Last Updated on Sunday, 30 October 2011 22:30
Sunday, 30 October 2011 21:14
by Gord Montgomery
Over the course of our journeys through a lifetime, a couple of yards isn’t much at all.
Yet that distance can sometimes be insurmountable, especially when you’re trying to overcome them in competition.
That was the case for Canadian Lisa Vlooswyk at this year’s Re/Max World Long Drive Championship in Mesquite, Nevada, where she placed second to Sandra Carlborg of Sweden by three yards, 285 to 282.
As one of three finalists in the 10-person field, Vlooswyk was chasing the eventual winner all day. The two were paired in the same five-person pool to begin the event and both advanced to the final along with one other player, Helena Rhodin, from the other pool.
In the first of three draws in Round one of the elmination series Vlooswyk, from Calgary, had a drive of 272 yards to place third, with Carlborg topping the group of five at 300 yards.
In the second round, Vlooswyk stretched out to 291 yards as Carlborg registered a 323-yard poke. Then in the final qualifying attempt of six shots, the Canadian had a top drive of 301 yards with the Swede again posting 323.
Those showings moved those two into the semi-final round where each posted identical numbers in the two rounds: Vlooswyk at 295 and Carlborg at 323 to advance to the final where they were joined by another Swede, Helena Rhodin with a qualifying best drive of 294 yards.
In the final, Carlborg maintained her status of never having lost in a long drive final, but the Canuck wasn’t far from dethroning her, coming up just short. Rhodin was third with a drive of 265 yards in the final.
“It was such a disappointment because it was such a window for me,” said Vlooswyk of losing by three yards and of Carlborg not maintaining her distances of the earlier rounds.
“Oh gosh, I was so close I had tears kind of welling up. It was so close,” she continued on the phone from Las Vegas the following day.
While the three finalists cruised through the qualifying rounds with some big blasts a change in weather conditions, and in particular wind direction, caused chaos and a change in format in the final round.
“We had a much stiffer head wind,” Vlooswyk related about the final that began 90 minutes after the semi-final round finished.
“Sandra and I were definitely hitting great balls. We both tightened up a bit; I think we both had more yardage in our bags. I think I picked up my yardage for the finals but we both left a bit in the bag.”
The two things Vlooswyk was happy about was her physical conditioning and the fact she put so many shots in play inside the grid where a ball needs to land to count.
In each round, a player had six shots with at least one needing to land within the grid area to count.
“I was so excited. This, out of all my world championships and this was my 10th anniversary, I had a minimum of four balls in the grid in every round. I must say, my first ball and my sixth ball weren’t always my best.”
As the first division to hit the grid at this year’s world finals, and returning to the event after a two-year hiatus, Vlooswyk admitted there was some worry about how much attention the women’s division would garner. As it played out, that was wasted energy.
“We must have had half that grandstand filled with spectators, friends and family and lots of the other competitors who came early to support the women. I must have heard 50 times, ‘Wow! It’s great to have the ladies back!’ both from competitors and spectators. It was really exciting.”
As for the end result, where it’s perhaps easier to lose by a mile than a few feet, Vlooswyk said the one thing it showed her is that even given her age, 37 and around a decade older than her two opponents in the final, she’s still in the game.
“It’s much harder to be that close than losing by a lot,” she said. “I lost to Sandra in the World Championships when they were held in Palm Springs two years ago by eight yards. You almost go, ‘OK, she had it.’ But when it’s two and a half yards that’s two paces, a good hop, a good bounce. That was really tough.”
As for the set-up for the final, which saw all three competitors hitting at the exact same time, a vast difference from usual where the competitors go one after another, the Canadian loved it. The change was due to the wind and organizers not wanting to give anyone an advantage should the gusts die down, stop completely, or change direction.
Thus the time to hit their six balls was extended to three minutes and 30 seconds compared to the usual 2:45.
“I thought that was genius because that way no one could say ‘She got headwind; She got tailwind,’” Vlooswyk noted.
“I think that will be a way to go. It does make it exciting.”
The end result, while not exactly what she wanted, showed the Calgarian she’s doing the right things to remain near the top of the world.
“I think what this tells me is that working on my fitness absolutely paid off, the core strength, flexibility and cardio. As an older athlete that keeps me in the ranks of the top in the world. It gives me a lot of hope – I’m geared up and ready to start training as soon as I get back to Calgary.”
In closing, Vlooswyk said there are a couple of things she needs to fine-tune prior to next year and she’s eager to begin working on those elements to hopefully land her at the very top of the world next time instead of a couple of yards short.
“I know I have what it takes to get there. I just need to work on a couple of things that put me in that spot. I want to be that girl who hits her sixth ball past everybody – the person who can hit that sixth ball past everybody no matter what the pressure is.”
For her efforts Vlooswyk made $1,500 as compared to the winner’s $4,000. That’s a long way from the men’s Open top prize of $150,000 but the Canadian figures the women can close that monetary distance in the future.
“I saw a lot of excitement, a lot of hype and I think more women are going to be drawn to this (end of the sport),” she commented. “When this is televised on ESPN in December, a lot of people are going to see that and we’ll bring more women into the sport.
“As we bring more women into the sport and as we grow the numbers, our purses will be raised.”
So with a tear in her eye and determination in her heart, Vlooswyk will go back to work looking to add at least another few yards to her already lengthy drives to become the best in the world next time around.
By Gord Montgomery
About the writer: Gord Montgomery is the sports editor of two weekly newspapers in the Edmonton area and is a member of the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. He has written for Inside Golf for the past four years with the majority of his coverage in north and central Alberta. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More articles by Gord Montgomery