day. It introduced Allen and the sport to a wider audience.

Allen, who also has tallied victories at the Tennessee Shootout and Catawba Classic, has emerged as a new star at just the right time. Long drive was in need of a new face after Jamie Sadlowski retired from the circuit to pursue a PGA Tour card. Segments of the sport's long history had been treated like a sideshow. At last, long drive, which held its first national championship in 1975, is garnering the type of attention it long sought.  

The driving force behind this new effort is Golf Channel, which purchased the World Long Drive Association, formed in 1994, in October 2015. The 24/7 all-golf network has developed new events and beefed up coverage for the specific segment of the sport. 

 

Including this week’s Volvik World Long Drive Championship (9-11 p.m. EDT today and 9-11:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday), Golf Channel will have aired a total of three World Long Drive events live and in primetime in 2017, tripling any previous year’s coverage. Plans are to increase the number of events airing live in 2018.

"It’s a part of our business that fits nicely into our effort to televise more live programming, especially given the fact that we can strategically schedule events in the Monday-Wednesday part of the week outside of the traditional tournament week," Golf Channel spokesman Jeff Szklinski said.

When Allen won the Mile High Showdown in July, it became the most-watched Tuesday live telecast on Golf Channel (a .12 U.S. household rating; 183,000 viewers; 62,000 with the 25-54 age demographic). Spanning four telecasts of live competition and replays, 1.34 million unique viewers saw some portion of the Mile High Showdown.

This week, the Volvik World Long Drive Championship ratings should benefit from a move from the event’s previous October date to the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs “bye” week while golf fans are still heavily engaged, and before NFL kickoff.

It also will mark the first time for the women’s division to be featured live on television (Clash in the Canyon in June; Mile High Showdown in July), and it will be the first time that the women will be featured live from the Volvik World Long Drive Championship.

The finals will be held at the WinStar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville, Okla., about an hour north of Dallas. It will feature a 96-man field in the men's open division and 21 competitors in the women’s division.

First prizes will be $125,000 for men and $20,000 for women. Allen earned $20,000 for his title in Denver. He hopes the additional TV time will help make long drive into "a true sport." He counts himself among the 3-5 players whom he estimated are able to make a living doing long drive full time. 

"It should be 20-30 of us earning six figures," Allen said. "Golf Channel is making it a true sport. Someday, I think we can be on the same level as the Web.com Tour."

Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: golfsdrivingforce@gmail.com; Twitter: @adamschupak