Sean Johnson from baseball to long drives on the range.
Sean Johnson had the TV on one day when he was in college. There was something that got his attention. It was the long drive championship, featuring some of golf’s longest hitters. Johnson remembers telling himself,
“Maybe after baseball is done, I’ll try and do that.”
When injuries forced Johnson, a pitcher, to stop playing baseball, he turned to golf and hitting the long drives.
“Baseball ended one day, and I went out and tried it, I knew I could hit the ball far. As a kid in high school, people were just in awe of how far I could hit the ball, especially in Colorado, because it’s going to go a little bit further. It was just kind of one of those things that I knew I never had a future in actual golf. I was never good enough at actual golf. But I knew I could hit a ball far.”
Sean Johnson, originally from Durango, Colo., doesn’t just hit it far. It’s more of a moon shot, a rocket- and laser-like drive that disappears into the sky, the ball sailing well over 400 yards. The Sacramento resident, who uses the driving range at the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex to work on his swing, is one of the top players in long drive competition. What is perhaps most impressive about of all of this, is that Johnson has only been a professional long drive hitter for only a year. Johnson said he likes to go out and play golf, but all of his focus and time now is on hitting shots at the range and working out in the gym, as he prepares for a new season.
“I’ve been lucky to have some people kind of take me under their wing and help me out quite a bit, just helping me with my actual golf skills of how to hit a golf ball straight. I had the speed. I just had to learn how to hit it correctly,” he said.
Johnson has two coaches: Bobby Peterson, who is in North Carolina, and Pat Carroll, who is in the Sacramento area. They are both teaching professionals. There is a lot that goes into long drive – technique, strength, power, speed, timing, rhythm, explosion.
“It’s getting strong enough so that your body can withstand what you’re doing. But there’s obviously a certain point where strength isn’t going to help you. And it turns to power and speed, compared to strength. I’d say a main factor is definitely strength. But speed and power come into it as well. The more speed you have, the harder it is to hit it straight,” he said.
Sean Johnson said his fastest-ever swing has been 154 mph, with 224 mph ball speed.
“I would say I average about 150 mph club-head speed,” he said.
Long drive is all about path and face angle.
“Pretty much every shot we’re trying to hit, we’re trying to hit as far as we can. So, we have to use nature to our advantage. So, if the wind is calling for a draw, then you need a right path with a closed face. If it’s calling for a fade, then you need a left path with an open face. If the wind is behind you, you’re looking for a high launch angle. If the wind is blowing at you, you’re going to look for a lower launch angle. So really, I would say it comes down to launch angle, club path and face to path,” Johnson explained.
World Long Drive Tour and Championship
- He reached the World Long Drive Championships by advancing through local and regional qualifiers last year.
- Sean Johnson tied for fifth place at last year’s World Long Drive Championships, held in Mesquite, Nevada, where players hit to a 60-yard wide grid.
- His longest drive at the World Long Drive Championships was 425 yards.
- His longest-ever drive in competition is 455 yards.
- He was named Rookie of the Year in 2022 by the Professional Long Drive Association.
- He is currently ranked 11th in the open division of World Long Drive.
GF Sports and Entertainment of New York owns and operates World Long Drive tour and championship, according to a report on its website, worldlongdrive.com, on Jan. 19.
The website points out: “The World Long Drive Championship is the largest annual domestic professional golf event not associated with the PGA of America, the PGA Tour, or the LPGA. It was first held in 1974, and since 2000 consisted of Open, Women’s, Seniors (over-45s), and Amateur events. The World Long Drive tour is comprised of over 12 events domestically and over 30 events internationally all culminating for the season finale World Long Drive Championship.”
It’s a big year for World Long Drive, with players on the professional tour competing for over $1.1 million in prize money, “the largest prize purse in the tour’s history,” according to worldlongdrive.com.
“Competitors will have the opportunity to qualify for the World Long Drive Championship at eight qualifying North American events, vying for 128 total qualifying spots. Amateur level competitors from all over the world aspiring to join the tour will be able to compete for the opportunity to play in the World Long Drive Championship at select local host ranges. This opportunity is the first of its kind in the sport and makes long drive accessible for competitors not only across the U.S. but in over 18 other countries.”
- World Long Drive has four divisions: Open, Women’s, Senior, Amateur.
- The World Long Drive tour season begins with an event in in Mesquite, NV, March 10-12.
- Sean Johnson is already entered in the event, in the open division.
- The championships are Oct. 18-22, at Bobby Jones Golf Course in Atlanta, Georgia.
- Golf Channel carries World Long Drive events.
*Because he placed in the top-40 last year, Johnson has an exemption into the finals.
Going to the gym and driving range
The 28-year-old Johnson stays in shape by doing squats, deadlift, bench press and additional workouts for two hours at an area health club, 3-4 days a week.
“I do pretty basic stuff. It’s functional training. Some people feel faster when they’re lighter. Some people feel faster or stronger when they’re heavier. 240 is the biggest I’ve ever been. But I feel fast and strong at 240,” he said.
Johnson stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 240 pounds.
When he gets off work, he heads to the driving range at Haggin Oaks, a 36-hole facility that also has the Haggin Oaks Academy Holes, MacKenzie Putting Course, Haggin Oaks Golf Super Shop, Player Performance Studio, Haggin Oaks Shoe Store, and Club Performance & Repair Center. He is at the range for 2 ½ hours. Johnson said his goal is to be ranked in the top-10 at the end of the 2023 season. What excites him about World Long Drive is not just being able to compete, but the way the tour connects people.
“There’s just so much camaraderie. It seems like every single guy is just a great guy, willing to give you their knowledge of how they’ve gotten faster or how they hit it straight. And then just the aspect of competition is something to look forward to, waking up to know that you get to go compete at the highest level possible, against some of the best athletes in the world.” he said.
Johnson uses Kinetixx graphite driver shafts.
“The max you can have is 48 inches. We use like a five-degree loft. Usually I’m using about a three-degree head.
Sean Johnson’s Childhood Years
- Johnson played a lot of junior hockey growing up in Durango.
- He was a three-sport athlete at Fountain Valley School Of Colorado, a boarding school, in Colorado Springs.He was a top three-sport athlete there, playing hockey, golf and baseball.
- He was a defenseman in hockey and a pitcher-utility player in baseball. He was named All-State in both hockey and baseball.
Sean Johnson’s College Years
- A 2012 graduate, he played baseball in college, first at Iowa Western Community College.
- In his first year there, he was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 31st round of the draft, but he elected to stay in college.
- Iowa Western won the National Junior College Athletic Association National title in 2014.
- Johnson went on to pitch for the University of Mississippi.
Sean Johnson Went Pro In 2017
He was recovering from Tommy John Surgery when he signed in 2017 as a free agent with the Houston Astros organization.
Johnson was released by the Astros, but he continued on in baseball, spending four years as a starting pitcher and reliever in independent ball around the country.
He was with the Napa Silverados and Pittsburg Diamonds of the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs, as well as the Evansville Otters, Gateway Grizzlies and Lake Erie Crushers.
“Unfortunately, it was just filled with more injuries,” said Johnson, who had a shoulder impingement in 2019 and then tore his labrum in 2021.
He retired from baseball in 2021 due to injuries.
“And that’s when I started getting into long drives,” he said.
Sean Johnson works in sales for E. & J. Gallo Winery.
E. & J. Gallo Winery is a family-owned winery that was established in 1933 and is headquartered in Modesto. E. & J. Gallo Winery is one of the most highly acclaimed wine and spirits companies in the world, having earned major awards from prestigious competitions in the U.S. and internationally. “according to its website www.gallo.com
- Marty James is a freelance writer who makes his home in Napa. He retired on June 4, 2019, after spending 40 years as a sports writer, sports editor and executive sports editor for the Napa Valley Register, a daily newspaper in Napa County. He is a 1979 graduate of Sacramento State and a member of the California Golf Writers & Broadcasters Association. He was inducted into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame in 2016.
For more golf feature stories subscribe to Golf In The City Of Sacramento.