Hixson successfully defends Military Long Drive title
November 3, 2009
MESQUITE, Nev. -- Coast Guard Ensign Ryan Hixson defeated Army Reserve Pfc. Nate Chadwick Oct. 28 to win his third Military Long Drive Championship.
Chadwick took the lead with a 335-yard drive on his last shot in the final pairing, setting the stage for Hixson's dramatic 343-yard walk-off blast into a strong headwind that secured his third consecutive triumph in the Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation event, presented by 7UP.
"That was the most emotion I've ever shown on a tee box," said Hixson, 27, who pumped his fists into the air and screamed at the crowd after completing the mission. "It was special, being the third time and coming down to the very end - I had to hit a really good ball, and was able to do it," Hixson said. "Man, I'm still excited."
After failing to keep his first five balls on the grid in the final showdown against Hixson, Chadwick's last shot came to rest about 5 yards inside the left sideline and 335 yards from the tee, surpassing Hixson's longest previous drive in the finals: 321 yards.
Chadwick, who thought the ball was headed out of bounds, turned around, tipped his cap to the crowd, and headed to congratulate Hixson, who pointed out that the shot was good while the audience roared its approval.
"Those last five minutes were such a roller-coaster," said Chadwick, 25, of Milwaukee. "I went from hitting my first three out-of-bounds and seeing Ryan put up a decent number - 321 - then coming back and putting what I thought were the next three out of bounds. I was walking over to shake Ryan's hand and say thank you to the crowd and I just saw Ryan running at me and pointing at the screen, saying: 'It's in!'
"You talk about going from a complete low to just the highest of highs. It was unbelievable," Chadwick said.
At that point, Hixson knew he had more work to do.
"I saw it was going past 321, and I was on a beeline for my driver," Hixson said of Chadwick's final drive. "I knew what I had to do. I try not to get caught up in what the other guys do and what they hit. All I can control is how I hit the ball, and that's all that was going through my mind," Hixson said.
He hooked his fourth ball wide left and was down to his final two before launching the $10,000 winner. "I hit that thing as good as I can hit a ball - dead straight," he said.
Chadwick, who has competed twice in the open division of the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship, could only stand back and watch.
"I knew Ryan had it in his bag," he said. "When he came up to play I said: 'It's not over; this kid can just blow it right by me.' I was just sitting there counting bullets. I dodged one, then he just smoked one down the right side and he deserves all the credit in the world."
Throughout the competition, 20- to 23-mile-per-hour winds steadily blew into the golfers' faces and pushed balls right to left on the grid, where the wind-chill factor hovered around 40 degrees.
"Of course, I wish the players had better conditions to hit in, but they all had a great attitude about it,Aca,!A? said Art Sellinger, president and founder of the Long Drivers of America. Aca,!A"TheyAca,!a,,cre all great sportsmen, and I think the best guy won. Nate Chadwick was awesome Aca,!" great last shot: 335 into that wind. As a person who runs this event and a person who has won a couple events in my life, 335 and 343 respectively on this grid in the sunshine are 390 to 400-yard drives, easy. These guys are really the real deal.Aca,!A?
Sellinger was even more impressed by how Hixson handled the pressure at the Mesquite Sports and Event Complex.
"I had a feeling about Ryan the whole night, but then when I saw 335, I thought: 'That's a big ball, right there. I just don't know if he has that.' The most impressive thing to me about Ryan tonight was I don't know if Ryan thought that he had it won. If Ryan thought that he had it done, and then all of a sudden he had to go back out and hit again, that's an incredible thing to have to recover."
Chadwick, who flaunted his Milwaukee roots by playing in short sleeves, toyed with the audience for being all bundled up in layers and seemed both comfortable and confident on the tee box.
"These finals were a perfect setup," Chadwick said. "Ryan plays a nice draw and I play a power fade, so it was a match-up of which style was going to come out on top. We were the two biggest hitters all day, and we knew it. Obviously, Ryan hit one perfect down the right side and the wind took it back, and he's the champ once again."
Hixson earned the top-seeded spot in the six-man finals earlier in the day with a 342-yard drive on his final ball in the second round of qualifying.
Army Sgt. Brian Webb of Fort Eustis, Va., was seeded third and posted a best drive of 293 yards in the finals. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Kenneth Leonard of Fort Lewis, Wash., was seeded fourth and drove the ball 277 yards. Army Staff Sgt. Jake Taylor of Fort Bragg, N.C., was seeded fifth and finished with a 312-yard blast.
Army Staff Sgt. Tafuna Oney of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, rounded out the finalists. Perhaps the most consistent swinger in the preliminaries, his longest drive in the finals was 320 yards.
"This was probably one of the best experiences of my life," Chadwick said. "It just doesn't get any better than this. From the way Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group has taken care of us all week to the Long Drivers of America putting on a show for us and all the credit they give us is unbelievable. There's nothing like it. I just want to thank all the sponsors."
"Army MWR does great things for our troops all over the world," Sellinger said. "I've seen it live and in action. I'm so glad that we have it for our sport, so glad 7UP steps up, and we have a great event. I'm very proud of this relationship."
"These guys are starting their own tradition like we did in 1995 with the RE/MAX World Long Drive. They've already got their own highlight videos and the highlights keep coming."
As defending champion, Hixson had earned a bye into the RE/MAX World Long Drive preliminaries the day after the military competition.
"Ryan Hixson is doing what (five-time RE/MAX World Long Drive champion) Jason Zuback did out of the gate in 1996, 97, 98 and 99, so he has set the bar," Sellinger said.
Hixson, who married and completed Officer Candidate School since winning last year, hopes his success will help raise awareness of the Coast Guard's relevance among America's Armed Forces.
"Hopefully, some people who are on the fence of wanting to enlist or go to OCS or whatever the case may be, will say, 'Hey, this guy's in the Coast Guard and he's got opportunities to do things like this. Maybe I can have that opportunity.' Just because you're in the military doesn't mean you're going to go to the desert. There are a lot of other opportunities and things to be done."
Hixson survived the first day of eliminations in the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship the next day, but was eliminated before the Friday night finals.
He vowed to return next year for another opportunity in the desert- and whether or not he qualifies for another shot at the military event, his win this year earns him another bye into the 2010 Open Division event.
Chadwick plans to meet him there.
"I'll definitely be back next year," he said.