Dawson drives to local crown

Former Placer golfer aiming for ticket to world championships
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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The irony of a long-drive competitor learning to golf on a tiny pitch-and-putt course isn’t lost on Randall Dawson. In order to practice his specialized craft at Raspberry Hill, which his father Randy owns, Dawson must tee off from the fourth hole and launch his drives over the road and onto the driving range, which barely contains his shots when he’s firing at full strength. “I can’t use the driver here,” Dawson shrugged. “I tell people I play at Raspberry Hill and they scoff a little bit. I’ve got a special spot where I practice from, to keep from losing the balls.” Even though there is little use for his unique skill at Raspberry Hill, he’s honed his swing to the point where he is one step away from competing for the $150,000 top prize in the ReMax World Long Drive Championships. Dawson’s drive of 374 yards was the best mark at the NorCal Super Long Drive Qualifier in Pleasanton late last month. Competing in the open division, Dawson won the event one year after finishing fourth and just missing out on qualifying for regional competition. In an event that featured more than 80 competitors, Dawson’s drive was 17 yards farther than any other in the qualifier. He advanced to the regionals in Mesquite, Nev. on Aug. 20. Dawson played golf for coach Doug Stryker at Placer High. The 26-year-old remembers Stryker telling him often to put the driver down and practice his putting. Dawson stubbornly kept hitting his big club, which has changed since his days as a Hillman. He competes in the long-drive competitions with a 50-inch driver that features a custom club-head from his sponsor Geek Golf with a 6-degree loft. Standard drivers have a minimum of 8 degrees of loft. The pros on the PGA Tour produce club-head speeds of around 125 mph. Dawson’s club strikes the ball at around 140 mph. “It’s about whatever club-head speed, but you have to be able to hit it straight too,” Dawson said. “It’s a matter of swing speed and accuracy.” In the long drive competition, the participants are give 2 ½ minutes to hit six balls. They must keep the ball in the grid, which is 48 yards wide and the longest drive wins. Dawson was thrilled with his performance in Pleasanton after the disappointment of the 2009 competition. “Last year we were hitting into the wind with a softer ball,” Dawson said. “This year people were saying it was playing about 15 yards shorter and I was able to get the same number as last year and that was good enough to win.” Dawson can do more than grip it and rip it. When he was playing golf regularly he had a handicap of around 3. The 26-year-old who works in commercial real estate said his skills as a golfer help tremendously in the long-drive competitions, where accuracy goes hand in hand with power. “I’m a golfer first,” he said. “A lot of these guys were football players first.” The ultimate goal is a return to Mesquite for the World Finals on Oct. 27. It may take a monumental effort to come home with the world title, but Dawson is capable. His all-time best drive was a mammoth 418-yard bomb during a recreational round of play at DarkHorse. “I had a lob wedge onto the par-5 (green),” Dawson said. “That was kind of a fun play.”