Calgary golfer uses her powerful swing to launch career
“No, little missy, the ladies tees are up there,” said the starter at the famous first hole of Pebble Beach Golf Club, as he pointed toward the front tee box.
Lisa Vlooswyk, or Lisa Longball as she’s better known, gave a little smirk to the starter. “But my handicap indicates I should play from the blues,” said the friendly Vlooswyk, who was excited to be playing the legendary track for the first time in 2002.
“Oh no no no no no no no no, all ladies need to play from the ladies tees,” responded the starter.
After some exchanged words Vlooswyk managed to get her way, and waited patiently for the group in front of her to clear the fairway. The group in front of her included legend and four-time Masters Champion Arnold Palmer.
The starter walked over again, “Okay, hit away.”
“But they’re actually still in my range,” said Vlooswyk, not wanting to take a chance of hitting the ball into the group of one of golf’s all time greats.
“I don’t think so,” said the starter, who by now had steam coming out of his ears looking down at Vlooswyk’s five-wood, not thinking she could hit it past the drive Palmer hit just moments before.
The starter shook his head, thinking that a women playing a tee box nearly 2,000 yards longer than the one he suggested would slow play down to a standstill. Vlooswyk’s husband, Anton, silently stood behind her, but had a sly smile on his face knowing what was about to unfold. The fairway was now clear.
Photo courtesy of Lisa Vlooswyk
From the blue men’s tee box Vlooswyk teed it up and let out an anxious breath. She stood above the ball, shaking nervously knowing how embarrassing it would look if she didn’t perform during this moment, but then she unleashed her weapon, her vicious awe inspiring swing.
The starter watched with his mouth wide open as the ball penetrated the heavy California air, landing where the group in front had been standing just moments earlier.
There was a pause,”Okay, don’t hit it into Mr. Palmer,” said the starter, in shock over what he just witnessed.
This is the norm for Calgary-born Vlooswyk, who now 40, demoralizes her male playing partners during casual rounds when she hits the ball 25 yards past them.
“My husband and I usually get paired with two people and typically it’s two guys and I get what I call “the look” and the guys look so disappointed they got paired with a chick,” said Vlooswyk in a recent telephone interview.
Her tee shot would make even Happy Gilmore proud. “I’ll play the tips or wherever the guys are and they give me the double take when I step up there. They either ask me a million questions or walk down the other side of the fairway.”
However, wowing weekend golfers isn’t the primary way in which Vlooswyk utilizes her gift. She has been hearing the “oohs” and “ahs” from spectators at tournaments and long drive championships since she discovered her ability to hit the golf ball past any woman in Canada 15 years ago. Since then, she has built a solid career revolving around her long drive caliber swing.
Photo courtesy of Lisa VlooswykWhen Vlooswyk and other long drive competitors get down to business the rules are simple, each competitor gets six shots and the longest drive that lands within the 70-yard wide grid counts. The woman to hit the longest ball at the national championship final takes home a cool $8,000.
Since 2004, Vlooswyk holds the Canadian women’s record for longest drive, a daunting 350 yards — which is the length of three and a half football fields. To put that into perspective, last season Bubba Watson (the longest driver on the PGA tour for the year) averaged 314 yards per drive.
You may be asking the question, how does this woman who is just a shade under 5-7 hit the ball further than men quite taller and bigger than her? Vlooswyk’s swing coach, Paul Horton, said that it’s all about her athleticism.
“She’s athletic and has good balance helped by her gymnastics background,” said Horton, who also coaches PGA Tour player Stephen Ames. “She does a good job loading energy into her right side during her backswing almost like a little squat into her right leg. But the most impressive aspect is how she uses the ground to push off and up from as she moves freely through impact.”
This swing has led Vlooswyk to seven Canadian long drive championships and two second place finishes on the world stage, ranking her fourth in the entire world.
Vlooswyk said that her life revolved around adventure and trying new things. For the average person this could mean joining a local club, or maybe traveling to exciting places the world has to offer. However, for Vlooswyk in 2001 it meant quitting her full-time job as an elementary school teacher that she sat in comfortably for four years, all to pursue her dream of competing in long drive competitions.
“I snuck into my first Alberta Amateur and I was beating top NCAA girls by 70-80 yards so I started competing in long drive championships,” said Vlooswyk. “When I started competing and traveling I realized I couldn’t teach full-time and try to win the world championship so I had to make a really tough decision.”
It ended up working out for Vlooswyk, who won her first long drive competition in 2001 with a 313-yard long drive — hit with a driver purchased from the local Costco.
Vlooswyk has come a long way since then, living by her motto of trying new things that scare and challenge her she’s considered every opportunity that has come her way.
Golf celebrity, journalist, author, keynote speaker, golf school instructor, wife, and mother are all titles that the bubbly and friendly Calgarian has next to her name today. While some people may have trouble doing any one of these things, Vlooswyk balances them all with a smile on her face.
“Someone had asked me to come out to their event to hit balls and it hadn’t even dawned on me I hadn’t thought of that as something to do for a career,” said Vlooswyk. “Now I do 48-50 a year and when I was doing one of those events someone said ‘Lisa I would love for you to be our keynote speaker,’ and I said gosh I’ve never done that before.”
Photo courtesy of Long Drivers of America
“That’s how I got into doing corporate outings and the keynote speaking and it was just from demand I had so many people at my outings asking if I taught so I started my own golf school.”
These commitments added to her grueling training and practice régime equates to a jam-packed day-timer, proven by the itinerary of one of Vlooswyk’s “average days.”
“I typically get up at five in the morning and work out before anyone else is up, I get my little guy off to school for the day and I devote a portion of the day to try to do computer work, writing or returning emails or organizing my golf school or hitting balls,” explained Vooswyk, whose golf school is now reaching outside of Canadian borders. “I try to mix family time with that, so I’ll go to the range with my son and husband and then be a hockey mom on the weekends.”
In Calgary Vlooswyk’s golf school is based out of Heritage Pointe Golf Club, Vlooswyk’s home track. She offers amateur golfers the opportunity to get a group together, and for an entire day, get lessons from PGA Tour qualified professionals as well as tips and tricks from Vlooswyk herself.
Now where does the self-proclaimed graciously proud Calgarian go from here? On top of continued training in an attempt to capture the elusive world champion title, Vlooswyk is planning on using her platform for a greater cause.
“I’m doing my first Lisa Longball charity golf tournament this summer at Bear Creek Golf Course in Grand Prairie,” said Vlooswyk, who’s hosting the tournament July 15 and 16. “It’ll be raising money for Special Olympics. I think part of what I want to do in the future is making sure I give back.”
“Special Olympics is always something that is near and dear to my heart because sport has been such a gift in my life.”
Vlooswyk will attempt to capture the 2015 world title crown September 9-14, 2015 in Mesquite, NV.
“I think if I could say anything to anyone, if you want to really challenge yourself or get better you’ve got to do things that scare you and do things you’ve never done,” said Vlooswyk. “You could fall flat on your face or it can go incredibly well and change your path and that’s what it did for me.”