Pat Dempsey came to Lawrence this weekend for a challenge.
When the 56-year-old tees off at the Professional Long Drive Championship at Eagle Bend Golf Course this morning, he knows he’s going to be feeling some nerves.
“There’s nothing wrong with showing up at an easy tournament every now and then, but when you walk away, you know it was easy,” Dempsey said. “A tournament like (today), even though there’s just a handful of really good hitters, if you walk away a winner from that, then it really means something.”
The long-drive competition, which is free to the public, starts at 9 a.m. and will feature professional long drivers from California, Texas, Missouri, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Canada. The winner of the event gets a $2,500 prize.
“You see the size of these guys, and the way they swing and hit a golf ball —it’s a pretty cool thing,” event organizer John Novosel said. “ ... It’s an unbelievable field that we’ve assembled in such a short time.”
The group includes two-time RE/MAX world champion Carl Wolters, who’s also the reigning world champ with a long drive of 459 yards in that event.
“I’m using this as a major tune-up to get ready for world championships (in October),” Wolters said. “My ultimate goal is obviously to win (today), but realistically, I just want to go out there and hit the ball well. I want to hit it solid.”
Others who should contend for the title include Dustin Merrill, who won the 2012 Mesquite Shootout in March, and Jeff Gavin, who won the 2011 Mile High Shootout in Denver.
Dempsey is a three-time senior world champion.
“Obviously, every time I tee it up, I want to win, and my intentions are to win,” said Dempsey, who will be inducted into the Long Drivers of America Hall of Fame in October. “The reality of it is, I’d like to be standing in the final four with the likes of Carl Wolter or Jeff Gavin and Dustin Merrill. I’d like to be standing in that final four, and if I get lucky, I get lucky.”
Gavin said he has been training hard in the weight room to prepare himself for the upcoming World Championships. He’s eased off a bit lately to get ready for today’s event.
“Any time you’re teeing it up with Pat and Carl, you’re teeing it up with the best,” Gavin said. “When I can go and play with these guys and do well against them, I know I’m in form. That’s why I’m here.”
The competition works like this: All nine competitors will get the chance to hit drives, with the top six drivers advancing to the next round.
From there, the competition resets. The top four hitters from that round advance to the semifinals.
After another reset, the field is dwindled to two before the finalists go head-to-head to determine a winner.
The competition, which should last about two hours, also will be televised on Metro Sports later this month.