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Huge crowd watches James, Tubert win long drive titles

Joe Avento • Aug 14, 2018 at 12:51 AM

KINGSPORT — The standing-room-only crowd at Cattails at MeadowView Golf Course was primed and ready. When Golf Channel’s cameras came on, it was showtime, and nobody did it better than Justin James and Emily Tubert.

James and Tubert won the championships at the inaugural Tennessee Big Shots Benefiting Niswonger Children’s Hospital on Monday night as the World Long Drive Tour made hundreds of new local fans.

“The fan involvement is key,” said James, who won the men’s divsion with a drive of 396 yards in the final. “When people see it for the first time, a lot of times they’re hooked. It’s the fastest ball in sports. It’s leaving the driver at 210, 225 miles per hour. You never see anything like it.”

With Golf Channel carrying the event live, the overflow crowd in the temporary stadium kept the atmosphere festive, the way the competitors on the tour like it.

“It was the biggest turnout we’ve had,” James said. “You could tell the area got into it and was passionate. That makes it incredible for us.”

The two champions couldn’t be more different. James is ranked No 1 in the world in his sport, while Tubert was competing in her first long drive event.

In the women’s final, Alexis Belton put a drive on the grid at 319 yards. Tubert stepped up and smacked one 322. Her reaction of complete surprise when she realized she had won was priceless.

“Amazing, I didn’t know what to expect,” Tubert said. “I just came out to have some fun and it’s the first hardware I’ve had in a while, so it’s nice.”

Tubert knocked off local favorite Chloe Garner in the semifinals with a drive of 310 yards. Garner’s best semifinal effort was 307 after she had an effort of 315 in the morning qualifying.

Tubert wasn’t likely to be out late celebrating, She had to leave at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday morning for Indianapolis, where she will play in the LPGA Tour’s Indy Women in Tech Championship.

“It is crazy, but it’s awesome.,” she said. “I think I just made more money today than I had all year, so that helps because I’m self-funded for the most part. I’m going to enjoy it tonight and then I have to stay focused.”

Tubert earned $7,000 for her victory. She actually had made $7,606 in eight LPGA events so far this year.

“It’s been a really rough year so this is a nice little treat,” Tubert said. “I’m excited to get out there and compete with the LPGA this week and switch gears and get back to putting, chipping and hitting golf shots.”

James was almost out of the competition in the quarterfinals. He missed the grid with his first seven balls before launching a 391-yard night-saving drive.

A 396-yard drive gave James a semifinal win over Ryan Steenburg (384), setting up a championship matchup with 21-year-old Central Florida student Kyle Berkshire.

James put another one 396 yards out and watched as Berkshire, who had won the previous event, tried to beat it. Berkshire thought he had a good one as he pumped his first, but the ball stopped at 393 and James was the champion, collecting $20,000 from the $50,000 men’s purse. Berkshire earned $10,000.

“It feels good, obviously,” James said. “It was the best of the year, from the MeadowView, seeing the grid, the atmosphere. I got to do down to the hospital today and to get to be a part of something like that, it makes it even better.”

Will Hogue had the longest drive of the weekend, a 404-yard effort that won him a quarterfinal match.

The event is scheduled to come back to Kingsport again next year.

“The crowd was amazing,” Tubert said. “The energy was really high. Everybody was amazing. I love performing in front of a crowd.”

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