Long Drivers of America: The bash brothers of golf

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SAN MARTIN, CALIF. (AP) - The passion for Aaron Mansfield became a pain for some Pennsylvania farmers.

Mansfield, one of the eight finalists for the World Long Drive Championship, found the perfect spot to practicing launching tee shots. The range went 250 yards down a slope, then up a hill for about 50 yards until it reached a row of tall trees. A drive would have to travel 340 yards in the air to leave the property.

That was no problem for Mansfield _ but it was for the farmers.

“They had to go through the fields to pick up golf balls so they didn’t get in the bales of hay,” Mansfield said.

The next stage will have a little more glitter.

Mansfield and seven others will compete on a makeshift grid at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. They each get six drives, and the longest shot that stays within the 50-yard wide grid claims the winner-take-all prize of $250,000.

Golf Channel is televising the final round live on Oct. 31, and then NBC Sports will have a 60-minute special in December. It will be the first time the World Long Drive Championship is seen on network television. Indeed, it has come a long way.

For competitors like Mansfield, the stage could lead to even great opportunities.

To watch these guys hit 400-yard drives _ a swing speed of 150 mph with 48-inch drivers _ is a spectacle. Whatever they earn in long drive competitions is nowhere near what they can get in corporate outings and clinics.

Jamie Sadlowski, perhaps the most famous of this current crop of bashers, does some 40 outings a year. Golf Channel has been highlighting the Long Drivers of America in October, and it invited Sadlowski and Mansfield to the Frys.com Open to play the pro-am with Peter Jacobsen.

Jacobsen caught one drive flush on the par-5 12th hole and admired his shot when he reached it in the fairway _ a few feet beyond where Sadlowski hit it.

“A big moment in my career,” Jacobsen said. “My driver got past his 4-iron.”

Sadlowski and Mansfield had to hit 4-iron off the tee because of a creek that crossed the fairway. Mansfield looked at the yardage book and saw the creek was 380 yards away from the tee. “The puke zone,” he called it, because that’s how far they typically fly the ball, and they had to decide whether they had enough distance to cover the water.

Sick, indeed.

One of Sadlowski’s outings was in 2011 at Kapalua, when a tee was set up in the fairway of the 630-yard closing hole on the Plantation Course. He competed against Bubba Watson to hit tee shots toward the 18th green more than 400 yards away.

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