Golfer, 16, has drive to succeed

Updated: December 24, 2010, 4:42 PM ET
By Gideon Rubin | Special to Page 2

Domenic Mazza showed up at the ReMax World Long Drive Championship with a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich in one hand and a driver in the other.

Then the 16-year-old high school junior mixed it up with a field of 144 older, whiskey-drinking, elite professional golfers.

And finished second.

"There were guys that were 6-foot-8 and they weighed 100 pounds more than me," said Mazza, who is 6-foot-1, 175 pounds. "I just felt really small."

But he came up big.

The youngest competitor at the tournament in Mesquite, Nev., in November, Mazza was the talk of the event, outlasting two-time defending champion Jamie Sadlowski and five-time champion Jason Zuback.

England's Joe Miller defeated Mazza in the finals on a 414-yard shot. Mazza's second-place drive was 371 yards.

Mazza, who regularly hits balls more than 400 yards, hit a personal-record 438-yard drive in the regional qualifying event at the same venue in Mesquite in August. He hit a 404-yard shot in the WLD semifinals.

Those performances only quantified what golfers at the Diablo Creek Country Club driving range in suburban San Francisco already knew -- Mazza is a monstrous driver.

When Mazza visited a local pro shop in June to have his swing evaluated, the computer spit out some head-spinning numbers -- swing speeds of more than 140 mph (the average PGA player has a swing speed of about 120 mph), ball speed of 190 mph and airborne distances of up to 340 yards.

On Christmas Day, Mazza's drives will be on national TV when ESPN broadcasts the World Long Drive Championship at 2 p.m. ET. YouTube clips of his stunning performance at Mesquite already have been viewed thousands of times.

"The guys that are out there, they work hard every day and they do this for a living," said the soft-spoken Mazza, a student at Clayton Valley (Calif.) High School. "I wasn't expecting to do as well as I did. … But it's pretty cool."

Mazza took up golf when he was 8 and has been mashing balls ever since. His swing is self-taught and reminiscent of the baseball swing he developed two years earlier in Little League. His father, Steve, showed him how to grip the club, and within a year, he was hitting the ball 200 yards off the tee.

"When I was a little kid, I was really pumped up to hit the ball so far," Mazza said. "My 8-year-old friends told me it wasn't fair."

They weren't the only ones complaining.

Mazza, a distant relative of Joe DiMaggio, was also sticking it to kids on the baseball diamond. By the time he was playing in the 11- and 12-year-old Majors circuit, he'd established himself as one of the area's top arms.

"All the high school kids now tell me I was really good back then," Mazza said. "They were just scared of hitting me back then because I threw so hard."

Mazza throws an 85-plus mph fastball to complement a changeup and a newly minted nasty slider. He figures his velocity will increase as he continues to grow -- he says his doctors expect him to reach 6-foot-3.

He's not sure whether he'll pursue golf or baseball in college, although he's a more advanced baseball prospect. Besides playing for his prep team, he plays in an elite fall league in which he regularly dominates opponents.

That said, Mazza is committed to developing his golf game. By his own admission, his putting and short game are works in progress. But it can be tough to fit in time at the range around a year-round baseball schedule and academics. Mazza said he had straight A's last semester.

On the golf course, Mazza has been making changes. After his summer swing evaluation, Mazza switched clubs, going from stiff to triple stiff shafts. His personal coach, Jim DeLong, who had suggested the visit, said Mazza had outgrown his clubs, creating unusually erratic shots.

Within a few weeks, Mazza won the Concord juniors city tournament and then signed up for the long-drive qualifier.

His swing has drawn comparisons to that of legendary long driver Mike Austin, who was 64 when he set the world record with a 515-yard drive at the 1974 U.S. Senior Open.

At the 2010 World Long Drive Championship, Mazza's quiet, balanced swing stood in stark contrast to a crowd of golfers who regularly came out of their feet trying to elevate the ball.

"What he does is pretty unusual, technically speaking," DeLong said. "He starts toward the ball when the club's still moving back, and what that does is it accentuates his ability to create leverage in his swing."

That early turn translates into plenty of torque -- the holy grail of swing speed.

"It's just hard to fathom that this young man can hit the ball that far, because when you watch him, you don't pick up any unusual movement," DeLong said. "He's balanced in his swing, even when he's hitting the ball 400 yards."

Gideon Rubin is a freelance writer for Sports Media Exchange, a national freelance writing network.