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Thacker heads to World Long Drive tourney

Sep. 07, 2010 @ 12:00 AM

LAVALETTE -- Steve Thacker is ready to take another shot at the long bombers in the 2010 Re/Max World Long Drive Championship. The premier event in power golf is scheduled Oct. 27-Nov. 5 in Mesquite, Nev.

The Huntington firefighter smashed his way into the 144-man Open Division field this time instead of waiting for a phone call to confirm an at-large entry. The left-hander secured a spot by finishing fifth in the Region 8 qualifier held Aug. 21-22 at the Mesquite Sports and Event Complex in Nevada. That's the site for the world championship as well.

"I was so excited to get that information packet," Thacker said prior to a round of golf at Twins Silos at Lavalette. "I know I'm in this time. I don't have to sweat it out."

Thacker made it to Round 4 before being eliminated in the 2009 World Long Drive. Canadian Jamie Sadlowski would go on to repeat as champion and take home $150,000.

The week before Mesquite, Thacker tried to qualify in St. Louis, but finished fifth. The top four advanced.

"I miss by one spot. I started to worry I wasn't going to get in," Thacker said. "It was a good wakeup call."

At Mesquite, there were 85 competitors for eight spots in the World Long Drive. Several past world finalists were in the field. Many had made it to televised finals over the years.

"The caliber of player there helped me," Thacker said.

To get ready for this moment, Thacker traveled all across the country during the spring and summer to compete in long drive events. One stop was a 13-hour drive to Falls City, Neb., where Thacker unleashed a career-best bash of 419 yards during the competition. He's surpassed 400-plus 10 times in 2010. He failed to break 400 in 2009. "I wondered if would get it back," he said.

In round one at Mesquite, Thacker's best was 367 and that got him the wild card into round two. He belted one 385 in that round and won by more than 40 yards. In round five, Thacker and two other competitors are all on the tee at once. A competitor's first shot sailed 408.

"That's what got the best of me at St. Louis," Thacker said. "I didn't let it bother me this time. I knew I had a good one in me."

Thacker did. It was his third ball, one that had a little draw, and hit and rolled out at 409. It was on to the shootout. "I was pretty pumped," Thacker said.

In the winner's bracket shootout, nine bombers were set to battle for five World Long Drive berths. The other three would come out of the loser's bracket.

The draw worked in Thacker's favor as he was in the final group. "I got to see what I needed to do, plus I still had a chance if I lost," he said.

Thacker has an arsenal of drivers, all with new Penley shafts. Lofts for the two he carried out for this round were 7 1/2 and 10 1/2 degrees. He settled on the 7 1/2. Thacker got six shots and his first drive went 387. The second soared 409 and that would be the World Long Drive berth clincher.

"I knew I was in the Worlds," Thacker said. "I did that fist pump on the tee box. People thought I might be a little crazy."

Thacker switched to the 10 1/2-degree for his final shot and just crushed it. The spotter called back the distance, 440, but the fall was a foot out of the 50-yard wide grid. "I nailed it," Thacker said. "You could hear the crowd react. There were a lot of oohs and ahhs."

Thacker trains at Twin Silos with Joe Gillerlain and Greg Hatfield observing. He also hits at Chesapeake Golf Driving Range and works out at the HIT Center. A year ago, Thacker got taken back a bit by the setting at Mesquite. This time it will be different. Competition in the Open Division will start Nov. 2.

"I'm on the big stage. It's all business," he said. "I won't be nervous this time. I know what to expect. If I can get the right conditions, I believe good things can happen."

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