It is hard to imagine how such a thin young man can hit a drive of nearly 400 metres, but this is not a hallucination. The person in question is José Antonio Quilis, who was born 21 years ago in the Málaga municipality of Alhaurín el Grande and, impressively, is European Long Drive champion. For those not yet familiar with this sporting discipline, it involves hitting a driver with all your soul and, above all else, plenty of technique, and trying to out-drive rivals who are determined to send their ball an even more stratospheric distance than yours.
This cheerful and slender young Andalucian (handicap-three, in fact) began playing golf at seven years of age with his father at Alhaurín Golf. He caught the bug and became an avid enthusiast. The years passed, the boy grew up, he moved to the United States for his high school studies, and he played on the school golf team, but he saw that his desired sporting results were not being fulfilled, so he decided to let the clubs rest for a while. He returned to Spain and, once again catching the bug, renewed his interest in golf. He was practising at the aforementioned Málaga course when a club member invited him to try a special driver that used for Long Drive competitions. "I hit it quite a long way and after that I got the taste and I was really excited about it,” he recalls.
His first Long Drive tournament was in Sweden in May last year: a European Championship where he finished 18th with a mark of 347 yards. His debut gave him "an impressive feeling".
This is how he defines it… “For me I see the Long Drive as something completely different from golf, something that gives you a lot of adrenaline. Until you experience it, it's kind of hard to describe."
A Long Drive championship is “great fun,” says Quilis, "because it's one on one and you interact a lot with the public; you play mental games with the other players." There are usually between 30 and 50 players, who compete in elimination matches against each other, in pairs established by draw. Each player hits eight balls in each game in a time limited to three minutes.
"It's something completely different to golf because you have music, you're interacting with the audience... it's much more active,” he explains.
It is striking that a player as thin as Quilis can achieve such considerable distances, when the image we tend to have of a Long Drive hitter is that of a strong and very muscular person. The “trick” to sending the ball so far lies, above all else, in speed and amplitude. "I believe that having a good breadth of swing is very important. The club head practically touches my left leg. We are rotating the hip a lot more and carrying our hands much further back with respect to a normal swing."
Regarding muscle strength, Quilis says that more important than power is possessing "good technique, good breadth and good speed, that you can work with every aspect, and also be able hit the ball very long as well“.
His best distance so far in a championship is 424 yards, in the German Long Drive, where he finished second. Quilis won the first event of the year of the European Long Drive Games.
The prizes for winners of these tournaments in Europe are nowhere near those available in the United States. “Here in Europe you can’t become full-time with this,” he says. It’s something else in the United States. “Over there it is much more of a show; they’ve been doing it since 1976 and there is a lot of money in prizes. In Europe you can win from €1,000 to €6,000, depending on the championship, and in America you can easily take away $15,000, $20,000, up to $500,000.”
Entry to participate in one of these competitions is not cheap. "They are quite expensive," says Quilis. In European tournaments it tends to be around €300.
Given the good results he has achieved so far, the young Málaga golfer has set "very high" goals. He wants to participate on the world circuit, the World Long Drive, which is played only at US venues, and "in fact, I see myself doing very well there this year, and I would like to, of course”.
In Spain it is a minority sports discipline that can practically be count on the fingers of one hand, and Quilis is the only Spanish representative who has won one of the competitions that played in Europe. He says that in Germany it is a major pursuit because it has been promoted "in an efficient way”, and he is convinced that in Europe it will soon be blossoming.
Long Drive competitions are not only held at golf courses. "They can be held practically anywhere," Quilis explains, such as horse racing tracks and football pitches.
His training is not just focused on achieving muscular strength - “I’m not really a gym person” - but rather on flexibility (he does pilates) and above all else working on swing speed of swing with super-speed clubs (shafts with a weight at one end).
The drivers used in Long Drive competitions have nothing to do with normal ones. "They are completely different. Right now I’m playing with the Callaway XF16, which is five degrees minus one on the shaft, four, with a quadruple X club and 48 inches (122 centimetres) long.”
While training hard to achieve his dream of a golf career in the United States, Quilis works in the family business, a greengrocer’s located in Marbella’s Golf Valley, behind Puerto Banús. “I also have to lend a hand at home and help as much as possible," he says.
When asked about the Long Drive world record, he says, “It’s very complicated because quite sincerely there are so many variables that affect each shot that you can’t compare one championship with another: there might be more wind, the fairway is harder... but I think it's about five hundred and a bit.”
Returning to his high school studies in the United States, at 16, and playing with the golf team, he says, “There came a time when I was tired from golf. I was putting a lot of effort into it and I didn’t get satisfactory results. That's why I went away from golf but, thanks to Long Drive, I've regained the bug and let’s see if I can also turn professional by the end of this year, which is something I would love, although I would also like to continue with Long Drive. I see having a good drive as being an advantage. In fact, recently I was playing at Las Brisas (Marbella) and on a long par-five of over 500 metres I hit the drive and was 50 metres away from the green... I caught the wind in my favour.”
As for the possibility that his dreams in the world of golf are not realised, Quilis is not currently studying at university. He did study psychology in Santander, but he wanted to return to the Costa del Sol because of the milder climate, and now he is continuing his studies through the National University of Distance Education (UNED) - “let’s see how I go there”.
In September this year he went to the United States to play in the World Championship and, although he was eliminated in the first round “by a few metres”, he describes the experience as “impressive”. He attended the event, which brought together 96 participants in Oklahoma, thanks to his second place in the final European ranking, after the last tournament of the season, in Mallorca.
In 2020 he plans to combine seasons in the United States and Europe, travelling to and from America between tournaments. To improve his performance with the driver, he has put himself in the hands of an English coach, Lee Cox. The only problem is that the classes are in London, so Quilis has to move to the British capital periodically.
And, if he didn't already have enough between his part-time job at the family store, his coaching trips and the long drive competitions, he has now embarked on another mission: to become a professional golfer. He is not dreaming of the European Tour at the moment, nor even the Challenge Tour, but... who knows!.
THE 459 YARD RECORD
The Long Drive World Championship has crowned dozens of champions during the 40 years-plus since the competition was first held in 1976. The winners of the annual event (in the open, masters and women's divisions) each receive a champion’s belt very similar to that of boxing champions.
Results for the long drive champions over those four decades show that only in the men's open category have competitors been able to reach 400 yards – several times. The first was in 2003 (Clayton Burger, 402 yards), while the longest distance achieved in a world final in that division was 427 yards by Tim Burke in 2013. This year's champion, Kyle Berkshire, won with a drive of 406 yards.
However, the greatest absolute distance in a Long Drive World Championship was achieved by one of the masters category hitters (over 45 years), David Mobley in 2011, with a 459-yard drive. In the women's division, the longest record is now held by 2019 champion Chloe Garner, 347 yards. The winners of the first edition of the Long Drive World Championship reached 307, 333 and 249 yards in the open, masters and women's divisions, respectively. It should be noted that, while the open category dates from 1976, the masters division was not introduced until 1996 and the women’s category in 2000.