We speak to World Long Drive Champion Joe Miller about the art of power hitting, the long-driving circuit and whether he could compete on the European Tour
The big interview: Joe Miller
When did you first realise you were abnormally long, or is it something you’ve consciously worked towards?
I probably realised when I first started playing golf properly around the age of 11 or 12. Even from an early age, I had the ability to hit it past everyone at my club and was able to hit the ball 300 yards. It wasn’t my intention when I started playing golf and I don’t really know where it came from! I didn’t even start using a driver until two or three years into the whole process, but even with a 3-wood I was able to bash it past pretty much everyone at the club.
How did it develop from there?
I carried on playing and won a couple of club championships before entering a long-driving competition at Stoke Park in 2003, when I was 18. I didn’t know the world championships existed, I just though I’d give it go. I didn’t do very well, but I was just using a standard driver and I didn’t really know about custom fitting. Two years later I won the European Championship and set a new European record at 474 yards and it just went from there. I then won the World Long Drive Championships in 2010 and it’s been a full-time job ever since.
Related: Joe Miller power tips
Would you trade your life for that of a mid-range European Tour player?
No, I wouldn’t. I chose this path and I’m the best in the world at what I do. In my opinion, to be able to say you’re the best in the world at something is always going to top anything else. The money you make as a mid-level European Tour player is great, but it’s not all about that. It’s about enjoying what you do. So for now, no. Will I go down that route later in my life? Who knows, we’ll see.
If you got a start in a low-level European Tour event, like the Russian Open, how do you think you’d get on?
If the course was half suited towards my game, in terms of being a little more open, and I’d practised, I like to think I’d do fairly well. My rounds at the moment are usually around the one- and two-under-par mark, and I’m not really playing that much. For me, it’s all about keeping the ball in play, but if I’m in play, I’m almost giving myself an extra shot per hole. I’m not too far away from the green on most par 5s, so even if I duff the second shot, I’ve still got an up and down for a birdie. With six months of solid practice going into an event like that, I think I’d do pretty well.
What’s the single most important factor behind hitting long drives?
It depends on the level of player. If you’re looking at the club golfer, then it’s just about optimising your flight with spin rates, etcetera, and really squeezing all the numbers to work out where you’re losing yardage. That’s where launch monitors come into their own. But there’s so much that comes into it it’s almost impossible to narrow it down. At the top end, it comes down to speed; who’s got the fastest clubhead speed and who can hit it out of the middle of the face, because at that level everyone knows how to optimise. When you swing it at 150+mph, you can’t be hitting it anywhere other than the middle of the face. For me it’s all about speed. If I swing it at 155mph and hit it out the middle, no one’s going to catch me.
Is fitness a prerequisite to power hitting?
It’s massive. Fitness, strength in the gym, conditioning and nutrition are the absolute keys, but that’s at the really top level. You don’t have to take it that seriously to hit long drives, but you do when you want to start winning World Championships. I’m in the gym seven days a week and my nutrition is on point seven days a week, 24 hours a day. There’s no let up, but the proof is in the pudding for me. I love doing what I do, but it’s because I’m good at it, I train hard and stay focused.
Is the long-drive circuit growing and is there now more awareness around the sport?
We always talk about the pivotal event, which is the World Long Drive Championship towards the end of the year. It’s gone from edited-down showings on ESPN at times like Christmas Day, when they can find a time slot for it, to worldwide coverage through Golf Channel out in the USA. It’s live, and there’s a whole month dedicated to it, including things like long-driving studio tips. The crowds are getting bigger, the venues are getting better and it’s growing all the time. I’d like to see more growth over here but things are improving.
Take us through the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship win in 2010…
It actually wasn’t that close in the end! The guy who came second was 43 yards behind me, I think, and it was the biggest winning margin ever. I just happened to catch one and it was goodnight on that! It was a mad experience and a mad year for me at that point. Being out in Vegas, under the lights, as a 25-year-old going to smack a ball in front of everyone was just crazy. The stuff that we’ve done since has all come from that. Now, the swing is better and faster than ever so hopefully another victory is around the corner.
It sounds like a whirlwind since then…
It’s great at the moment. Luckily I don’t have one of those jobs where I’m stuck in a routine. One day I’m here in England, next I’m off to Germany, another I’m heading to Vegas. It’s so good to do what I do – it’s a lot of fun!