Drive for show, putt for dough.
That’s how golf tournaments are usually won. You can hit your drive a mile, but if you can’t consistently make 10-footers, you’re not likely to cash in.
In the case of Eric Ross, he didn’t need his putter to cash in. His driver did all the talking.
Competing in the Amateur Long Drive USA National Championship at the Barefoot Resort in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, earlier this month, Ross won the Senior Division (ages 46-55) title with a drive of 295 yards. The Janesville native automatically qualified for the ALD World Championships to be held at Cog Hill in Chicago on Sept. 11-19.
Considering he didn’t enter his first long-drive contest until September 2020, becoming a national champion is quite the accomplishment.
“I never really knew how far my drives went,” Ross said. “I thought it was probably somewhere around 270 yards, but at my first event in Iowa in 2020, I hit one 326 yards and it was not wind-aided.
“I only drove it 295 at the national tournament, but that was against a 30 mph wind. Everybody’s drives were a lot shorter because of the wind.”
Ross, a 1986 Janesville Craig graduate, began playing golf as a young child, walking down to Blackhawk Golf Course every day after school to get a few holes in. He didn’t start playing competitively until after college. He played one season on the PGA mini-tour before becoming the head PGA professional at the prestigious Kapalua Plantation Course in Lahaina, Hawaii. He returned to the mainland in 2000 and became head pro at the Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club in Arcadia, Michigan. He currently works for a oil and gas company in Michigan but still gives golf lessons.
Although he still plays competitively and carried a +1 handicap in 2020, Ross said incorporating the long drives into his game is not an option.
“I still hit my 3-wood off the tee when I play,” said Ross, who played in this year’s Ray Fischer Amateur Championship at Riverside. “My last 10 sessions as far as the long drive swing have maxed out at between 335-340 yards. That distance wouldn’t do me much good at a course like Riverside.
“Plus, it’s a much different swing in the long-drive events. I have a much wider stance, a heavier tilt and the loft of the club is so much lower.”
ALD competition rules are stringent. Golfers can use any driver they choose, but it cannot be longer than 48 inches. Golf balls are supplied by the event organizer, and golfers have two minutes to hit six drives inside a 60-foot grid. Only drives inside the grid count, and Ross said his grid percentage is higher than most at around 40 percent.
At 5-foot-6, 160 pounds, Ross is small for a sport that sees the big-bodied men thrive.
“At the national tournament, the guy I was up against in the finals was around 6-5, 295 pounds,” Ross said. “He kind of looked at me in disbelief that I was even there, but I think I proved I belonged.”
Ross, the son of Janesville residents Paul and Kay Ross, never expected to be competing for a world title in a sport he wasn’t even sure he wanted to or could compete in.
But as a wise man once said, if you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch. Eric Ross has proven to be one of the big dogs on the ALD Tour.