Fellow golfers had been telling Anthony Thomas to enter a World Long Drive event for years.
The former River Ridge High School athlete has always had distance off the tee, but never considered making a contest out of it.
“I always took that as a compliment, not genuine advice,” Thomas said.
Until now. Thomas, now a 28-year-old living in Vancouver, won his regional qualifying group, crushing a 413-yard drive last Thursday at Lakeside Golf Course near Salt Lake City.
Currently ranked 58th in the world, Thomas will compete in the Volvik World Long Drive Championship beginning Aug. 31 in Thackerville, Oklahoma.
His quick rise in the world rankings started with an idea last fall. Thomas said he was hungry to compete in something — not necessarily golf-related.
“It was between long drive or jiu-jitsu,” he laughed.
He decided long drive would be more manageable with his busy schedule. He works as both a fitness model and an Alaska Airlines agent.
Thomas started to look into World Long Drive late last year, but the only competition left was the championship, and he hadn’t qualified.
So, he waited, traveled some and enjoyed the winter. Thomas competed in his first local qualifier — the first event on the World Long Drive schedule — in California in March.
“I figured I’d go out raw and see how I did, and from there I would know how seriously I needed to train,” he said.
Raw talent alone almost got Thomas to a regional qualifier. He took seventh — missing a qualifying distance by 1 yard after another golfer passed him on the last shot of the day.
He’d never had a drive measured before competing in Palm Springs — he took up golf as a teenager — but that’s when he realized his potential to qualify for a championship event.
Thomas said he went to the driving range more often, hit a few buckets of balls and tailored his gym workouts toward golf before attending another local qualifier in Nevada in June.
He took fourth to advance to the regional qualifying round, and is ready to take on the world in September.
“Last week was the proper stepping stone to get there,” Thomas said.
He said he works a lot on strength, flexibility and balance. Long drive swings are different than a normal golf swing.
His driver has a longer shaft than usual and a 4-degree loft — typical drivers are closer to 10 degrees — which makes the ball harder to hit straight. But, ideally that gives him more speed.
Thomas said he focuses a lot of energy on staying within the grid in competition venues — it’s the only way to score.
“It’s not a thing of luck, it’s really about getting something consistent going,” Thomas said.
Thomas played some for River Ridge during high school, but said he was, for the most part, a bogey golfer. He still is now, he said. Long drive is more his style.
The longest shot of his career so far is 425 yards. That’s longer than almost every drive a PGA Tour golfer has hit this year.
Only Dustin Johnson, who ripped a 428-yard drive at the SBS Tournament of Champions in January in Hawaii, has hit a longer drive than Thomas this year.
“I enjoy this more because it’s more upbeat and more hyped,” Thomas said. “Regular golf is serene and peaceful — and I like that, too — but this is more my speed. It gets rowdy.”
Thomas will compete in the “Bash for Cash” tour event in Canada beginning Friday, among some of the world’s longest hitters.
Then, he’ll work on preparing for the championship.
“I’ll put together and dial in on a training routine to sharpen up, and try to peak in September,” he said.
Lauren Smith: 360-754-5473, @smithlm12