Only the golfers standing on Davis Park’s No. 1 tee could have seen any of this coming.
The ball that Ryan Reisbeck launched from the No. 18 tee with a borrowed driver, hooking to the left and bouncing past the clubhouse before ending up on the first tee box, sent him into the World Long Drive Association.
Reisbeck, a Layton resident and former University of Utah pitcher, is now the tour’s No. 2-ranked driver and among the favorites in this week’s Volvik World Long Drive Championship in Oklahoma.
“It’s just fun to see him take off with it,” said Eric Ratcliffe, who played with Reisbeck in the neighborhood tournament at Davis Park seven years ago and kept prodding him about competing. “He actually didn’t believe me; he had no idea that sport existed.”
That’s where coincidence started coming into play. After finishing the round, they went into the clubhouse, where the television was showing a long drive event that featured Jerimie Montgomery, a former Utah State golfer and State Amateur champion. Reisbeck watched for 45 minutes, mesmerized. “The wheels were just spinning inside of his head,” Ratcliffe said.
On the way home, they stopped at sod farm in west Layton, where Ratcliffe had Reisbeck blast some drives into a field. Reisbeck practiced later that week at Valley View in Layton, where Montgomery was doing a photo shoot for a sponsor. They chatted, and Montgomery lent him some equipment to use in a competition in Albuquerque, N.M.
And now Reisbeck, 39, is a professional driver, one of three jobs he undertakes as a husband and father of five children, along with insurance and real estate. He also makes about 10 corporate appearances annually, standing on a tee box as foursomes come through and hitting drives that inspire reactions of awe and disbelief.
“That never gets old,” Reisbeck said, during a recent outing at River Oaks in Sandy.
With a victory in Mesquite, Nev., and second-place finishes in tour stops in West Bountiful and Denver, Reisbeck has earned $38,750 this season – without factoring in travel expenses or sponsorships. His longest measured drive? The 485-yarder in Denver, where the Golf Channel cameras showed him waving at the ball, knowing he had blasted it.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Reisbeck trains more for flexibility than strength, and his swing lacks the ferocity you might expect. He stays balanced, while swinging as fast as anyone in the world but being conscious of hitting the ball squarely. And he’s always studying his swing.
Reisbeck was a starting pitcher for Salt Lake Community College and a reliever for Utah, where he once threw three wild pitches in a game against Air Force. Long drivers inevitably are erratic as well, but Reisbeck understands the value of keeping the ball inside a grid that’s between 40 and 55 yards wide.
With each round of competition requiring eight swings in three minutes (the longest drive inside the grid is measured) as music blares, making quick adjustments is critical in the bracketed, head-to-head format. “He understands when he’s not doing something right; ‘how do I fix that?’ ” said his coach, Bobby Peterson of the One Stop Power Shop.
And there’s a correlation between baseball and golf, beyond the competition aspect that Reisbeck enjoys in his second career. “The mechanics of throwing and the mechanics of swinging a golf club are actually pretty similar, a lot of the same technique principles apply,” he said.
The field in the World Championships is expanded beyond the usual touring contestants, with a $125,000 first prize offered to drivers from multiple continents. Golf Channel will televise the Tuesday and Wednesday rounds.