'300 yards over a pond? I'll use my putter'

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The Independent Online

For two days on the practice range Europe's finest golfers have stopped in awe. At an exhibition yesterday on the first tee of The Belfry's Brabazon course a large gallery was transfixed even though a strong headwind lessened the spectacle. There is a fascination about someone hitting a little white ball a very long way and no one hits it further than a 29-year-old Canadian named Jason Zuback.

At 5ft, 10in and 18st, Zuback is known as the "Mighty Mouse". While others have resorted to airport runways to gain extra length, the pharmacist and former powerlifter regularly smacks the ball 400 yards on turf, some 80 yards further than Tiger Woods and John Daly. He has won the World Long Drive Championship for the past four years, with a tournament best of 412 yards in 1997. His best ever, on hard ground, is 511yards 3 inches. With a wide stance and huge shoulder-turn, he launches the ball at 211 mph.

Part of Zuback's act is to hit a putter as far as most of the pros hit their drivers. On Tuesday, he took on the gamble of The Belfry's famous 10th hole. The short par-four of 300 yards became the focus at the course's three Ryder Cups where partners elected either to lay up or go for the green, which involves carrying the pond in front of the putting surface. Zuback pulled out his putter and safely made the green. With backspin.

There are downsides to unleashing such power. He suffers from lower back and neck problems. Trying out one of the new thin-faced ERC Callaway drivers, he swung so hard the clubface smashed.

The club, banned by the US Golf Association for failing its "spring-like" test, has ignited a controversy about technology in the game. It is legal outside the States while the Royal and Ancient conducts further research. Colin Montgomerie, Europe's No 1, would be using one this week but for the narrow fairways at The Belfry. "It definitely goes 20 to 25 yards further," he said. "Most amateurs want to hit the ball further and enjoy the game more when they do. The perfect round of golf has not been played and never will be."

Zuback is not playing in the Benson and Hedges International and finds his celebrity status more lucrative than trying to earn his keep on the course. "Just because you can hit the ball further," Montgomerie added, "does not alter the fact that it is a very difficult game. The long-distance champions would not make the cut out here."