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Golf’s longest hitter is driving straight to the hole

September 19, 1997

DENVER (AP) _ When Jack Hamm boasts that he’s banned from most driving ranges, your first reaction might be to roll your eyes.

But then he unleashes a towering 8-iron shot that sails high over a 50-foot fence about 250 yards away.

To borrow one of Hamm’s favorite phrases, this is a true story.

Hamm, according to Guinness Book of Records, holds the record for the world’s longest golf drive, 473 yards.

Hitting for distance is not just a passion, but a business.

Drawing on his degree in engineering, Hamm, 45, founded Longball Sports Inc. in 1986.

Longball makes the Air Hammer, a $250 metal driver that has six holes through the face and a hole in the back to let air pass through the head. That means less wind resistance and higher club-head speed. And higher club speed means longer drives.

Thanks to an infomercial and word of mouth, Longball, which also makes putters and wedges, did about $5 million in sales last year. Hamm expects to double or triple that this year.

``What is the thrill for a golfer that brings him back? It’s hitting the long ball,″ Hamm says. ``You don’t come back for the putting. When you go play a round of golf and you hit that shot on No. 6 300 yards, that’s why you come back. You don’t think about when you made a 6-foot putt.″

However, the United States Golf Association refuses to certify the Air Hammer, barring it from official events.

``You cannot have holes through the face of the club,″ says John Mutch, manager of equipment standards for the USGA.

Hamm doesn’t mind that. ``The average golfer doesn’t care if the club is legal″ is his standard response.

Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan met Hamm a couple of years ago while beating balls at a driving range. Hamm gave him an Air Hammer to try out.

``I like the club, but when you play in tournaments you can’t use it,″ Shanahan says. ``But it does hit the ball further.″

(Hamm, at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, hit the 473-yard record drive with a legal, USGA-approved club he calls the Jackhammer at a driving range near Denver.)

So why is a guy who can hit the ball from here to the Mir peddling non-USGA- sanctioned golf clubs instead of winning millions on the PGA Tour?

His short game, for one thing.

Another true story, Hamm says: He played a round at Inverness Golf Club a few years back and shot a 2-over-par 74, with an embarrassing 43 putts.

``I’d get the ball up on the green and then play croquet with it _ back and forth, back and forth,″ he says.

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