By a Long Shot

Boom times are here for long-driving golfers.

Maybe the biggest potential hitter, though, is 6'5", 245-pound Tyler Wood (a name that, said fast enough, will get you a tee time anyplace in the country). "A couple weeks ago," says Gary Woodside, the teaching pro at Lonetree Golf Course, where Wood plays, "we started getting cell-phone calls from people on the eighth green that someone was hitting balls at them." It turned out to be Wood, who was practicing at the driving range, about 400 yards away.

Like many golfers who measure their game in yards instead of strokes, Wood, a 34-year-old Denver car executive, discovered his gift more or less by accident. "I've always known I could hit the ball far, but you never really think about it," he says. Last year, though, after he hit a 420-yard drive while playing a round at Deer Creek, the local pro suggested he try to win some money with his driver.

Since then, Wood has won a couple of qualifiers, made the LDA tour, hired a coach to groove his stroke and just barely finished out of the money twice (one potential winner, a 390-yard blast, landed a few inches out of bounds). At one tournament earlier this spring, he swung so hard his club's head flew off, the shaft shattered, and he popped some discs in his back.

Tyler Wood carries a big stick.
Brett Amole
Tyler Wood carries a big stick.

"These guys are freaks," admits Justin Headrick, Wood's coach. "There are only thirty or forty guys in the world who can hit the ball as far. But Tyler will win the world championship. He hits the ball farther than anyone I've seen in my life." Headrick adds that he's seen Wood hit one drive 500 yards.

One evening, as rain is threatening, Wood rolls into Lonetree with Dustin Jensen, whom he hooked up with one day at the driving range. After a few minutes of warmups -- mere 320-yard pops -- the two begin swinging in earnest. Wood's drives blast out of sight in a line drive; Jensen's tend to soar higher. Soon they start aiming for the first green, 370 yards away -- and hitting it.

"That was killed," Wood remarks after one drive.

"Oh, yeah," says Jensen, giggling. After each hit, Wood stalks a few yards toward the drive, as if daring the ball to drop before it's traveled far enough. (Long-ball veteran Craig Hagan is known for running after his shots, waving his club and yelling.)

"AARRGGGHH!" Wood screams on his next drive, which lands way beyond the end of the driving range. "Hit some of that one, D!" he yells at Jensen. "You can't even see it!" Jensen shakes his head; not today.

Next to them, a slim blond man with a British accent has just set up on the driving line. He stops swinging to watch Wood swat another drive 400 yards into the distance.

"Aw, shit," the man mutters to himself, shaking his head in disgust and slamming his driver back into his bag. "How can I hit short next to this?"

Back in the northwest Denver suburbs, McCartney, too, has decided that with Hines pounding shots approximately five times longer than the coach's best efforts, perhaps now is not the best time to work on his "long game."

"Wow!" McCartney exclaims as he walks by Hines. "I didn't see it, but I sure heard that shot! Boy!"

He watches Hines hit one more and then wanders over to the putting green. Golfers need to work on the short stuff, too.

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