By Ms. Elyssa Vondra (Jackson)May 9, 2019
The first World Long Drive Tour competition since 2010 that featured a military division, and the first-ever that was televised live, brought golf icons on-post May 5-7 for the Golf Channel broadcast of the event.
This is the first time since the network took over World Long Drive, which tests how far competitors can hit a golf ball, that there has been a bracket specifically for service members.
Retired, reserve and active duty troops from all branches of the military were eligible to test their skills in qualifying rounds earlier this spring. Winners earned a trip to the installation to compete.
Jake Taylor, a wounded warrior and retired Marine, with his service dog in tow, won Fort Jackson's Military Division qualifier March 30 with a 335-yard shot.
Though he didn't place first on Tuesday, he made it to the semifinal round, aired live on television.
Taking home cash prizes and seats in the Long Drive finals were Ryan Steenberg in the Open Division with a shot of 393 yards and Chloe Garner in the Women's Division at 304 yards.
Mikael Dubois won in the Military Division, representing the Air National Guard and hitting a drive of 326 yards.
"The nerves maybe helped (me succeed)," Dubois said. "My training was not very much." He said he flew all week, had to drill and then walked out onto the course for the win.
"It's such a great opportunity for the military to have this option again," said Mike McCoy, the all-Army golf manager. "(Golfers) get a spot on TV, the garrison gets to get exposed, and everybody kind of gets to see what we do here on an Army installation."
Last year, 8.3 million viewers tuned in to watch at least a portion of the World Long Drive telecasts throughout the season on Golf Channel, reportedly the event's largest audience on record.
The contest in 2019 was perhaps even more nail-biting.
Despite his sixth place Men's World Long Drive ranking, this year Columbia resident Justin Moose didn't move past the qualifying rounds May 6. At ninth, he was one place off from claiming a position in the final day's competitions.
"Everybody is so competitive," Moose said. "If you're not hitting your best ball, you're not moving on … It is homerun derby, NASCAR and golf, all rolled into one."
Steenberg, the men's division winner and a former collegiate linebacker, said that "having an athletic background helps" a player's golf game.
"I always played golf," Steenberg said. "My grandfather put the sticks in my hand young. I figured out I could hit (a golf ball) further than anybody around me."
Long Drive coverage wasn't just focused on the game. One famous television host helped bring life on the installation to light on-air before the cameras rolled on the course.
Emmy-nominated television star David Feherty flew in from Dallas to help.
Born in Northern Ireland, Feherty became a professional golfer in Europe at 18, later competing around the world for nearly two decades, earning 10 professional victories. He has been featured on CBS Sports and NBC Sports, written for Golf Magazine, and has published a number of best-selling books.
More than a decade ago, a traumatic vehicular injury ended his 19-year golf career, leading him to his new roles as golf analyst and volunteer for wounded warriors.
Veterans injured in combat "feel like they didn't complete the mission," Feherty said. "One minute they were fighting with their battle buddies, and the next minute you know they wake up from an induced coma."
Feherty co-founded an organization aimed at improving their wellbeing, earning the Outstanding Civilian Service Award, one of the highest honors a civilian can earn for public service, in 2012.
He was right at home on-post, helping put together a window into Basic Combat Training, interviewing Soldiers, eating at a Fort Jackson dining facility and working to film trainees practicing combatives and other training-related tasks to accompany the Long Drive telecast.