BRISTOL, Tenn. - Jon Frazier bent his 280-pound frame to tee up a golf ball, marked with a blue dot to identify it as his. Around him other golfers were practicing their swings before going out for a round of nine holes on Steele Creek Golf Course.
Walking the course isn’t on Frazier’s agenda, however. The driving range is his only stop. Frazier planted his feet perpendicular to the ball and in one fluid motion swung the club hard.
What happened next was pure physics, an example of every action producing an equal and opposite reaction. The power of the swing was transferred to the dimpled ball, which went airborne in a low arc, on a flight that took it past the boundary of the driving range.
Other golfers took notice. A young woman approached him between drives to ask if he’s a Long Driver, a subset of golfing competition where the primary goal is to whack a ball as far and as accurately as possible.
Smiling, he answered in the affirmative and gave her one of his signature tees.
“The homerun derby of golf,” as Frazier called it, began in 1974. According to Pro Long Drive, a website that follows the sport, the first long drive competition featured four of the top drivers from the PGA. It was billed as “The World Challenge Long Drive Contest.” Evan “Big Cat” Williams became the first champion, with a 336-yard hit. Since then long drive tournaments have been held around the globe.
In long driving contests contestants must hit the ball at least 280-yards but also keep it within a 60-yard wide grid. Each driver has two minutes and 30 seconds to hit six golf balls as far as they can inside the grid.
Currently, Frazier is tied for 39th place in the Men’s Open Division of the Professional Long Driver’s Association rankings.
Growing up, he hoped to find fame in a different sport: baseball. While playing for Virginia High School, he drew the interest of the Kansas City Royals, but they wanted him to add muscle and maturity. He played on teams at a junior college in Texas and at Virginia Intermont, but was plagued by injuries and the Royals passed on drafting him in 2006.
He worked in law enforcement for a while, then moved on to coaching middle school baseball. Swinging at golf balls didn’t become a part of his life until he happened to see a long drive competition at a course in Abingdon a few years later. The connection was immediate. He wanted to try it right away.
In 2015, Frazier participated in his first amateur tournament. He didn’t win but he was hooked.
For several years he’s been associated with a group called Long Drivers 4 Heroes, a group that promotes awareness of post traumatic stress syndrome among first responders, veterans and their families. The subject is personal for him, Frazier said, because he has been treated for PTSD.
COVID-19 affected long driving events as it did other sports. Events have been shut down for more than a year. But that’s changing. His next tournament is September 11 in Lawton, Oklahoma at Cameron University.
He won’t be swinging at baseballs, but Frazier found that knocking the heck out of a golf ball is just as rewarding.
Noah Baugham is one of several journalism students from Middle Tennessee State University who is spending 16 days in the area writing feature stories for the Herald-Courier.