Every time the assistant coach on the East Tennessee State University women’s golf team pulls a club out of her bag, she has one goal in mind — to see how far she can hit the ball.
“Everyone wants to hit their driver,” says Garner, who has been competing on the World Long Drive Association tour for about a year. “They want to pull out their driver and see how far they can hit it. That’s really the fun part of golf and I feel it’s the more athletic side of the game.”
Garner has spent the past year making a name for herself by hitting golf balls really far. Her longest drive in competition has been 370 yards, the kind of distance most golfers can only dream about.
Garner made history on Tuesday, winning the “Clash in the Canyon” in Mesquite, Nevada. It was the first time a women’s long drive event had been televised live, and a worldwide Golf Channel audience watched Garner take top honors and the $7,000 prize.
“It was pretty crazy,” Garner said. “It was a lot of fun. My nerves were on high intensity.”
Garner, a South African, advanced to the World Championship last year, where she lost in the final to two-time world champion Phillis Meti by four yards on the final swing of the day.
Garner exacted a measure of revenge this week, beating Meti in the final with a drive of 342 yards.
“I thought I had it all wrapped up last year and she got me on the last ball,” Garner said. “She is one of the best and if I want to be the best, I have to compete against the best. I kind of want that title that I lost last year.”
Garner will get that chance Aug. 31-Sept. 6 when the Volvik World Long Drive Championship is held in Oklahoma.
The WLDA tour has 13 contests, three of which will be televised. The next TV event is July 22-25 in Denver. The World Championship will also be on Golf Channel.
Although she was considered a long hitter during her college career, which included two years at Texas A&M before she finished at ETSU, Garner’s long-driving career really didn’t take off until she started Cross Fit training. She also competes in that sport.
“I have added a ton of strength since my college days,” said Garner, who was a member of ETSU’s 2013 Atlantic Sun Conference champion team. “I just thought I wanted to give it a try to see if that added strength would add anything to my drives.
“Since I’ve started, I’ve added about 40 to 50 yards to my average distance.”
Garner said the key to hitting the ball far is to make her swing as wide and long as possible.
“A lot of the Tour players, they take it kind of straight up and cock the wrists real quick,” she said. “In long drive, you want your arms to be extended as much as possible and create as much torque in the lower body as you can.”
The players have to have some accuracy to go along with the incredible length. In order to count, a drive must come to rest in a grid that measures 60 yards wide.
“You’re trying to swing really hard, but at the same time you still have to get your timing down,” Garner said. “The longer you hit it, the bigger your misses are.”
So while Garner continues to excel with a golf club in her hand, she laughs when talking about other aspects of the game.
These days, she never has to make a putt.
“Just hitting the ball as far as I can really plays to my strength,” she said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”