Blythewood teen making a name for himself in long-drive competitions

bspear@thestate.comMay 23, 2013 

William Hinson, a student at Blythewood High, is a professional on the golf Long Driver Championship circuit.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com Buy Photo

William Hinson always could hit drives that most golfers see only in their dreams.

Naturally, he wondered if he could succeed in distance competition on the national stage.

For an answer, the family sought the counsel of a player who had advanced to the national long-drive finals six times, and Robbie Biershenk needed to watch three swings before delivering his verdict — an emphatic yes.

Tom Graber knew earlier. Hinson’s 4-iron that covered 225 yards to the green in a Kiawah Island tournament told the story. Before wondering what the big deal is, consider that Hinson hit that missile shortly after his 14th birthday.

Now, Hinson, 18 and completing his junior year at Blythewood High, is making a prophet of his observers with his powerful performances that earned a berth on Callaway Golf’s X Hot Long Drive Team.

“From Day 1, William could really kill the ball,” says Edward Hinson, the patriarch of a golfing family that includes mom Jennifer and sons Josh, William and Jack.

“The day he hit that (225-yard 4-iron) shot in the McGladray Team Championship, I knew there was something special about this young man,” says Graber, pro at Cobblestone Park, where the Hinsons are members. “I was the pro with Edward, Josh and William in that tournament and William hit a poor drive. He followed up with that shot and I thought then that he has a God-given talent.”

Hinson’s achievements include becoming the youngest long drive professional champion at age 17 in a tournament in Marietta, Ga. He posted three top-8 finishes, qualified for the world championship and in that competition hit eight drives longer than 400 yards. His longest drive in competition is 406 yards, but he drove the green on a 412-yard hole at the Furman University course during the 2012 Class 4A high school championship tournament.

“I thought then, ‘Maybe we should look at this long-drive stuff,’ ” Edward Hinson says.

Smiling at the memory, William says, “I had just had a bad hole and I wanted to go after it.”

‘He has it’

William warms up on a recent May afternoon on the Cobblestone Park range by hitting 8-irons ... 185 or so yards. If he hit driver all the time, the woods — 325 yards from the tee — would be filled with practice balls.

“His good ones go into the trees about 100 feet in the air,” Graber says. “He’s amazing to watch.”

The shaft on his competition driver is 49½ inches and his swing speed has been measured north of 140 miles per hour. This day, on the USC golf teams’ monitor at Cobblestone, he reaches “only” 138.

But his swing speed, although important, is not the key to his success, says Biershenk, who operates the Shanks Driving Range in Greenville and recently participated in a Golf Channel special called “Chasing the Dream.”

“Fundamentals,” says Biershenk, a two-time regional long-drive champion who participated in the nationals six times. “Other guys have faster swing speeds, but the ball comes off his club perfectly with less spin because of his fundamentals. Their balls might go longer in the air, but the ball hits the ground and stops. William’s ball rolls out 20 yards or so, and in long-drive competition, 10 yards is forever.”

Says Art Sellinger, owner of Long Drivers of America, “William is one of the bright young stars in the sport of Long Drive. His potential is as long as his drives — far!”

Biershenk adds: “In long drive, you either have it or you don’t, and he has it.”

William set out to see for himself last June. In his first pro competition,he finished eighth and missed the world championship qualifying standard by one yard.

“I like to play as much as I can,” he says. “I love the long game, to hit and see where it goes.”

Binoculars are advised to watch the ball’s flight.

Always under control

Those who want William Hinson to brag about his achievements will wait in vain. He walks softly and carries a long driver.

“Besides his talent, he’s one of the nicest young men you will ever meet,” Garber says. “The whole family is that way. There’s no arrogance with William. He’s just an all-around good guy.”

Garber laughs at the memory of working with William on the practice tee several years ago, saying, “I was trying to tone him down a little bit, just trying to get more control. Among the long hitters, there’s a 2-degree difference at impact between the fairway and the trees.”

Whether Garber’s message got through is not clear, but William says he does perform better in long-drive competition on a tighter grid. Others might be stronger, he says, “but they have power and not much control. Control is one of my strengths.”

To get an idea of his power, look at one of his charity exhibitions. William, who is 6-foot-2 and weighs 200 pounds, will turn a left-handed driver over and hammers the ball 300 yards or more into the next zip code. Or how about this: he has a driver with a 29-inch shaft that he used to send the ball into the Cobblestone trees. And this: he takes an old-fashioned persimmon driver and blasts balls in the 290-yard range.

To illustrate his power, he will place a piece of ½-inch plywood about 5 yards in front of his tee, then unload his Sunday punch. The ball not only splinters the wood; it also travels in the vicinity of 300 yards. The ball has been compressed so much at impact that a regular ball will not pass through the hole left in the wood.

“You need good fortune to win the world championship,” Biershenk says. “If you have a field of 140, about 50 could win. You could have a tournament every day and have a different winner every day. It’s a matter of whose ball kicks right instead of rolling out straight, or whose ball hits a the firmer side of the grid and gets extra roll.

“But William has the opportunity to win. He’s young, and you would expect him to get better. Trying to find that extra five yards ... that’s hard to do, but he can do it.”

He works at that, and if anyone finds splinters on a driving range, there’s a possibility William has been there honing his skill of hammering golf balls through pieces of wood.

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