MESQUITE, Nevada — Layton’s Ryan Reisbeck walked around the back of “the grid” staging area Tuesday with a nervous gait, anticipation building, his adrenaline rising as the defending champion of the Clash in the Canyon. It was the first of five nationally televised long-drive events on the Golf Channel.
Reisbeck, who went to Davis High and pitched for Salt Lake Community College and the University of Utah, got eight balls and had three minutes to try to best his quarterfinal opponent Nick Kiefer, who’d launched a drive just under 396 yards in the 98-degree desert heat.
Reisbeck, a 6-foot-4, 270-pound insurance salesman, needed just one ball off the tee to do it.
Using a syrupy slow takeaway, he cleared his hips, got to the top, and delivered a powerful blast that drew left down the grid, toyed with the sideline on the roll, and finished at 423 yards, the best of any competitor to that point. One and done to the semifinals.
Unfortunately for Reisbeck, he could not beat his old nemesis and former world champion Will Hogue in the semis, with Hogue going on to win it all with a 426-yard drive in the finals. Reisbeck kept getting too much spin on his ball when it counted, hitting high risers that landed and didn’t roll out.
This is a competition in which Reisbeck has excelled. He’s made six figures plus travel expenses through sponsors; a life that’s taken him all over the country and as far away as Dubai, Mexico and Portugal.
Reisbeck never imagined he’d be doing this when he was just a duffer out with friends at Davis Park in 2010. He’d been hitting a knockoff driver his dad gave him from Kmart when his buddy, Eric Ratcliffe, said, "Hey, hit this." It was a TaylorMade Burner.
Reisbeck teed it up on No. 18, a short par 4, and knocked it left past the No. 9 green and by the No. 1 tee box. Everyone wondered how far he’d hit it. They guessed 385 yards. In the clubhouse, it just so happened that a World Long Drive event was on the TV, and Jerimie Montgomery, the announcers said, had hit the ball 380 yards. “Hey, you hit it further than he did,” said buddy Paul Tidwell.
Within a week, Reisbeck was headed to Albuquerque, New Mexico, hoping to qualify for a long-drive event. He finished second. Since then, he’s won many local and regional events, including this one in Mesquite in 2017. He has specialized drivers with quadruple stiff shafts and 4-degree lofts.
I asked Reisbeck how a high handicapper could hit drives farther. His advice made sense.
First of all, long-drive competitors have a different approach than professional golfers. Long-drive guys swing as hard as they can with little attention to direction, within reason. PGA Tour players must keep the ball on or near the fairway or they can’t score.
For instance, Reisbeck has a clubhead speed of 155 miles per hour with a ball speed as high as 218 miles an hour. A check with Boyd Summerhays, swing coach for both Tony Finau and Daniel Summerhays, said Finau’s normal swing speed is 124 with a max of 130. His brother Daniel’s normal swing speed is 112 with a max of 117. For long-drive guys, it’s about speed.
Finau is the No. 2 distance driver on the PGA Tour at 317 yards, but he only swings easy for control and likes to hit a controllable fade.
Reisbeck said golfers are taught to swing easy but that doesn’t cut it in his sport. In World Long Drive competitions, you have to almost bust a blood vessel in your neck.
“When you go to the driving range and hit balls, save some for the end and swing at them as hard as you can," Reisbeck said. "What you are doing is pushing the limits of what is normal to a higher swing speed, making your range higher, stretching yourself. The new ceiling becomes easier to get to if you extend your swing speed by practicing it.
“You have to swing fast,” he continued. “Everyone laughs when I say that, but you have to create swing speed and your body has to move fast. Every part of your body has to work fast.”
Second, nobody can get the most out of a driver unless they hit the ball on the sweet spot. “You see us check the face of our clubs to see where we made contact," Reisbeck explained. "You have to hit the ball on the center of the face.”
Reisbeck also said flexibility and a good warmup is key. As a baseball player, he never threw a pitch unless he’d warmed up to the point of breaking into a sweat. By warming up, muscles, tendons, timing and the body can maximize movement.
Regardless, Reisbeck failed to defend his title this week in Mesquite. He is a phenomenal driver of the ball. He’s worked himself into the elite in the World Long Drive Association and stands alongside the best. He did so here.
He paints himself as an average golfer. But a long driver doesn’t have to be a single-digit handicap golfer. It is all about talent, strength and speed. Most are former collegiate or professional baseball players who’ve worked their whole lives creating hand-eye coordination.
Clash in the Canyon is staged at a giant sports complex in Mesquite that participant Mark Costello, Reisbeck and others claim is the best facility on the circuit.
“It isn’t even close,” said Costello. “This is by far the best stop we have, from warmup area to the grid and I just love this area,” said the native of Pittsburgh, who now lives in Houston.