There is a lot that has changed for Patrick Raber since his days of playing on the golf team at Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento.
Raber was 160 pounds when he was competing in matches for the Falcons. He is now 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds.
He is also driving the ball much, much farther – well over 400 yards as a world long drive professional for the last three years.
“I was really small in high school. And then I did bodybuilding and powerlifting in college. I gained like probably 80 pounds,” he said.
Raber is continuing to hit the gym, as his workouts include heavy squats and deadlifts, box jumps, and stretching. He also plays golf at El Macero Country Club in Yolo County, where he is a member, and works on his game at the driving range at the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex, a 36-hole facility that features the Alister MacKenzie Golf Course and Arcade Creek Course, in Sacramento.
“Mobility is a big thing. It’s a lot of cardio. A lot of stretching or else these muscles won’t be able to move and bend the way they need to,” he said.
“I put on the weight pretty fast. It wasn’t very hard for me to pack on muscle once I started realizing what weights were. And so now I enjoy working out. It’s part of my daily life, my family life. I love heavy lifting and it translates into long drives.”
Raber discovered something about his game and his swing when he was invited to play in a tournament, which had a scramble format, at Haggin Oaks a few years ago. He had taken a lot of time off from golf after graduating from Chico State in 2010 with a degree in construction management.
What he found out were two things: he really liked golf and he was also hitting the ball farther than he was used to.
“I was just out of college and working for a construction company. I was realizing, with a stock driver, I was hitting at 373, 375 (yards). I had just played golf for a while,” he recalled.
On Father’s Day in 2017, during a round of golf in which he again was launching massive tee shots, Raber started to look online for long drive events and for drivers that are suited for that type of competition.
About a month later, he signed up and was then on his way to the Amateur Long Drive World Finals in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He placed third in the open division after only training for about a month.
“After that, I decided that I was going to do it professionally,” Raber, 34, said.
Raber will soon be preparing for his next event, Long Drive for Heroes Invitational, Sept. 11-12, at Lawton Country Club in Lawton, Oklahoma. There is a 64-man open qualifier on Sept. 12 and there is a $50,000 prize purse. The first-place finisher receives $20,000.
It’s an invitation-only event for the top 65 ranked long drivers in the world.
“It is going to be probably the biggest event of the year for long drive,” said Raber, who makes his home in Davis.
It will be his first long drive competition since 2019.
“The break might have helped my body, let my backrest a little bit,” he said. “I think I’ll be ready. I have a feeling that once I start hitting again, it’s going to come back pretty quickly.”
With the music turned up and the crowd roaring, there is a definite energy and excitement to watching the players hit, with the golf balls flying off the tee and soaring through the sky.
“It’s an adrenaline rush. The crowd is loud. It’s just an all-out battle out there of who’s stronger and who’s faster. It’s just fun,” said Raber.
According to Long Drive Network, at longdrivenetwork.com, Raber was tied for 66th in the World Ranking as of April 13, 2020.
According to Pro Long Drive, at www.prolongdrive.com: “The mission of Long Drive for Heroes is to connect our Professional/Veteran Long Drive Competitors with local golf communities. While open to raising money for other charities, our partnership is with the John Daly and Major Edward Pulido Foundation (Heart of a Lion) and our long-time partner Folds of Honor Foundation.”
The mission statement adds:
“Our focus is to support the men and women who have given their lives to serve and protect their country and the well-being of others. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war, and combat, as well as those who have been threatened with death or seriously injured. Long Drive for Heroes works with event organizers to entertain tournament participants by creating excitement around the long drive shots of our Professional, Veteran, and Military competitors. Long Drive for Heroes provides event coordinators a proven professional fundraising platform, raises awareness for the charitable cause, and assists the charity in reaching their fundraising goals and objectives. Long Drive for Heroes targets life after the service for military, para-military, and individuals to provide the most sincere support during their transition of dealing with PTSD.”
Background in golf
Raber, who is from Davis, has been playing at El Macero since he was 7. The 2004 graduate of Christian Brothers turned down college golf scholarship offers. He graduated in 2010 from Chico State.
He said he’s always wanted to be a professional golfer.
“I do it for a different reason,” he said.
He’s been competing as a professional in long drive events for the last three years. He’s also a very good golfer, as he has a 3.9 U.S. Golf Association Handicap Index.
Raber plays in events at El Macero. He owns a construction company and does residential remodels, as well as construction consulting for other contractors.
Taking up long drive
Raber uses a 48-inch driver, with a Callaway head set to 3 degrees of loft.
“My shafts vary from like four times extra stiff to one that this like six times extra stiff, so that’s another difference from your standard golfer,” he said.
Club head speed, ball speed, and spin rates are key to long driving.
“I have a fundamentally sound golf swing,” said Raber. “It’s not like a big thrashing movement. I’m not that good at chipping and putting, but I can hit irons really well because I have a good swing.
“I think that just really focusing on your swing patterns helps your swing speed. I do swing hard. It’s a lot about just knowing the technique and sequencing of a golf swing.”
Raber’s top finishes include:
- 2019 World Long Drive Qualifier: Yucca Valley, CA, Third Place, 421 yards (longest of career).
- 2019 World Long Drive: Roc City Rumble, Rochester, New York, Tied, 17th.
- 2019 World Long Drive: World Finals, Thackerville, Oklahoma, Tied, 33rd.
According to Pro Long Drive, at prolongdrive.com:
“The World Long Drive Championship has been a part of the golf landscape dating back to 1976, which was the first year the championship event was contested. Since then, the event has moved around some, with a long-time home in Mesquite, Nevada, before moving to the Winstar World Casino and Resort in Oklahoma starting in 2015.”
There were not any events held last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The farthest that Raber has hit the ball in a long drive competition is 421 yards. Players in long drive events hit into a grid, about 50 yards wide. Sometimes, the events are held on the golf course.
“I’ve gone over 400 yards a bunch. Even at sea level in South Carolina, I think I hit it like 393. But it also really depends where we are and because of the wind conditions. The moisture in the air matters. In California, I have gone over 400 yards multiple times. In Mesquite, Nevada I went over 400 yards.”
Having the right approach mentally is also key.
“I think It’s huge,” said Raber. “I competed my first year in all the world long drive qualifiers, as well as like some tour event qualifiers. My second year, I went to the first world long drive qualifier and got third out of 208 guys and qualified. That was a huge confidence boost there. I qualified to be able to go to the big TV event.”
* 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.