King of Swing
This is an article from the March 12, 2001 issue
Tiger Woods's recent ball-bouncing ad for Nike--code-named
HackeySack II--may be a marketing monster because it's a
conversation starter, but please, hold the hosannas. In the
arcane realm of trick-shot artistry, there exists a virtuoso who
reduces Woods to hackeysack hackdom.
We delight at the sight of Tiger bouncing a ball on the top of a
driver head. Chuck (Hitman) Hiter can dribble his even more
adroitly on a driver shaft--and in cadence to the theme song from
Tiger's 360-degree spin move is cool. Hiter can flip a ball over
his head and spin 180 degrees and catch it with his club--while
riding a unicycle.
Tiger's fungo with a driver is a smashing finale. Hiter can throw
two balls into the air and drive both of them 250 yards down the
fairway--one with a draw, the other with a fade.
In his line of work Hiter is a transcendent figure. He is what
Houdini was to magic, what Walter Winchell was to gossip. When
Tour players watch Hiter perform, they exchange wide-eyed looks,
laughter and high fives.
"He is off-the-charts amazing," said Kirk Triplett after seeing
Hiter smash a ball out of the air with a nine-foot-long driver
last year in Las Vegas. "What this guy does takes more pure skill
than what we do."
Hiter, 37, has been formally performing for only five years, but
in a way, he has been working on his act his entire life. Growing
up in Richmond, Hiter displayed so much dexterity he was
nicknamed Hands. He would emulate Ozzie Smith's drill, closing
his eyes, then throwing a tennis ball into the air and catching
it. Earning a third-degree black belt in taekwondo, Hiter honed
the accuracy of his spin kicks by picking off Ping-Pong balls in
Hands became Hitman in 1981, when the 6'1", 210-pounder was a
third baseman at Virginia Commonwealth. When his major league
aspirations were cut short by a shoulder injury, he played his
first round of golf. "I sliced everything," Hiter says, "but I
hit the ball in the center of the club face every time." Hiter
turned pro in '91 and was playing the mini-tours in Florida,
where he learned he didn't have the goods to play golf for a
living. "I don't have the patience to hit a shot, walk after it,
wait some more and keep my concentration."
Hiter struggled as a pro until about six years ago when, while
retrieving balls at a practice range outside Sarasota, Fla., he
began flipping them up with a five-iron and hitting them out of
A friend suggested he put on a clinic. Having seen a trick-shot
exhibition, Hiter concentrated in his early shows on hitting the
ball while it was in the air. He would belt it as far as
possible--his longest measured shot is 386 yards--or fungo as many
balls as he could hold in a rapid-fire sequence. These days he
also uses props: eight-foot-high tees, basketballs and
He's constantly dreaming up tricks and working on them, for as
long as four hours at a time, usually at Serenoa Golf Club near
his Sarasota home. "Staying with something no matter how tired I
am--I got that from martial arts," says Hiter.
Hiter does about 100 hour-long shows a year in the U.S., Asia,
Europe and South America, earning an income in the mid six
figures. He views the attention Woods has received for his
trick-shot commercials as a positive. "If I'm associated in
people's minds with Tiger," says Hiter, "I'm honored."
Let the legend grow.
A Tonic for the Senior Tour
45 or 50?
Not much has changed on the Senior tour in 2001: Attendance
continues to decline, and the TV ratings are still a mere dot on
the sports landscape. How to breathe some life into this moribund
enterprise? How about lowering the minimum age for eligibility
from 50 to 45? We floated the idea to four Senior and four older
regular Tour players.
Lee Trevino (61): "It's never going to happen. A bunch of people
would go straight to Johnnie Cochran. But I think it's a good
idea. We need some stimulation out here, and quick."
John Jacobs (55): "Forget it. We've got a good thing going, so
why change it? All the guys who want to see it happen are 45-plus
and can't make a penny on the regular Tour. What are you going to
tell the 200 guys who've been waiting in line to get out here?
The younger guys who want a piece of the pie? Let 'em wait."
Allen Doyle (52): "I'm all for it. Anything that would improve
attendance. I don't know if they'd drop it all the way down to
45--maybe 47 or 48 would make more sense--but it couldn't be
anything but positive."
Tom Watson (51): "I think 50 should be the age--45 is too young.
If guys keep themselves in good shape, there's no reason they
shouldn't be able to compete [at 45] on the regular Tour."
Fred Funk (44): "To go out there where there's no cut and not
everybody hits it 300 yards--I would be tempted."
Nick Price (44): "I still fancy my chances, but once you get to
48, it's hard to compete."
Bernhard Langer (43): "I'd probably do it because it's easier to
win if you're the youngest rather than the oldest."
Hal Sutton (42): "There are a lot of guys, like me, approaching
45 who are still competitive. I want to play against the best
players in the world."
JAIME'S TOP 10
More and more, pro golf, like other sports, is being dominated by
power players. Golf, though, still has room for small men and
women because if they optimize technique, quickness and strength,
golfers don't have to be big to be powerful. Here are the top 10
big hitters, pound for pound, in the game. All but one of our
mighty mites weigh less than 160 pounds. A few even exceed the
benchmark for pound-for-pound power (average drive is twice as
large a number as weight). Listed are each player's height,
weight, average driving distance in 2000 and its rank.
1. Caroline Blaylock 5'7", 127 pounds, 270 yards, 1st (LPGA)
Statistically the longest hitter in women's golf, she was also a
three-time NCAA long-drive champ. Blaylock (right) developed
upper-body strength by working out with her brothers, who were
wrestlers. When they climbed a 40-foot rope without using their
feet, she did too. Blaylock's swing is a little raw, but her
clubhead speed of 117 mph is faster than that of the average PGA
Tour player. Although she's longer than Laura Davies, she's more
crooked, ranking 189th in driving accuracy.
2. Hidemichi Tanaka 5'4", 130 pounds, 276.8 yards, 16th (Japanese
tour) He swings from the heels and hits a big rope hook that
rolls forever. Tanaka needs room off the tee, so he has contended
in only a handful of PGA Tour events, his best finish being a tie
for second in the '99 Air Canada. His personally designed logo
features an ant, the pound-for-pound champion of the world.
3. Emanuele Canonica 5'2", 165 pounds, 295 yards, 1st (European
tour) Called Ercolino (Little Hercules) by fellow Italian
Costantino Rocca, Canonica has led the European tour in driving
distance for the last three years. This year he's playing in the
U.S. and being coached by Butch Harmon. His length is the result
of great mechanics.
4. Robert Allenby 6'1", 150 pounds, 285.8 yards, 10th His speed
through the ball brings to mind another wiry bomber from the
past, Jodie Mudd. Allenby has plenty of power in reserve, as he
demonstrated by nuking a 225-yard three-wood to the 18th at
Riviera to win the Nissan Open in sudden death two weeks ago.
5. Rory Sabbatini 5'10", 160 pounds, 285.5 yards, 11th A fireplug
with a wide arc and a freewheeling action, Sabbatini has one of
the fullest finishes in the game. He is coached by Dean Reinmuth,
who groomed Phil Mickelson's swing. Aggressive to the point of
being foolhardy, Sabbatini loves to bomb it.
6. Sergio Garcia 5'10", 160 pounds, 278.3 yards, 39th El Nino
gets his power from the most delayed wrist cock in pro golf and
would be longer if he put a graphite shaft in his driver. Garcia
also finished 26th in driving accuracy in 2000, tying for third
in total driving. Spotty iron play is holding him back.
7. Jenny Rosales 5'5", 125 pounds, 254 yards, 12th The '98 NCAA
champ has a big swing that's far from textbook. The contortions
she goes through have led to speculation that she will develop
back problems. At the moment, though, her flair and ability to
play big make her the LPGA's equivalent of Allen Iverson.
8. Rich Beem 5'8", 153 pounds, 277.8 yards, 45th A long, loose,
handsy action fits this talented but undisciplined free spirit.
Beem's let-it-fly approach worked at the 1999 Kemper Open--his
lone win on Tour--but more often has led to trouble. He will
probably have to sacrifice distance to improve.
9. Steve Flesch 5'11", 155 pounds, 279.2 yards, 32nd The stylish
lefty exemplifies the axiom "distance is the result of a good
swing." Because his swing is so sound, Flesch can call up an
extra 30 yards when he needs to go deep.
10. Jeff Sluman 5'7", 140 pounds, 265.0 yards, 167th The Tour's
most enduring Lilliputian has a quick turn and simple, sound
mechanics. This year he changed the driver and ball he had used
for five years and says he has picked up 20 yards off the tee.
Even after a soggy week in L.A., he's averaging 280.5 yards, 36th
on the Tour.
What do these players have in common?
They're the only players to win a U.S. event four straight times.
Davies won the Standard Register Ping from 1994 to '97, Hagen the
PGA from 1924 to '27, and Sarazen the Miami Open in '26, '28, '29
and '30. (The event wasn't held in '27.)
What is the primary cause of David Duval's slump?
Equipment change 20%
Impending marriage 16%
New physique 22%
Legal battle 16%
Short game 26%
--Based on 2,737 responses to our informal survey Next question:
Do you think the Senior tour should lower the age at which
players become eligible to 45?
Vote at golfplus.cnnsi.com.
The most consistent players on the Florida swing over the last
five years have a total of only three wins in 100 starts. Here,
based on their percentage of top 10 finishes at the Genuity,
Honda, Bay Hill and the Players, are Florida's top eight.
STARTS WINS % TOP 10s
Tiger Woods 9 1 56%
Tom Lehman 12 0 50%
Nick Price 16 0 50%
C. Montgomerie 14 0 43%
Davis Love III 14 0 43%
Mark O'Meara 16 0 38%
Fred Couples 8 1 38%
David Duval 11 1 36%
Joe Durant is the best ball striker in golf. Ranked second on the
Tour in greens hit in regulation in each of the last two years
and the leader in 2001, Durant is a machine when he's on. He hit
85.2% of the greens (138 of 162) in his victories at the Bob Hope
Chrysler Classic and the Genuity Championship, a percentage he
actually bettered in his only other win, the '98 Western Open,
during which he hit 90.3% (65 of 72).
Mitch Clodfelter, Denver, N.C.
Clodfelter, 32, the superintendent at Cowans Ford Country Club in
Stanley, N.C., won the Golf Course Superintendents Association of
America title, shooting a two-over 145 to beat Sam Williamson of
the Ojai (Calif.) Inn and Spa by one stroke. A three handicapper,
Clodfelter led Guilford College to the 1989 NAIA national crown.
Jennifer Cully, St. Petersburg
Cully, 32, the head pro at the Apollo Beach Golf and Sea Club,
prevailed at the PGA Women's Stroke Play Championship. Cully, an
Illinois State alumna who set the record at the Redbirds' course
in 1989 with a three-under 69 that included a double-eagle on the
18th hole, will play on the Futures tour this summer.
Erin Tone, Gilbert, Ariz.
Erin, 17, fired a one-over 145 for a one-shot victory at the
Thunderbird Invitational in Phoenix. Erin, who will play at
Arizona State this fall, was Arizona's junior girls' player of
the year in 1998. She has qualified for the last four U.S. Girls'
Juniors, her best finish coming in '99 when she lost in the round
Submit Faces candidates to golfplus.cnnsi.com/faces.