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Long-hitter Lewis makes short list

MT file photo

Long-drive ace hits the big time

James Lewis of Medford has qualified for the Remax World Long Drive Championships.

Lewis, 32, won the District — (Oregon, Washington and Idaho) title last Saturday at New Castle Golf Club, near Seattle. His winning drive traveled 318 yards, 2 feet, 4 inches into a 30 mph wind.

I relaxed and caught that drive pretty good, says Lewis. I told myself, `If that one doesn't win, I should hang it up.'

Lewis says he wanted a chance to hit with a following wind, rather than into a head wind.

With no wind, it would have gone over 400 yards easy, says Lewis. With a little wind, it would have been even more. I got all of that one.

Lewis won the California regional title in July to qualify for the District — finals. He used a Zero Tolerance driver, with a 50-inch, double-extra-stiff Penley shaft, to win all of his titles on the way to the world finals Oct. 20-23 at Mesquite, Nev.

A total of 64 qualifiers will participate in the world finals. That includes district champions and runners-up and various other hitters with exemptions, including three-time defending world champion Jason Zubak of Canada, who currently travels the world giving exhibitions at $5,000 per show.

The 1999 world champion will earn $75,000 in prize money, plus numerous signing bonuses with sponsors and up to $800,000 in contracts, according to Robert Kaindl, the director of the District — tournament.

It's a pretty lucrative thing, says Kaindl, a member of the Long Drivers of America who has qualified for the world finals. But competition is fierce, and it's not easy to win.

Long drivers hit toward a 40-yard-wide grid. They compete in four-contestant matches as they progress toward the finals in double-elimination competition. The winner in each match is based on the longest drive within the grid.

Lewis believes he's capable of winning the world title, which would mean beating Zubak.

He's a legend because he can cut a drive and hit it 400 yards, says Lewis. That is amazing. Most long drivers hit hooks or draws. But Zubak hits high cuts that fly out of sight and seem like they will never come down.

A cut is a ball that curves left to right for a right-handed hitter. A draw for the same hitter curves right to left.

My drives hit the ground hotter and roll more, says Lewis, who draws the ball. I think I can keep up with Jason. I'm just so happy to be in the world finals. Finishing 64th sounds good to me right now.

With his district win, Lewis has been added to the Penley golf shaft staff.

It means I'll get all the shafts I need to compete, and bonuses for wins like this, he says. There will also be a nice bonus if I do well in the worlds.

Kaindl says Lewis has a chance to win the world title.

He hits it long enough, says Kaindl. It comes down to a mental thing in the finals. It's what you have going between the ears.

James is big enough (6-foot-6, 260 pounds) and strong enough to win. A lot of us are capable of winning. But you have to go out and do it when it counts.

Lewis, who says he's a 7.8-handicap player at Stewart Meadows Golf Course in Medford, is sponsored by the golf course and driving range, Penley golf shafts, Airport Chevrolet of Medford and and Zero Tolerance golf club company.

This is the highlight of what I've done so far, says Lewis. I hit three of my six drives in the district tournament into the grid . I'm pretty happy with it.

Lewis says long drivers are starting to get more recognition for their feats of distance.

People don't understand how far these guys hit it, says Lewis. They hit it way past all the pros.

Lewis says John Daly, the No. — driver on the PGA tour in terms of distance, couldn't compete with the long drivers.

He entered one contest that I know and he averaged about 340 yards, says Lewis of Daly, who leads the PGA driving statistics with an average of 306.6 yards on measured holes. He didn't even place. Most of these guys hit it way past him.

If he entered now, we would beat him with 3-woods, says Lewis, who recently hit the longest drive of his career, 435 yards on the second hole at Shieldcrest Golf Course in Klamath Falls.

The Remax World Long Driving finals will be televised by ESPN on a tape-delayed basis Christmas Day.

James Lewis, shown this summer at Stewart Meadows Driving Range, has qualified for the Remax World Long Drive Championships later this month.