Long drive champion hurts but still hits
by Douglas Pils
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) ? Sean Fister's discs in his back are collapsing, his knuckles are knotted and his tendons are stretched.
He can still hit a golf ball farther than Tiger Woods.
Fister will defend his title in the World Long Driving Championship in Mesquite, Nev., on Oct. 16-19, and he'll try to become just the second 40-year-old winner.
In September at the World Drivers' Cup, a team competition, Fister smacked his sixth and final ball 444 yards to clinch the victory. He also won the World Long Driving Championship last October with his last swing.
"I'm trying to get to the point where I don't have to win on my last ball," Fister said.
Swinging a 50-inch golf club at 150 mph can wear out body parts almost as fast as Fister destroys club heads and graphite shafts. He needs extra thick faces on his drivers and the shafts are wrapped with extra layers of graphite near the head and grip to keep from snapping.
As for his body, Fister has been told he needs surgery on his back, his elbows, his shoulders, his groin and his abdomen.
"I just hit right through it," said Fister, who once needed 24 cortisone shots in one year. "Sometimes it hurts when I compete, but for some reason it goes away. I probably need surgery in five or six places.
"This is how I make my living, so I can't take six months off to recuperate. I probably won't be able to lift a glass of milk when I'm 50."
Fister started winning long-drive competitions with a stock 43-inch driver in 1989, hailing from the same state that produced John Daly, one of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour.
Fister is the only man in his 30s to win the world title, having done that at age 33 and again at 39. The only other 40-year-old champion was Wedgy Winchester, who won the 1984 title when he was 40.
Fister competes on the Long Drivers of America Tour, where the paydays don't come close to matching world title money or what PGA Tour players make. His income - which he would not disclose - mainly comes from his 100 appearances a year at charity events, teaching and exhibitions.
He hits the road for the job he loves, traveling well over 100,000 miles a year. In a recent 45-day stretch ending in mid-September, Fister said, he was home in Little Rock for three days.
When he's not traveling, he's swinging. On a recent practice for the world championships, he hit for 13 hours with a one-hour break for lunch. Long days are not uncommon for the long hitter.
The 10th drive is as long as the 1,000th drive, but Fister says he works so long because he mentally prepares for every scenario he might face in competition.
"There are a lot of guys who can hit a big ball," Fister said. "But it takes a lot of mental preparation, rehearsal, mental imagery. I spend some time visualizing the rounds and get the feeling that I'm in it. Then once I get in a situation, I'm not nervous."
A back injury in a pole vault pit ended a successful track and field career at the University of Florida. His best vault of 18 feet made him one of the top-ranked collegiate vaulters in 1984. He was also a decathlete.
He didn't start playing golf until after college. But he amazed his playing partners and friends by driving par 4s. A golf pro suggested he try a long-driving competition - which he won with a 43-inch driver - and he was hooked.
"I live long driving," Fister said. "That's all I think about all day long. I've got children and I'm a good father, but part of being a good father is providing for family. The way I provide for my family is maintaining a top level of competition at the world-class level.
"My goal is to be the best long driver that ever lived. I want to have more world championships than anybody. Ever."