Against the stunning setting of Heythrop Hall, the 2017 Final of the American Golf Long Drive Championship took place. Dan Konyk (Under 45), Ilona Stubley (Ladies) and Charles Seo (Over 45) were crowned champions, but the story of how they got there was filled with surprises and drives in every category that would have won the 2016 World Championships. The winners will compete at the Volvik World Long Drive Championships.
It was clear from the seeding rounds that the standard in the finals had sky rocketed. As the early rounds played out records started to fall as Max Armstrong set the pace in the Under 45 category with a 454 yard monster. Max led the way, but the pack wasn’t far behind and as the cut line for the final eight shifted it became apparent that several competitors who had hit over 400 yards would miss out.
In the Ladies section, Ilona Stubley hit the longest Ladies drive ever recorded in an American Golf Championship with 338 yards in seeding. Not only was this the start of a fantastic day for Ilona but also signalled the start of her battle with 14 year old prodigy Elle Gibson. Elle qualified in second spot with 326 yards, setting up a rivalry that would last all the way to the final hit of the day.
The Senior Championships saw its first ever 400+ yard total when William Hunt Tyrell marked his return from retirement with 413 yards in the first round. As with the other categories, the Seniors stepped up to the mark, with 2016 champion Anton Reader only just creeping into the quarter finals with 363 yards – enough to win the 2016 World Championships by 16 yards!
As the quarter finals got under way the Under 45 category saw some amazing matches with 2016 Champion Lucas Dornan vs 2015 Champion Dan Konyk being the highlight. Following social media sparring in the run up to the final the competition was fierce. Both had seeded with 420 yards and it took a sudden death hit off to separate the pair before Konyk progressed. Konyk beat on German contender Timo Petrasch in the final.
Konyk said: “To win qualification for the World Championships is a great opportunity and I can’t wait to represent American Golf at the highest level. This will be my 13th World Championships and if I can carry this form forward to the U.S. then I’ve got a real chance of bringing the title home.”
The Ladies competition proved just as enthralling as reigning champion and current world No.3 Rebecca McGinley was deposed in the quarter finals by Becki O’Grady. Becki couldn’t quite continue her form in the semi’s as she came up against 14 year old wonder kid Elle Gibson. Elle was a model of consistency all day, hitting 300 yards on multiple occasions with a smooth, fluid golf swing.
The only player able to compete in consistency and numbers was Ilona Stubley. The 33 year old kept pace with the Barnet youngster, with both players taking a set each in the final with drives of 300 yards. In the deciding set Elle went first and recorded 299 yards. This was not quite long enough as Stubley kept her head and powered past with her final drive of the day.
“All day Elle was hitting great, so I knew the final would be tough. In the third set, I was pleased that I was hitting second as I prefer to chase down a score and knowing what I have to do to win,” said Stubley. “To win it with a drive of 307 yards was a great feeling as I was still able to hit a good distance when the pressure was on and made all the hard work leading up to the event worthwhile.”
In the Over 45 Championship early pace setter William Hunt-Tyrell couldn’t maintain his early form, being knocked out in the semi-finals by Charles Seo, the popular Londoner. On the other side of the draw 2016 losing finalist David Willmore was making light work of the opposition, setting up a final showdown between two previous runners up. The final itself went down to nerve as Charles put his consistency to good use while David couldn’t quite get his longest hits in play.
Daniel Gathercole, Director of Marketing and Communications at American Golf, said: “This event keeps getting better but I don’t think anyone expected what we’ve seen here today. We started the American Golf Long Drive Championships three years ago to encourage more people to get out hitting balls and having some fun. This year we’ve had over 5000 people take part and this really has become the premier long drive event in Europe. It’s such a competitive environment but every player has shown fantastic sportsmanship and support for each other.”