Redwood vs. Jason

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:31 AM ET

Preparing for the biggest tournament of his life hasn't been easy for Jason Zuback.

Especially since he's been banned from using his favourite club on the Redwood Meadows driving range.

"The range is too short," laughed the four-time World Long Drive Champion on the eve of his first Nationwide Tour event. "I hit a couple over the road and they shut me down pretty early over there -- they don't want to lose all their Nike practice balls."

Losing balls is exactly what the 35-year-old Calgarian will focus on avoiding this morning when he tees it up at the third annual Alberta Classic. Despite demonstrating during a practice round Tuesday that he could indeed drive the green on more than a handful of par 4's on the 7,224-yard Bragg Creek layout, he admits he'll back off occasionally.

"I could hit driver every hole but you can put up some big numbers out there," said Zuback, whose big name and bigger swing gained him entry to the tourney via a sponsor's exemption.

"It's not really a banger's course -- it's more positional. The rough is high and if you get on the wrong side of the hole you're in trouble. I bet those greens are running close to 14 on the stimpmeter"

So, will fans who come out to see the world's most decorated long-baller be treated to drives in excess of 400 yards or will he, um, be a wuss.

"There are going to be some vicious swings out there," promised the man portrayed as gorilla-long in an ad campaign featuring David Feherty.

"I'm going to hit it as much as I can and put on a show. That's my deal -- that's the club I practice the most with. It's just that sometimes you've got to make the choice that puts you in the best position.

"Hopefully I'll make good decisions. I'll be swinging about 80% so if I hit fairway and there's no wind I'll be out there close to 400 yards. On Tuesday I was flying them in the 360-yard range ... in the air."

A long hitter with his irons, too, the Heritage Pointe member has spent the last week working hard on brushing up a short game that will determine if the "close to zero" handicapper can make the cut -- something he has yet to do in a couple of Canadian Tour appearances.

"Given the opportunity to practise the short game a bit, it's actually quite good," said the former pharmacist, who is on the road 200 days a year for long drive clinics, competitions, commercials, Golf Channel segments and sponsorship commitments.

"Obviously I make my money hitting long drives and trick shots and doing clinics all over the world. It's just a little more difficult to maintain balance between staying in peak shape, making a living and being the best competitor. I always relish the opportunity to compete but haven't had a chance to do it much. This is a good experience to see how my game is against some of the best players in the world."

Proving he's no slouch, Zuback recently teamed up with big-hitting Bobby Wilson to top a world-class field in a two-man scramble in Salt Lake City called the Nokia Champions Challenge that featured Mike Weir, Jim Furyk, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Hale Irwin and Craig Stadler, amongst others. He tees off today with local James Love and Rich Morris at 2:30 p.m.

"If I play well on a course I can hit driver on, I can shoot somewhere in the 60s but it all depends on the day," said Zuback, a long drive Hall of Famer who went 1,473 days between 1996 and 2000 without a loss in a sanctioned long drive event.

"I hope people in Calgary realize this is something special and get out to see the talent displayed out there."

And I hope their cars are OK as Zuback gets in a few last-minute cuts on the range.


Videos

Photos