By Art Stricklin
THACKERVILLE – For the third year in a row, tiny Thackerville and the Winstar Resort served as the long driving capital of the golfing world Wednesday as Justin James was crowned the 2017 World Champion before a full moon and sold out Southern Oklahoma crowd, with Winstar golf general manager Michael Ferguson saying the best is still to come.
“This is the first of a three-year contact, we have the longest and best drivers, the top course, the best practice and a new stadium facility this year plus the Golf Channel production and promotion. It can only get better for us at Winstar,” Ferguson said.
This was the first year the new nine holes, part of the Scissortail course, which along with the Redbud layout designed by D.A. Weibring and Steve Wofard, was on full 36-hole display hosting a Wednesday pro-am.
It gave the massive gaming resort, the largest in Oklahoma or anywhere outside of Vegas for that matter, a prime place to entertain fans, clients and assorted VIPs.
A pre and post-final night concert by country singer Colt Ford, entertained the sold-out crowd on a specially built three-sided grandstand built on the Winstar driving range.
“We’ve got everything we need to be successful here and this is only the beginning,” Ferguson added. “We’ve going to be starting a long drive clinic because we’ve the capital of long drive, we have the best facilities and we can show other people what it’s like.”
James certainly showed the golf fans a few things, uncorking a winning drive of 435 yards to capture the 2017 World Title, the $125,000 first prize and the large silver champion’s belt as the longest driver in golf.
As soon as his winning drive stopped rolling, James sprinted over to grab the champion’s belt and then leaped into the crowd to hug his wife and parents.
“It’s just crazy. There are no words. I can’t describe it,” he said.
Sandra Carlborg won her fifth world title, the first-ever women’s world title to be held on the final night under the bright lights at Thackerville, earning $20,000 for her effort with a winning drive of 320 yards.
“I built it from the bottom to get her,” she said after the win.
Two-time World Champion Tim Burke, was eliminated in the quarterfinals Wednesday, but said he was impressed by the Long Drive Stage at Winstar.
“The whole venue is fantastic. We have new sponsors, new people and Winstar has made itself the capital of long driving golf.”
While Ferguson enjoyed entertaining plenty of friends and fans, carting around the complex greeting a non-stop stream of people, he was also pleasantly surprised with the worldwide Television rating which showcased his golfing complex to more than 300 million potential viewers in 65 countries.
“I don’t know a whole a lot about TV numbers, but we were on TV for 72 hours last year, that’s a lot of people watching Winstar and Thackerville anywhere you go,” he said
Tuesday’s semifinal received the highest-ever Nielson ratings in Long Drivers Association history and Ferguson said the ratings should be even higher for the finals.
“We’re very excited to see Winstar showcased as the long driving capital of the world and have our facility seen all over the world. Somebody is looking out for us to get all of this.”
The eyes of the long driving golf world will continue to be this Oklahoma golf mecca for several years to come.