Maurice Allen: Golf’s big hitter who’s also long on personality

(CNN)There are eagles for some, hole-in-ones for a lucky few, but every golfer knows that satisfying feeling of crushing a drive miles down the fairway.

Alas, like fishermen and the size of their catches, golfers are prone to exaggeration, especially when it comes to their length off the tee.
Not so Maurice Allen.
    The American is one of the biggest hitters in the golfing world, routinely smashing a ball close to 500 yards — a distance that ordinarily takes amateur golfers two hefty blows, and then some.
    As long drive tournaments start to spread around the globe, Allen, alongside other stars like compatriot Ryan Reisbeck and Britain’s Joe Miller, is taking aim at bringing golf to a wider audience, as they go head-to-head against a backdrop of music, pyrotechnics and a raucous crowd.
    “Long Drive is a showcase of speed, athleticism and talent,” Allen told CNN.
    “I think if you go to a long drive competition it’s like going to a party and a golf tournament just breaks out in the middle of it. That’s the closest way I can describe it, you’re at this really hyped-up party.
    “In basketball there’s a slam dunk contest and that’s what long drive is to golf … I think it’s gonna be something huge. I really believe that.”
    Allen has won multiple times on the American-based World Long Drive tour and, as well as being one of golf’s most powerful drivers, he’s also emerged as one of the sport’s biggest personalities.
    His off-the-cuff impersonation of veteran US wrestler Ric Flair after his win at last July’s Mile High Showdown in Denver went down a storm on social media.
    Allen’s infectious enthusiasm for the game wasn’t always quite so evident. As a kid he saw it as a “boring old white man’s sport,” but his attitude changed when Tiger Woods emerged in the late 1990s.
    “Golf became cool because Tiger brought a swagger to the game that wasn’t there before, and his athletic ability was beyond what the game had seen before. I’m not saying he’s better than Jack (Nicklaus) or Arnie (Palmer), it’s just how he did it,” Allen said.
    Like Woods in his prime, the Orlando native is blessed with a powerful physique. At college he played football, volleyball, dabbled with rugby and, with a best time of 10.1 seconds, was lightning fast over 100m. Golf really wasn’t anywhere on his radar until a friend challenged him to hit a ball back in 2010.
    “I hit a seven iron 230 yards and literally later that day my friend had me go to a long drive competition. I lost because, like all long drivers, I couldn’t keep the ball in bounds but I was hitting it 40-50 yards further than everyone else there that day.”
    From that moment he was hooked, but it’s been a long, hard slog.
    “I was spending anything between 10-14 hours on the driving range just trying to learn how to hit the ball, how to control the ball. It took me a while to get all that going,” he said.
    “It was very tough and I went through a lot of things. I was in chiropractic school, ended up being homeless, had to sleep in my car, on people’s couches for a little while because I had this dream that I was going to be a long drive guy.”
    Seven years, and thousands of buckets of balls later, Allen is a scratch golfer with a low 18-hole score of 67 and a best in-competition drive of 488 yards — all powered by a daily intake of 5,000-7,000 calories which fuel long sessions in the gym and at the driving range.

    ‘Cracking the whip’

    Long hitters like Allen are able to generate incredible power by harnessing their core strength, says Jon Wheat, professor of sport and exercise biomechanics at the UK’s Sheffield Hallam University.
    “In an effective golf swing, the speed is generated by the larger muscles of the body in the legs and in the trunk,” Wheat told CNN.
    “Cracking the whip gets used a lot as an analogy — energy is transferred down the whip to the tip and that moves incredibly fast compared to the handle end.
    “If the body moves in a very well-timed and sequential way — legs first, then the arms, and then the trunk — a skilled golfer is able to transfer those huge forces to the club to produce a huge club-head speed.”
    Specialist long drivers swing at speeds in excess of 150mph propelling the ball into orbit at 200mph plus. Tour pros average around 110-120mph and 160-180mph respectively.
    The equipment is also calibrated for maximum length.
    “Long drive pros play with extremely stiff graphite shafts compared to pro tour and amateur golfers,” Wheat explains. “That’s essentially because of the swing speeds — the torques on the golf club are so much greater, and you can get warping and twisting.
    “Also, they are using much lower loft clubs in long drive and that’s to control the amount of backspin on the ball.
    “Long drivers tee the ball up very high and they approach the ball with a positive angle of attack, hitting upwards on the ball and that’s all about trying too reduce backspin.”

    Driving at growth

    For most of his career Allen has plied his trade in America, but opportunities are now opening up abroad as rival competitions look to cash in on the sport’s growing popularity.
    Next year, Allen plans to spend more time in Europe competing in the Long Drive World Series which is expanding its roster of tournaments to 10 starting in Dubai next spring.
    “It’s really important that we grow Long Drive in Europe,” Allen said. “I think next year will be a truly breakout year for that organization.”
    Golf has struggled to attract new players in recent times, and even PGA Tour CEO Peter Bevacqua admits golf has suffered from an elitist image and must adapt to changing times — “golf doesn’t have to be a four-hour experience,” Bevacqua told CNN earlier this year.

      PGA of America CEO wants golf to be inclusive

    Long drive’s fast-paced format fits that bill and so does its energy, says Allen, who’d like to see a little less hat tipping and a bit more passion.
    “Look at the Ryder Cup vs. any other PGA or European Tour event,” he said. “Those guys get amped up. When they make a good shot they get excited. When you look at them at a normal event what do they do? They hole it out from 150 yards and they tip the cap like ‘I’m too cool, I do this all the time.’
    “The average golfer can’t get their brain around that because you or I, if we hole out from 150 yards with our friends we go bananas. You’re jumping up and down, high-fiving and that’s the difference. People can see that and people can relate to it.”
    Changing golf’s fusty old image might be a long shot, but Allen is hoping that the Long Drive format will run and run.
    You never know, it might just be a monster hit.

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