Fifty-nine men who can hit golf balls farther than anybody on the planet began the day hoping to advance to the quarterfinals in the Tennessee Big Shots benefiting Niswonger Children’s Hospital. Eight of them survived, and all of them put on quite a show.
“It gives you goosebumps. There’s nothing better,” said Ryan Steenberg, one of the two competitors to hit a drive of longer than 400 yards on Sunday.
Golf Channel will televise Monday’s men’s quarterfinals, semifinals and championship, while the women’s semifinals and final will be on the program. The main event will run from 6-8 p.m. Admission is free and organizers are hoping for a big and rowdy crowd.
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It’s the last stop on the World Long Drive Tour before the Volvik World Championship, scheduled for Aug. 30-Sept. 5 on the Oklahoma-Texas border.
An enthusiastic crowd created a carnival-like atmosphere in the temporary stadium set up around the tee at the opening hole at Cattails during Sunday’s preliminary rounds.
“I’ll tell you what, this community has been great,” said Steenberg, a native of Rochester, N.Y., whose best effort Sunday was 401 yards. “This is one of the biggest crowds we’ve had for qualifying. It’s a testament to what Kingsport has done, what Cattails and Niswonger Hospital have done. It’s beautiful.”
Wes Patterson also hit one 401 yards and he said he almost blacked out. He hit five drives over 380 yards.
“I’ve been in the sport for a year and I’ve never yelled at a ball in my life and I yelled at five in one set,” the 29-year-old from Memphis said. “I was feeling it.”
Patterson agreed with Steenberg about the venue and the reception the competitors have received from the community.
“This is incredible,” Patterson said. “This is one of the best crowds we’ve had all year long and it’s not even the TV round. It’s been awesome. They’re putting on an incredible event and it’s a great venue. It’s been fun.”
What attracts these guys and girls to the long drive competitions?
“Where do we start? How much time do we have?” Patterson said. “The adrenaline rush. A lot of us are good golfers, too. These guys are competitors. Almost all of us are either ex-baseball players or something. Everybody played sports. We’re always looking for something to compete in.”
Will Hogue, ranked No 2 in the world behind Justin James, was the most consistent driver. Hogue won all five of his round-robin sets in the round of 16.
James was second, followed by Patterson. Also making the televised quarterfinals were Stephen Kois, Ryan Reisbeck, Steenberg, Paul Howell and Kyle Berkshire.
“Every day you step out there, we’re trying to make it to the match play, to the TV round,” Patterson said. “That’s kind of like making the cut. You have to make the cut to make some money, so that’s everybody’s goal.”
The winner will take home $20,000 of the $50,000 purse.
On Monday morning, eight women will whittle their field to four for the televised event.
Johnson City’s Chloe Garner, a former golfer at East Tennessee State, said watching the men compete on Sunday got her more than ready to go.
“I think as it becomes more and more real, just the nerves, you can’t even control them,” said Garner, who won an event on the tour last year. “It’s just super jittery. The adrenaline that comes with this sport — it’ s not a life-or-death situation — but it’s a huge adrenaline rush.
“I’m going to try to embrace it and channel it positively. I’ve been doing a lot of mental preparation. Tomorrow will be the true test to see if it pays off.”