With his eyes locked on the teed-up ball near the low end of his 6-foot, 5-inch frame, Daniel Beckman maneuvers into the right posture, grips his driver, lines up his shot, takes a short breath and … WHACK!
The ball, screaming at speeds of up to 140 mph, rockets through a semi-circle-shaped opening in the treeline on the southwest end of the driving range at Riverside Golf Course and disappears.
This is what it looks and sounds like when a man competing to be crowned the nation’s long-drive champion strikes it just right.
Beckman, 30 of Fresno, works as an assistant pro and golf instructor at Riverside but has to wait till after dusk, when all of the other golfers have ended their rounds for the day, to get in his practice – his drives of 380-plus yards landing on the fairways beyond the range. He used to hit drives into the orchards on the west side of the course, but then housing developments went up and ended that option. That leaves the range, where in addition to timing it right during the day he also has to hit diagonally to avoid pegging a house or person.
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“I can’t see where it lands, but if I hear a thunk and see the tree shake, I know I hit it hard enough,” he said. “It’s good practice.”
Practice makes perfect, or at least has him in line to prove he’s the best, as Beckman prepares for the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championships. He has advanced to the final eight that will vie for a $250,000 grand prize on Nov. 4 at the Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort.
In a turbulent turnaround, Beckman went from being knocked out of the competition, by losing in a regional qualifier at the Mesquite (Nev.) Sports and Event Complex in February, to climbing his way back through a last-chance qualifier two weeks ago.
“I can’t really tell you how it all happened. It’s all a blur,” he said.
Beckman had a recurrence of a hip injury at the February qualifier and thought about calling it quits until next year’s competition. It was his fourth year of trying, but this marked his earliest exit, not even making the 128-man championship field as he had the three previous years. In 2011 and 2013, he reached the top 24. In 2012, he was eliminated in the second round.
After talking with friends and family, and practicing after-hours at Riverside in the summer, Beckman decided to give it one last shot,. He paid an extra $350 to register for the last-chance event.
“I just wanted to get back in,” he said he told himself. “Everything else after that is just bonus.”
In the 32-man last-chancer, Beckman survived seven rounds of head-to-head competition. A 398-yard drive clinched one of four available spots.
Once in the tournament, he kept on driving, all the way into the top eight.. He hacked away at the competition, surviving 16 rounds over three days. His winning drives included shots that went 396, 415, 430, 449 and 464 yards. The latter was a new career long for Beckman, who estimates swinging at no less than 1,000 golf balls at Mesquite during his last-chance triumph and the march through the championship bracket.
“It’s so surreal. I’ve never made it this far and never experienced anything like this,” he said. “This is the only sport where I understood what the ‘zone’ was. It was a whole nother level.”
The double-elimination format places golfers into foursomes, where each athlete hits six balls. Only their longest drive counts toward their score. The top two in each foursome advance in the winners bracket; the others have to try to fight their way back through the losers’ bracket. It takes 32 rounds in all to decide the eight finalists from the original championship field of 128.
While Beckman’s feat of converting a last-chance win to a final-eight berth is rare, he isn’t the first to do it. In 2010, England’s Joe Miller accomplished the feat and wound with the world title, according to Long Drivers of America spokesman Steve Wiley.
That’s good and bad news for Beckman, who can use the past for inspiration but also knows Miller is among the other seven he will face Nov. 4.
While he admits bringing home the $250,000 grand prize is ideal, Beckman is again quick to remind himself of how far he’s come.
“Everything now is just extra.”