Burlington’s Fareen Samji and Stephen Lowe major contributors in long ball drive competition.

November 27, 2013

By Staff

BURLINGTON, ON. You know the feeling when you hit a great drive, that smooth effortless “ping” sound of the ball hitting the centre of the club face and it felt so easy.  Well there is nothing effortless in the world of long drive. These hitters put everything they have into each drive and live for the thrill of the long ball, searching for that rush of hitting a 400 yard drive. Some call the world of long drive the extreme of golf and with music blaring as hitters blast drives the conventional notion of “quiet please on the tee” is counter productive to the adrenaline wave the hitters are riding.

Fareen Samji  experiencing the smooth effortless “ping” sound of the ball hitting the centre of the club face.

A contingent of 40 long drivers from all over the world including USA and South Africa descended upon Mazatlan, Mexico for the 2013 ILDC International long drive championships at the Marina Mazatlan golf course. Burlington residents Fareen Samji and Stephen Lowe were part of the contingent of Team Canada hitters. Samji, 39 and a Pedorthist at Burlington Orthotic Centre in the current ILDC Canadian women’s champion and Lowe, 46 a sales manager with PPG paints is the current ILDC Canadian Senior men’s champion.

Not many driving ranges can accommodate the length of these hitters so the hitting “grid” was the 18th hole, a relatively flat 420 yard long by 49 yard wide fairway marked up like a football field.

The hitters competed in the individual events (men’s, women’s and seniors ) as well as a team event. “In a traditionally solo sport, the team element makes this championship truly unique” say directors of the ILDC, Rick Benoit and Bill Stark. “Long drive is intense and action packed and delivers that element of awesome that every golfer searches for when hitting a drive,” says Gerhart Cotzee, captain of Team South Africa who brought a strong contingent with them to Mazatlan.

In the individual event, 2012 World Champion, Ryan Winther of the US awed the crowd with drives of 394 yards beating Niilo Schonfeld, of Toronto and Henry Roodt of South Africa won out over Bill Stark from Port Rowan, Ontario. In the women’s event current women’s World Champion Heather LeMaster of the US defeated Fareen Samji of Burlington, ON in the women’s final by 4 yards. “Losing is never fun, but being able to keep pace with the world champion and coming short by 4 yards makes me very proud. I hit the ball really well all week, and had a few equipment changes just prior to going down to Mexico and it paid off big time, “says Samji.

But the story of the week belonged to Team Canada in the Team Finals. Each team comprises of 5 hitters. Three men hit first, then the women hit against each other and then one senior hitter rounds out the team. Team Canada hitters were Ryan Hawkins (captain ) of Woodville, Chris Mason, Etobicoke, Nilo Schonfeld, Toronto, Jason Davies , London (alternate) Fareen Samji and Stephen Lowe of Burlington. Each hitter hits a set of 6 balls and the longest ball that comes to rest inside the 49 yard wide grid is counted. The team score is the cumulative total of the longest ball of the five hitters.

The US team were favourites to win with their key hitters being current REMAX women’s World Champion Heather LeMaster and 2012 men’s world champion Ryan Winther both of whom had won their individual titles earlier in the day.  However, Team Canada showed focus and grit as they hit their way to the championships. Due to the double knockout format of the tournament, Team Canada had to beat Team USA twice in the championship round as the US Team had advanced to the finals undefeated. Team Canada had suffered a loss at the hands of the Americans in the preliminary rounds by a margin of 6 feet. “Losing by 6 feet after a total of five hitters really hurt and we wanted another shot at them” said Stephen Lowe of Burlington and current ILDC Canadian senior men’s champion.

Stephen Lowe, Ryan Hawkins ( captain ), Fareen Samji, Jason Davies, Nilo Schonfeld, Chris Mason drove the long ball to win the International Long Ball Championships in Mexico.

But the road was not smooth for Team Canada. Team captain Ryan Hawkins and the current ILDC Men’s champion suffered a neck injury on the range and had to withdraw after the third round. Alternate, Jason Davies of London, Ontario stepped in as a substitute. “I’m an athlete and we always push through the pain” said Hawkins, a firefighter in Georgina, On. “But I had to do what’s best for the team and I knew that Jason could step up at any given time and get the job done.” Davies, a seasoned athlete, London Knights and Western Mustang alumni was ready for the challenge. “Once the first ball flew off the club perfectly I relaxed and got into my groove.” Davies answered the call handsomely and delivered incredible 350 yard drives under pressure.

“Knowing we had to beat Team USA twice was stressful, but we were pumped up and knew we had it in us. They had only beaten us by 6 feet the first time and we wanted it more than they did” said Chris Mason of Etobicoke, On. Mason. “Chris was on fire and we have such a good camaraderie that he helped push me to find my best swing” said Nilo Schonfeld of Toronto as he delivered blistering drives of 369 yards. “Nilo’s job was to stay close to Winther and he was clutch for us all week. He stayed calm and consistent in every round and peaked at the finals,” says Team captain Hawkins.

When the women went up against each other it was Burlington’s Fareen Samji who shined in the first final with a 295 yard drive out hitting current world champion Heather LeMaster. Samji had earlier finished second in the women’s final after losing to LeMaster by 4 yards. “I wanted another chance to hit against her and I got it. You don’t get to hit against a world champion many times and I was stoked. I was pumped up and full of adrenaline and totally focused. It felt really really good to win,” says Samji.

Ultimately, anchor hitter, Burlington’s Stephen Lowe sealed the deal as he hit the final ball to win the championship.


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