A long drive life: Gearhart continues golfing passions after stepping away

Ryan Gearhart tees off. (Photo Courtesy of Drake Dunaway)

Ryan Gearhart addresses a golf ball teed up four inches of the ground with his special neon tees.

The old, beaten up range ball at the Continental Country Club driving range in Flagstaff is about to be taken on a unique ride. Despite a small headwind, the white tent more than 380 yards away is in danger when the 42-year-old is on the range.

Mr. Gearhart started playing golf at the age of 7. He liked golf because his dad would let him drive the cart occasionally and he could take some rips with his driver.

“I wasn’t really concerned about score; just how hard I could hit the ball,” he said.

He has always been able to hit the ball a long way.

Mr. Gearhart grew up in Phoenix where he had a successful career at Horizon High School. He then went to Paradise Valley Community College, where he played for two years before turning pro.

It was during his time as a pro playing mini-tour golf, that playing partners told him he had what it took to compete in long drive contests. So, Mr. Gearhart decided to give it a shot.

His first event was nearly 20 years ago in Farmington, N.M. Mr. Gearhart won the event using a regulation driver while most of his competitors had specialized long drive drivers.

“I just kind of fell in love with it at that point,” Mr. Gearhart said.

Over the next five years, he competed all over the country in long drive events where he accumulated all types of wins and records.

In 2003, at the age of 27, Gearhart had a hole-in-one on a 412-yard par 4 in Boston. He then followed that up by breaking the long drive record with a 510-yard bomb during a competition in Denver.

That same year he was won rookie of the year on the long drive tour.

A few years later Mr. Gearhart’s life would change. His mother had been suffering from back pain and a trip to the hospital revealed tumors.

“In 2005, my mom died and I decided to walk away from the sport for a while,” Mr. Gearhart said. “I walked away for seven or eight years.”

He said his mother’s death made him rethink things.

“When my mom died it was a real eye opener,” he said. “Made me think a lot about what I wanted in life”

Ryan Gearhart coaching baseball. (Photo Courtesy of Drake Dunaway)

Mr. Gearhart wanted to start a family with his wife, and they had two kids. He wanted to be around and do things like coaching his son’s baseball team.

But, in 2013 the itch to compete returned.

“I wanted to just give it one more shot,” Mr. Gearhart. “I knew that would make my mom proud after she died.”

Closing in on 40 and being a lot smaller than some of his competitors, Mr. Gearhart spends more time in the gym than practicing his drives.

He trains frequently doing heavy lifts in the off-season and then high repetition lifts in season to build up his stamina.

Mike Frye, the director of instruction at Continental Country Club, practices with and trains Mr. Gearhart four or five times a week.

“He’s got explosive power. He’s able to load it really quickly,” Mr. Frye said.

Mr. Frye says Mr. Gearhart’s power is still right where it used to be.

“Compared to almost anybody I play with,” Mr. Frye said. “I hit it about as far as any guy on tour and compared to Ryan I probably am 70 to 80 yards shorter than he is.”

In 2013, in the first competition Mr. Gearhart competed in since leaving the sport, he won.

While Mr. Gearhart is not getting any younger, he still believes he can compete with anybody as long as he follows his own personal motto.

“My motto is every year I try to get better,” he said.

Until that’s not the case, Mr. Gearhart can be found competing and hitting golf balls further than most people can see.

Editor’s Note: Drake Dunaway is a student-journalist at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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