Cowboy State Daily broke the news two weeks ago that a new world record longest golf drive was set in Rawlins, Wyoming, by Kyle Berkshire.
As the 2023 World Long Drive Championship kicks off in Atlanta this week, here’s more about the guy who smashed a golf ball nearly 580 yards Oct. 2 and the specialized niche sport he competes in.
And also why he is sure to be back in Wyoming to try for another world record.
Links Legend, Humble Beginning
“How’s your short game,” we chided Berkshire with a first question zinger.
“It’s pretty long,” he snapped back. Not his first rodeo.
“Actually, it’s probably a lot better than most people realize,” the 26-year-old told Cowboy State Daily. “I played Division I golf. As a sophomore, when I made the switch, I felt like a had a good chance to make the tour, but it would take four or five years of grinding. I wasn’t by any means a standout but I was a solid player.”
Inconsistency plagues most young golfers and Berkshire was no different. He was streaky good or slumping bad. But his college coach, Brad Stracke, noted one thing Berkshire could do that no one else on the team could. Or anyone the coach had ever seen, for that matter.
First, Berkshire broke the school’s simulator screen. Then he soared a 3-iron long over a 275-yard hole at practice. Coach put the Trackman (analytics measuring device) on Berkshire and was stunned.
“The numbers you are hitting — 205 mph ball speed — I’ve never seen anyone hit numbers like that,” Stracke told his young student athlete.
These days, everything about a golfer’s swing is analyzed. Ball speed is the rate of speed a golf ball is traveling when it first leaves the club. Berkshire’s 205 mph put him in rarified air. Professional golfers on the PGA Tour don’t usually crack 180 mph.
To give an example: Bryson DeChambeau, who competes on the PGA Tour and in long drive competitions, owns the tour’s highest ball speed by far at 191.5 mph.
When coaches suggested Berkshire redshirt his upcoming junior year and concentrate full time on long driving, Berkshire took the opportunity and ran with it. He entered himself in a qualifier in March 2017, not quite sure what to expect.
In the championships that year, the low-ranked and unknown Berkshire knocked off a few highly ranked players before bowing out in the semis.
“I came close. I knew then I belonged and I could win this,” Berkshire said.
Putting In The Work
Berkshire went pro, dedicating himself entirely to long drive competition. To watch the longhaired “Viking” brutally smash a golf ball, one would not immediately recognize the commitment it entails.
He worked with highly touted golf instructor Bernie Najar to dial in his swing (which any analyst now will admit is nearly flawless). He enlisted the world’s premiere sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella (so much of the golf game is mental) to help get his mind right.
When it came to hitting longer, farther, Berkshire tapped ex-Army ballistics expert Bobby Peterson, who knows the ins and outs of things like aerodynamics, altitude, air density, ball speed/spin and wind direction. With all his knowledge, Peterson’s longest drive is 412 yards. All Peterson’s knowledge packed into Berkshire’s 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame, the result is, so far, a record 579 yards from the tee.
By the time the 2019 championships came along, Berkshire was the odds-on favorite. He did not disappoint.
“It was a tough grind. In those seven days I probably hit 2,500 balls,” Berkshire said.
His conditioning and speed training help Berkshire’s stamina to the point he can hit 75 balls, grunting in effort, and is just warming up.
“When I broke the previous speed record at 239.7 mph, I did that on the 216th ball I hit that session,” Berkshire said. He since broke that record with a 241.6 mph drive into a net at Rawlins two weeks ago.
Berkshire won the 2019 World Championships. He did it again in 2021. For the past four years, Berkshire has been the guy to beat, ranked No. 1 in long-drive golf.
It meant forgoing his dream of playing on the PGA Tour. He made a half-hearted attempt to get his card in 2021. But ultimately said thinks he made the right decision.
“I’ve been given a great gift and it wouldn’t be right not to use it to the best of my abilities,” Berkshire said. “I became the best in the world, and I built a brand off it. And I love it.”
Introduction To Wyoming
Thin air, wind — what’s not to love about Wyoming if you are looking to hit a golf ball a long way?
Originally in 2020, Berkshire was just looking to play a few of America’s most iconic courses while the long-drive tour was in COVID-19 lockdown. Capitalizing on his notoriety and looking for a side hustle, Berkshire built a social media following by filming himself playing golf at various courses.
On his way across the country, Berkshire played Firestone Country Club in Ohio, Erin Hills and Whistling Straits in Wisconsin and Cog Hill Golf & Country Club in Illinois.
“I heard through the grapevine that there was this crazy long course in Wyoming, and I thought, ‘I’ll keep it in the back of my mind,’” Berkshire said.
Then, one day while driving through Wyoming on his way to play a weeklong invite at Bandon Dunes in California, Berkshire remembered someone saying this Wyoming course was right off the interstate.
“It was about 7 p.m., the sun was setting but there was still light out. I was on I-80, and remembered I should just keep an eye out,” Berkshire recalled. “At one point I looked over to my right and saw a golf course and thought, ‘That must be it.’
“But I kept driving and eventually glanced back over again, like, a minute later. I’m doing 80 mph and I still see the golf course, and I think, ‘This thing must be humungous.’”
Berkshire pulled off the next exit, phoned his mom to try and set up a tee time at Rochelle Ranch Golf Course the following morning. At 7,925 yards from the tips and 6,800 feet above sea level, Rochelle Ranch plays really big. Berkshire remembers hitting a 450-yard drive with a regular driver on the 14th hole. He wasn’t even swinging hard.
“That’s when I knew this was going to happen,” he said. “This was where I was going to try for a record because I couldn’t believe the distance I got off it.
“I thought, ‘I'm going to hit the longest drive in the history of golf right here at Rochelle someday.’”
Return To Wyoming For The Record
In mid-September, Berkshire said his team scrambled to pull off the record attempt Oct. 2, kickstarting Berkshire’s new YouTube group The Bombers Club. He had a tight window schedule-wise and hoped to squeeze a decent weather day out of central Wyoming in October.
Weather was not compliant. Ideal for optimal ball travel would be 85 degrees and sunny. What Berkshire got was 54 degrees and drizzling.
No matter. He was amped to hit a record shot.
The plan had been for Berkshire to play No. 14 as it lies, but the wind that day was a crosswind, bordering headwind. Instead, Berkshire teed it up on the 12th hole and from there would aim for the green on the 14th. It was to be an insane tee shot over two other holes (13 and 18) before Berkshire’s drive landed on the 14th fairway.
The record shot was officially a 579.6-yard drive. Berkshire said that was good, considering, but he has more in him on a better day.
“If it was 85 degrees, you could add another 25 yards to that. No question in my mind if we came back here on a day in summer where it was downwind on 14, I would probably hit it 630-640,” Berkshire said. “It’s not over. We’ll be back for another record.”
Long Drive Hits Different
What is long drive golf exactly and how does it differ from conventional golf?
For starters, the difference begins with the approach.
“Intentionality is a big difference. When I am doing my long drive swing, my intention is to hit it as far as possible,” Berkshire said. “Within certain parameters. I'm not just wailing away with no regard for accuracy. I’m still trying to hit a shot.”
When it comes to gear, obviously, in long-drive golf competitions, golfers need just one club in the bag. No need to be carrying that sand wedge or a putter. It’s Big Bertha or bust. The driver is all the club this elite group of duffers requires.
Differences show up immediately with the gear. Berkshire’s club head has a very low loft angle. Most amateur drivers are angled at about 10.5 degrees. That gives the tee shot spin and height.
Long drivers don’t want either of those things.
“You want the spin rate as low as you can get it, so you reduce loft angle of your club head. I use about 3 to 4 degrees loft, 5 at the most,” Berkshire said. “To get that height on a shot so you have carry, and my apex is about 230 feet, you tee it high and change your attack angle.”
Two other aspects of Berkshire’s gear are very different from the weekend golfer’s. Most strong hitters choose a 2x or 3x flex for their club shaft. This is a very stiff club shaft designed to reduce the amount of whip generated by a strong swinger.
Berkshire uses a regular flex, which means he is basically swinging a bull whip if you were able to see a super slow-motion of his swing. It also means he has to be incredibly accurate at the point of contact so that when he hits the ball it is at the exact point of “cracking the whip.”
“Just under 1/10th of 1 degree off can mean the difference in putting the ball in play or out of bounds when you are trying to hit a fairway at 500 yards,” Berkshire said.
It is a high risk, high reward setup. No margin for error.
“People think of this sport as a bunch of whack jobs who don’t have any control over what they’re doing, but when you are creating this kind of speed, even 60 yards wide at 420 is not very wide. You’ve got to be incredibly accurate,” Berkshire said.
Berkshire also uses the hardest balls he can find in an era where most every other golfer is looking for soft balls, which are more forgiving for a slight mishit. The sacrifice is distance.
Hard balls go farther, last longer.
“I use the Titleist Pro V1x Left Dash. It’s uniquely designed to have lower spin,” Berkshire said. He also uses Cobra heads exclusively. “Cobra has done really great for me.”
And Berkshire needs loyal sponsors.
“I’ve broken, compromised, flattened or deformed probably over 1,000 drivers in my career thus far. Probably broken, cracked or otherwise made unplayable at least several hundred golf balls,” he said. “Worn through at least a couple hundred grips down to the graphite. And I’ve gone through least 40-50 pairs of shoes.
“I can be hard on stuff. I'm an expensive athlete, so I appreciate my sponsors.”
What’s A Record?
And what exactly constitutes the world’s longest drive?
Various nefarious actors have laid claim to such, saying they hit a ball out the back of a C-130 while in flight, bounced one off the cart path and down a hill, or rocketed one down a concrete airport runway.
“For the definition of longest drive, period, I would say the best way to define it would be on an agronomic golf course designed for the purpose of playing golf,” Berkshire said. “I hit mine on a golf course, in golf conditions, conditions where you would feasibly be playing a round of golf.”
It's true, Berkshire’s record shot was not made while playing an existing hole. But when you are capable of driving a golf ball nearly a third of a mile, there are not many holes designed to contain that.
Berkshire goes into the 2023 World Long Drive championships as healthy and as prepared as he’s ever been. Last year, Berkshire broke his hand weeks prior to the 2022 WLD. He competed just 19 days after a surgery with six weeks recommended recovery time. Berkshire also had shoulder issues in 2021 that limited his swing.
This year, Berkshire heads to the Bobby Jones Golf Course in Atlanta as the top-ranked golfer in the Open Division. The tournament gets underway Tuesday, wrapping up Sunday with a televised event day of the finalists.