Longing for the huge hit

WES GILBERTSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:10 AM ET

Set against a vast expanse of lush, rolling foothills and thin mountain air, it looked as though Vicky Hurst's opening tee shot at the CN Canadian Women's Open might never come back to Earth.

For fans catching their first glimpse of an LPGA Tour event, it was an eye-popping sight. For the heavy-hitting Hurst, no big deal.

"I've always been one of the players who hit it long, naturally, I guess," Hurst shrugged.

"I wasn't pumping iron trying to hit it longer or anything like that, but I just grew up hitting it longer than everybody else. That's never really been a problem for me."

It could cause problems for the rest of world's top women's golfers.

The 19-year-old from Melbourne, Fla., already ranks among the LPGA Tour's longest hitters, sitting in third spot with an average driving distance of 268.9 yards off the tee.

That puts her one spot ahead of Hawaiian Michelle Wie (267.8), who's been crushing golf balls for so long, it's hard to believe she's still 19, too.

"I'd rather have the best putting record than the longest driving distance," Hurst said. "But I think out here, on the LPGA Tour, it helps a lot, because the courses are longer and tougher. If you learn to control it, then I'm happy to be long off the tee."

For years, England's Laura Davies was the LPGA's undisputed queen of clobber. These days, there's a seemingly endless line of up-and-comers fighting for that throne.

After she finished her round yesterday, an autograph-seeking fan approached Davies and recounted a story about watching her pull the eraser off a pencil, then smack a ball into oblivion.

"Showboating," Davies grinned. "I don't do that anymore."

She doesn't have to.

The rest of the field was putting on a show yesterday.

On the 512-yard No. 12, one of two holes where officials are measuring driving distance, Taiwan's Yani Tseng crushed her drive 311 yards.

To put that into perspective, Tiger Woods is averaging 298.0 yards off the tee at PGA Tour events so far this season.

Tseng leads the women's loop with an average of 270 yards per drive.

Hurst's tee shot yesterday at No. 12 rolled to a stop at the 296-yard mark. Twenty-year-old Paige Mackenzie of Yakima, Wash., hit hers 295 yards. Mexico's Lorena Ochoa measured 290 yards.

Colour the fans impressed. And they're not the only ones.

"Even the standard-bearer came up to me and said, 'Wow, you hit it a long way,' " said former Duke University standout Anna Grzebien, who averages 255.9 yards off the tee.

"After a bad day, a compliment is always nice to hear."

Even rising star Jennifer Kirby, who scored an exemption to tee off at Priddis Greens after winning the Canadian amateur crown and the national junior title this summer, has been amazed by what she's seen on the range.

"It's not so much the distance, it's the accuracy," Kirby said. "One after another, straight. Same trajectory and everything."

WES.GILBERTSON@SUNMEDIA.CA

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HEAVY HITTERS

LONG-BALL DRIVERS AVERAGE YARDS

LPGA'S BEST

FaYani Tseng 270.0

Brittany Lincicome 269.9

Vicky Hurst 268.9

Michelle Wie 267.8

Suzann Pettersen 267.2

COMPARED TO SOME PGAERS

Robert Garrigus 312.2 Tiger Woods 298.0

Stephen Ames 285.6

Mike Weir 279.2

Brian Gay 267.8


Photos